Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Sun Valley tradition hits end

Leana Leach and Sun Valley Sunday Brunch synonymous no more

Express Staff Writer

Leana Leach at her Elkhorn home giving a supportive shoulder to Tiger, who often sits beside students while they learn the piano. Courtesy photo

Most every Sunday for the last 14 years, Leana Leach has risen earlier than usual, put on a glamorous white dress and taken her seat at the grand piano in the Lodge Dining Room of the Sun Valley Resort to take a journey along the keys, performing a classical music concert, much of it her own.

When she does it this Mother's Day, she will deliver the same with a million-dollar smile and indomitable spirit, but with a heavy heart knowing this could be the last time.

Though the future is uncertain in the details, the resort has announced it will end the elaborate brunches with special holiday offerings still an option.

It seems to be time for a change at the resort, as evidenced by the farewell tour of "Forever Plaid" in March after a 14-year run of the musical in the Sun Valley Boiler Room.

For Leach, a classy, willowy blonde with perfect teeth, enviable cheekbones and great hair, it's been an avenue for expression for her inner entertainer, which is usually more formal in her role as a musical instructor, which she has been doing since she was 17 years old.

"It's everything I've trained for," she said recently. "Not everyone who studies wants to perform. For me, it's been the perfect amount of professionalism without a huge amount of pressure."

For her, this ending is a time for reflection. This is not the first time a gig has shut down in this town since she came here in the early 1980s.

Leach was fresh out of school and her training had prepared her to be a college professor in classical music and dance who wanted to compose music for dance students and teach them how to understand music so they could better relate their movements. On the outside, she was every bit the Long Beach folk singer in braids and guitar and conga drum.

"Cool plan, no jobs," she said. "That's when I came here to teach with the Center for the Arts."

She spent her time teaching the conga in an improvisational setting. While exhilarating, it was also exhausting. But she also began to realize that rather than be limited to teaching, she had a need to entertain.

< "I made this shift from the academic and classical, which is very specific from the page to wanting to expand."

She became the first entertainer at the then Elkhorn Lodge, since leveled for condos, and it was there she played a lot of guitar, sang folk songs and took requests. She was there for 17 years, eventually getting back to her piano as well and evolving a style and range that got her noticed.

The Sun Valley Trio, with Jason Vontver and John Northrop was formed and they played at Sun Valley's Duchin Lounge for 11 years where she played the drums and then gravitated back to the piano, which got her the solo brunch gig. She also played the organ and guitar and sang at St. Thomas Episcopal and Emmanuel Episcopal for many years.

"I fulfilled my calling," she said. "I will tell you that I am so grateful for having moved here. I was a big fish in a little pond, but I blossomed and I don't know if any where else I would have been able to spread my wings."

Music has been her ticket to see the world as well. She has traveled the globe twice, and performed in Japan, Sweden, Norway, Europe and Greece. Travel both was her friend and helped her make friends. Though she enjoys working together, she prefers traveling alone, having the freedom to snatch at any opportunity that affords itself without having to consider another opinion.

"It can be arduous," she admitted. "But I prefer it, maybe I was an explorer in another life."

She credits that characteristic with driving her outside of herself and affording her the chance to try a little of everything.

The middle daughter of three, Leach said she came from a very traditional home. She had a serious music teacher, was a school yell leader and joined a sorority. But at the center was always the piano.

"We had a grand piano and if we hadn't, this would never have happened. I tried it and I took off."

Though she played obsessively and read music until it became her native tongue, the night owl said once she had achieved near perfection, she knew there was more to learn, which is how she expanded her instrumentation to the drums and guitar and vocals.

She said her students are encouraged to play to their bliss, and she adapts their training accordingly. She also encourages staying active in other things.

"I'm living proof you don't have to be that marshmallow-colored stay-in-the-music-room student to be good at your music," she said. "I tell them if they love it, they will make time."

For now, Leach said she is preparing to give the concert of her career this weekend and then packing for a trip to Myanmar for a month. It is there she will sort out what to do next. She will also finalize her third CD and step up the marketing to meet today's style of music dissemination through the Internet. When she returns, the Trio will perform Sunday nights at the Duchin Lounge through summer starting June 17.

"I always feel like I flourished by letting things happen to me," she said. "And that we all are an amalgamation of what we've seen and heard. My ambition for greatness has never been high, I prefer quality of life over knuckling it out. But I've made it this far being creative and resilient."

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