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‘Music’ to our ears

ISAIAH BRANCH-BOYLE/Durango Herald file photo

The 2013 venues ranging from a ski resort to a college, to churches and even a bank lobby. Guillermo Figueroa conducts a symphony last year in the Music in the Mountains tent at Durango Mountain Resort.

By Ann Butler Herald staff writer

Music in the Mountains fans will have difficult choices to make when the 27th annual festival kicks off next week.

The full schedule includes 18 classical music concerts, three world music concerts, one big-band swing concert and a variety of lectures, parties, fundraisers and freebies. The venues are as diverse as the music, ranging from Durango Mountain Resort to Fort Lewis College, from the sanctuaries at St. Columba Catholic and First Baptist churches to the lobby of First National Bank of Durango.

The changes made to one of the county’s largest economic drivers – as indicated by recent studies – also cover a broad spectrum, everything from organizational leadership to dancing to food.

The first official event is Wednesday.

What’s new?

Perhaps the biggest change is a new executive director. Angie Beach, who headed the education programs such as Music in the Mountains Goes to School for several years, is now leading the entire organization.

“I think it’s safe to say I that I never dreamed I would be working for a music festival, much less directing one,” Beach said. “The most rewarding part has been collaborating with many diverse and wonderfully talented individuals to create this magical festival. There are so many shareholders involved in this organization, and they include board members, musicians, staff, volunteers, donors, patrons, artistic directors, community members, music teachers, school administrators and more.”

The Music in the Mountains staff members and board of directors aren’t letting tradition get in the way of trying new things. In the case of the chamber concerts, that means cutting down from four concerts to three and moving two of them into town, so music lovers don’t have to rush up to DMR after work and drive down in the dark on a weeknight.

For the first time ever, the seats will be reserved at the concerts held in churches, with one price for all seats.

“This year we’re adding symphony snack boxes, because the Festival Orchestra concerts take place at dinner time, and people get hungry,” Beach said. “We’ll have food like hummus and veggies, one paired with white wine and one paired with red.”

Another change is a completely revamped Family Festivo, which will be held at Durango Discovery Museum instead of Rotary Park. Its farewell to “Peter and the Wolf,” whose longtime run finally came to an end.

“We’ll have a variety of pieces with a small orchestra,” said Festivo organizer and conductor Byron Herrington, who is perhaps best known to festival-goers as a trombonist in the orchestra. “I got the idea of pieces related to animals.”

Among the pieces will be Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee,” music from “The Lion King,” Haydn’s Symphony No. 83, also known as “The Hen” Symphony, and, in equal tributes to classical and popular music, the “Lady Gaga Fugue” based on the theme from the controversial pop singer’s “Bad Romance.”

The traditional free lunch will be served, and Discovery Museum staff has designed a variety of activities related to music and sound, including demonstrations such as making a wind instrument with a drinking straw.

The three world concerts will include Grammy winner Alison Brown, and two concerts will have the dance floor open – Latin band Nosotros on Thursday and the big-band concert “Swing, Swing, Swing” on July 26.

Music at the cash register

Arts organizations such as Music in the Mountains do more than just enhance our community life. They are important economic drivers, two recent studies show. The city of Durango was one of 182 study regions in the country for the “Arts & Economic Prosperity IV” study conducted by Americans for the Arts, which used data from 15 local arts organizations, including Music in the Mountains, and studied fiscal year 2010.

The study found that the arts generated about $9.1 million in economic activity in La Plata County, $5.8 million by the organizations themselves and another $3.2 million in event-related spending by their audiences. This supported 309 full-time jobs, generated $6.5 million in household income to residents and $645,000 in local and state government revenue.

“What I’ve heard the last few years is that the arts make people stay another day,” said Sherri Dugdale, who headed the project for the city of Durango. “But there’s a misconception that people only come to Durango for the train. The arts are not a red-headed stepchild; we’re finding that they are a driver on their own.”

In fact, 56 percent of the nonresidents participating in the survey said their primary reason for coming to La Plata County was “specifically to attend this arts/cultural event.” The survey also found that those visitors spent an average of 281 percent more per person than local attendees on items such as restaurants and lodging.

Music in the Mountains was only included in the aggregate in the “Arts & Economic Prosperity IV” study. Recently, the classical music festival worked with a group of students at Fort Lewis College who, in conjunction with the FLC-based Small Business Development Center, determined the festival’s specific economic impact on La Plata County.

The conclusion was that for every $1 that Music in the Mountains spends, which will be more than $713,000 this year, $1.69 is generated in the community. The students also discovered that 52 percent of Music in the Mountains attendees are not local, much higher than the 26 percent of nonlocals discovered in the broader survey, adding more than $263,000 in additional spending at local businesses.

“We think that’s conservative,” Beach said.

She said the study focused only on the festival and didn’t take into account other Music in the Mountains programs such as the conservatory, an intense workshop for students during the summer.

“Those students bring their families, who stay in our hotels and eat in our restaurants,” she said.

The arts do more than bring money in directly.

“When people are thinking about moving here, or moving their business here, they want to know about the schools,” Dugdale said. “They want to know about crime rates, they want to know about the outdoor opportunities and they want to know about the arts and culture because those are all indicators of a thriving community.”


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