Wednesday, April 12, 2006

'Rock' musician honored

Dick Brown named Arts Advocate of the Year

Express Staff Writer

Dick Brown. Photo by Tom Kubin

Dick Brown will never stop. His wife, Billie, may wish it, but let's face it, chances are fairly low. That is unless rocks really become more important to him than music.

It's hard to imagine.

On Friday, April 14, the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau will honor musical director, conductor and teacher Brown as the Arts Advocate of the Year, at the annual Chamber Awards Dinner at River Run Lodge. According to the Chamber, Brown was named for his "unselfish work through music as a special mentor and leader for many kids and adults throughout the valley."

"I was quite surprised when the call came," he said. "The only thing I can think of is I do so many things."

This understatement nicely matches Brown's grand personality.

"I'm really into education and getting kids involved," he said in his soft Southern accent. Mississippi natives, Brown and his wife have lived in the valley since 1999. "I thought I was going to retire but it didn't work. It's too easy for people to talk me into things."

Brown is the founder and director of the Ketchum-based Caritas Chorale and the Idaho Falls-based Anam Cara vocal group. He is the director of the St, Thomas Choir and is the music director for The Community School upper school. As well, he has worked as music director for New Theatre Company and St. Thomas Players productions. This summer, the Players will present "The Fantastiks" and in December the family musical "Annie" will be mounted.

"I'm passionate about Idaho history, the scenery, and its healthy climate. We used to come out here every summer, first to Colorado. Then we wondered where people there went to get away. We went to Stanley and it was instant love. We rented a cabin in Clayton and I started the Choral Rendezvous in Challis."

After 10 seasons at the helm he handed off the reins last year.

But the lure of further opportunities for music drove the Browns south to the Wood River Valley. "We had preconceived ideas about Sun Valley but we loved the people we met. Then there was an ice storm once in Mississippi and for two weeks we had no electricity. It was freezing. I thought, 'If I'm going to be miserable, I might as well be in a pretty place.' We love it here. It's so incredible."

The final days of March were celebrated Brown-style with Caritas Chorale presenting Franz Liszt's "Missa Chorale" over two nights to enthusiastic audiences filling the pews at St. Thomas, in Sun Valley.

"I love to introduce people to things they might not have heard before, like the Liszt program."

Coming up, Brown has planned a concert at the Gail Severn Gallery in Ketchum on Friday, May 19, with Anam Cara performing a 20th century "Cathedral Mass in G major" by Vaughn Williams.

"I wanted it in a venue of art. I'll probably do more of that. I like to see all the arts united."

Though music is his vocation, Brown is also involved in Trailing of the Sheep, the Wood River Valley's heritage festival held each fall.

"I wanted to do something that is not a part of my job. I'm real into the West. I met Diane Josephy Peavey (a writer and the wife of John Peavey, a sheep rancher from Carey) and my life was changed."

To wit: Brown asked Peavey to write the libretto for an original composition by Idaho composer David Alan Earnest called "Immence Ranges of High Mountains," which Brown arranged and conducted for Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery bicentennial in 2005. The creative partners conceived of the story from Sacajawea's point of view. Performed by Caritas Chorale and Anam Cara combined, the work premiered at the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood in Ketchum in 2005. That summer, Caritas also toured Italy, Austria and Hungary performing the work.

"It was a huge hit," Brown said.

The program will be reprised over Memorial Day in Boise as part of the state of Idaho's official celebration of the end of Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery. Then Caritas will perform it at the Church of the Big Wood on Friday, May 26.

Another of Brown's pet projects is the push to see a performing arts center realized in Ketchum.

"There is a real interest in the total community, and it would be the total package of what we bring here," from dance to theatre to music.

Despite his enthusiasm for all his projects, he claims they all "take away from my real love. I'm a rock hound. I go all over Idaho. It's one of the best places in the country. The Owyhee desert is great. I use the rocks I find in landscaping and have found gemstones like garnets and sapphires I've had made into jewelry for Billie. And of course, crystals, which bring good luck."

How long can he keep this pace up?

"I figure I have at least three more years. I'm planning Caritas' next three seasons."

For now, the arts advocate keeps plowing through the valley, charming and disarming. It's the least a classically trained musician who loves rocks and four-wheeling can do.

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