Glacier Park welcomes first choral artist in residence

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  • The Sperry Chalet and a broader view of the basin.

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  • The Sperry Chalet and a broader view of the basin.

  • 1

By MACKENZIE REISS

Daily Inter Lake

When choral composer Matthew Harrison first learned of Glacier National Park’s artist in residence program, his first thought was: “I wish I was a visual artist.”

But much to his surprise, Harrison’s talents did fall within the scope of what the park was looking for.

Artists working in “all mediums” were encouraged to apply.

Out of a pool of 152 applicants, Harrison was selected as one of four artists who would spend a month in a cabin on Lake McDonald. He would also be Glacier’s first choral composer to make the cut since the program began in 1997.

“I hope that this experience celebrates the vibrant choral community that is in this area through the exploration of vocal music specifically tailored for this park,” Harrison wrote in an email. “It is amazing to me that so many people — from park employees to volunteers to Glacier Chorale members to vacationing Texas music professors to professional opera singers — will join forces to experience the park in a unique way. Choral music promotes empathy and transcends differences.”

Glacier Park spokesperson Lauren Alley said Harrison was selected for the opportunity because of his concrete and unique goals for his stay, and his background as a teacher, which would help in his public presentation, a required component of the residency. The park’s other artists in residence for 2018 include painter Emily McIllroy, painter Meg Leonard and photo and video artist Jamie McHugh.

Harrison stayed in Glacier Park for most of June, drawing inspiration from wildlife, scenery and the people in and around the park.

He even had an unexpected encounter with a grizzly bear en route to Sperry Chalet, which inspired the piece, “Sperry Trail.” He also authored a piece for piano and four-part tenor titled, “Will you go?” based on “the natural life cycle present in the park.” A third composition inspired by Avalanche is also in the works. And finally, Harrison wrote a three-movement piece titled “Glacier Suite” which is set to be published later this year —“marking the first choral publication inspired by the parks,” he said.

His experience as an artist in residence in Glaicer fueled his creativity, but wasn’t without its challenges.

“Each day, Lake McDonald presented a different personality, and the abundant mule deer often joined me for coffee in the morning. Being off the phone and internet grid as well as being apart from my friends and family took some getting used to, but it ultimately helped to sharpened my artistic focus,” he wrote. “ My love for our parks has certainly been validated by my time here, and it is an experience that I will never forget. … I know that I will be inspired to create Glacier related art for quite some time after my experience as Artist in Residence.”

This evening, June 28, the public is invited to hear Harrison’s music from 7-8 p.m. at the West Glacier Community Building in Glacier National Park. He will conduct members of the Glacier Chorale who will sing pieces inspired by Ruder Elementary School student poetry from Columbia Falls, music written for the park service’s Centennial and Harrison’s own compositions created during his residency.

Reporter Mackenzie Reiss may be reached at 758-4433 or mreiss@dailyinterlake.com.

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