Q&A With Ian Scarfe: SF to Hyampom & Trinity Alps Chamber Music Festival

Today we talk with Ian Scarfe, the  founder and director of the Trinity Alps Chamber Music Festival, headquartered in Hyampom, of all places.

Q: Ian, welcome to anewscafe.com. You’ve been sending us press releases about quite a few concerts lately, and we’re intrigued that so much classical music – 14 summer concerts! – is coming from such a small community.  I know you’re super busy, so thanks for taking time to stop and answer a few questions.

First, can you tell a bit about yourself?

I live in San Francisco right now, I moved here in 2006 to begin a graduate program at the SF Conservatory of Music.  Now I spend my time in the city working as a staff accompanist at the Conservatory, and doing all kinds of freelance piano work.

I mostly play classical music (chamber music is my favorite), although I do branch out a bit and play showtunes and musicals, contemporary and pop music, and some jazz.  The Trinity Alps Chamber Music Festival has become my most exciting and endearing project.

Q: That in itself begs so many questions, but first a silly one. How do you pronounce your last name?

Like a scarf around your neck.

Q: Thanks for clearing that up. OK, let’s carry on. What brought you to Trinity County?

My first visit to Trinity County was with two of my dear friends from college, Justin Brown and Ellen McGehee.  The two of them moved to Hyampom several years ago, and at first my visits involved camping, backpacking and enjoying the river.

Q: And what about the Trinity Alps Chamber Music Festival? How did that come about?

The idea for a summer music festival came with Ellen McGehee, the co-founder of the festival.  She and I were sitting on her back porch in Hyampom, enjoying their stunning view of the valley, and considering how we could bring some music into their idyllic setting.  Ellen studied music in college as well, and she was wondering aloud how she could get some music back into her life.  At first we thought of just having a musical retreat of sorts – an excuse to bring up a handful of friends for a week to work on some music while living on the farm, enjoying the home-grow food, the river, and the mountains.  Without Ellen and Justin’s initial and continuing support, this festival wouldn’t exist in its current form.

Q: So would you say that Hyampom is your headquarters?

Generally our festival begins with a retreat week, where musicians can live in Hyampom while we all get to know each other, and learn our musical programs.  Then for the weekends we will travel around Trinity County to share our music as widely as possible. We play concerts in the towns like Hayfork and Weaverville, but also in more remote venues such as Strawhouse Resorts or the Indian Creek Lodge on the Trinity River, in Coffee Creek up near the Trinity Alps.

Q: Have you run into any surprised reactions regarding classical music in Trinity County?

Generally I think we have had overwhelmingly positive reactions to classical music in Trinity County, and that is a bit surprising to most of us.  We try to play in many communities that don’t have access to cultural events like this, so people are generally very excited and grateful about our presence, and they are open to hearing the music we are bringing.

Q:  How you define chamber music?

Chamber music is classical music for small groups, like trios, quartets, and quintets.  What makes this kind of music interesting is that each musician has his or her own part to play, then the group has to fit them all together without and kind of director of conductor.  It makes for a very friendly and democratic process.  And from an audience perspective – it is very fun to watch a small group of musicians work like this.  It is more personal and intimate than watching a large orchestra, and one can see and hear exactly how each member of the group fits into the larger picture.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about the musicians?

This summer features by far the most musicians we have ever had.  During our June session we had 14 musicians, including nine string players, two wind players, a soprano, me on piano, and a guest musician playing the xylophone.  For our August session we will have 15 musicians, a woodwind quintet, two string quartets, a double-bass, and me again on piano. Most of us come up from San Francisco, just a couple live in Trinity, and a handful come from farther afield.  This year we have musicians coming from Oregon, Florida, and Toronto, Ontario.

Q: How is the Trinity Alps Chamber Music Festival supported?

Right now 90 percent of our budget comes from individual donations from audience members, friends, and families.  Although all of our concerts are free and open to the public, we always seem to have generous audiences that help to fill our donation jar.  This is a necessary part of the organization – aside from paying musicians we have real expenses like travel and gas, housing and food, and things like advertising, publicity and design.  We also have been very fortunate to receive grants from the Trinity Trust, an affiliate of the Humboldt Area Foundation.  These grants go to supporting our summer youth programs, which include visits to summer camps and our Kids & Family Concert Series.

Q: Would you care to share a bit about the 1928 Baldwin piano I’ve heard about that’s now in the Hyampom Community Hall?

For many years the piano that lived in the Hyampom Community Hall was a little upright that came to acquire the nickname “firewood” (as in, “it’s only good for…”).  This past spring, co-founder Ellen McGehee was visiting me in San Francisco and we did a bit of digging around to see if there were any good instruments that could be gotten for a good price.  We found a great deal on this 1928 Baldwin grand piano in Walnut Creek, and decided to buy it and move it up.  It was somewhat spontaneous – we didn’t even ask the community council about moving it into the hall until after we had bought it.  But thankfully Hyampom has a very supportive community of music-lovers, and they have plans to purchase it from Ellen and I and make it a permanent fixture there.

Q: I was so sorry to miss the kick-off concert in Redding. But you scheduled 14 concerts in all .. with all but one in Trinity County. That’s pretty ambitious! How did you decide on the venue locations?

Our concert in Redding was a new idea for the summer festival – our past two years only featured concerts in Trinity.  Some of our venues are more obvious – like the Trinity Alps Performing Arts Center in Weaverville and the Community Hall in Hyampom.  But other venues are more adventurous – like the Strawhouse Resorts, who have a beautiful deck looking over the Trinity River.

This summer we are also doing a special Kids & Family Concert at the Indian Creek Lodge, which also has a spectacular riverfront setting.  That will be lots of fun, we are performing the musical story “Peter and the Wolf”, with a small orchestra of 10 musicians.

Q: What’s the attendance been like at the concerts?

Attendance has been very good, and only continues to get better.  We are starting to see regular faces at our performances, and there is always a good mix of visitors, tourists, and interested faces young and old.

Q: Can you share any future plans?

We are looking to develop our season of concerts during the fall, winter, and spring months.  These won’t be as involved as the summer festival, but will feature a couple concerts during long weekends during different parts of the year.  This is a good opportunity to showcase talented musicians (including youth), to visit Trinity County schools for educational programs, and generally to keep classical music on everybody’s radar.

Q:Thank you so much, Ian. This has been so much fun, and so interesting. I won’t keep you, because  I know you have one more weekend of concerts. (Click here for details.) Anything else you’d like us to know?

There is more information about our concerts, our musicians, our history, and our plans on our website www.TrinityAlpsCMF.org

Anyone who is interested in supporting this festival, even if that only means a small donation, is encouraged to do so. Every little bit helps us.  Donations can be made online through our fiscal sponsor, the San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music.  The donation website is here. Be sure to select “Trinity Alps Chamber Music Festival” from the list of affiliates!

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.