Thirty-Eight years ago, a group of 17 musicians led by the local pharmacist banded together for a performance of The Music Man in Kanab, Utah, in the first-ever appearance of what would become Symphony of the Canyons. Almost four decades and more than 300 concerts later, the pharmacist-conductor Kortney Stirland and many of the other original performers are still here, and Kanab's connection to great music is still going strong. From "The Nutcracker" during the holiday season to full-blown musicals as Kanab Area Community Theater, Symphony of the Canyons is a fixture in Kanab.
In 1990, the orchestra, known as the Kanab Civic Orchestra, became an official non-profit entity in order to apply for grants and matching funds, as well as solicit donations for music and equipment. In 1992, the orchestra added a new Christmas concert event that included a dinner and a performance. Originally called "Operation Band-Aid" it continues to this day as the major fundraiser for the orchestra and also supports the Kanab High School scholarship fund.
When Kanab hosted a special Smithsonian Exhibit on the topic of World War I in 1995, the orchestra performed for a live radio audience in a special USO show to mark the occasion. That was also the year when the orchestra started its annual tradition of performing at the north rim of Grand Canyon National Park. In the next few years, the orchestra performed for the Utah Arts Festival in Salt Lake City and played host to piano master Pierce Emata from in Kanab. Indianapolis in the first of many performances by Emata. The orchestra also worked the entire year 1998 to prepare for a special concert featuring the Hiratsuka Koto Ensemble from Japan that included dancers and shakuhachi players.
In 1999, in an effort to better represent the entire area that produces its musicians, the orchestra changed its name to Symphony of the Canyons. Performers, who vary in age from young teenagers to more than 70, come from as far away as St. George, Page, AZ, and other surrounding communities. One of Kanab's most memorable performances came just two days after the planes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City. A special program was put together to honor those killed in the catastrophe. The next month, the symphony, along with the Kanab High School, Kanab Middle School, Kanab Elementary School and Voiceworx, a local children's choir, presented "Light the Fire With" a tribute to the 2002 Winter Olympics held in Utah.
Through the years, the Symphony has been honored with several awards. In 1992, Conductor Stirland was nominated for the Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts. In 2003, the symphony of the Canyons was awarded the Governor's Silver Bowl Award, presented by Utah volunteer centers to honor individuals and groups who enrich the lives of others.
A remarkable achievement for a community of only 4,800 residents, Symphony of the Canyons continues as a labor of love for those who lead the orchestra, those who volunteer time to make it successful, and, of course, to the many performers whose talent produces the music for about a dozen concerts each year.
Kortney Stirland, Artistic Director
David Owens, President
Diane Downward, Secretary
Devin Reed, Treasurer
Russell is a multi-instrumentalist and song-writer who has won state championships on fiddle, mandolin and guitar. He and his wife, Lyndsey, perform together as The W Duo, with roots founded in folk music with an emphasis on relatable experiences with fascinating instrumentation and arrangements.
Kortney Stirland, retired Kanab Pharmacist, has dedicated countless hours of rehearsal and concert direction over the past 35 years without compensation.
He also donates financial support to the Symphony/orchestra for music, equipment purchases and repairs, sound equipment and special custom built items for the annual Fund Raisers.