years of classical excellence:
Arizona’s Finest Music Lives in Sedona
by Dennis Sigman
Back in the farthest reaches of the sanctuary, Bert
Harclerode bites his nails nervously, and one knee beats out
a quick rhythm, hoping to hurry the mass along. At the pulpit,
the priest senses the urgency. Finally the mass concludes,
the parishioners stir, and Harclerode scuds down the aisle.
“We pass like two ships in the night, “ says Father J.C. Oritz.
“He’s headed for the microphone to ask if there are any strong
men to help move the altar off and move the piano on.”
In the ensuing bustle, one emotionally stirring event
makes way for another in the numinous setting of St. John
Vianney Church with its huge windows embracing the red rocks
of Sedona. Chamber Music Sedona, now in its 18th season, prepares
to present one of its superlative concerts. By three o’clock,
the church is a concert hall filled with music lovers. The
ensemble strides down the aisle to vigorous applause, the
music begins, and for two hours the audience basks in musical
After a rather informal inception in 1982, with concerts
by founder and pianist Judith Ginsberg and “friends,” the
necessary non-profit status was acquired and chamber music
commenced its struggle to prominence. Under the leadership
of music-addicted board presidents like Hazel Wait and Caye
Hill, Sedona Chamber Music Society, as it was then called,
took on the formidable cultural acclivity, a fickle and fainŽant
The proceeding presidents, Thom Leenhouts, Hans Lampl,
and Lelia Schoenberg, with deep musical backgrounds, and strengthened
by the muscle of Sedona’s renowned volunteers, firmly affixed
the organization to the cultural landscape of Sedona. With
an ever-vigilant eye toward excellence, SCMS played its two-week
festival to audiences in Sedona, Jerome, Flagstaff, and Prescott.
Of course, success in the arts is tenuous at best. Relentless
shepherding is required to keep it viable. It needs to be
nurtured, pushed, pulled, whipped, and inspired. Success in
the arts needs to be innovative and provocative. Complacency
and angst over change is the harbinger of an organization’s
demise. And slipping into mediocrity in art is death.
In 1993, two notable events occurred; first, CMS received
a coveted $30,000 grant from Chamber Music America, and second,
they hired bright-eyed, bushy-tailed Bert Harclerode to be
executive director. Harclerode, issuing from a musically oriented
family, was trained as both a classical musician and as a
music administrator. He even married a musician, Rita Borden
who is currently with the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra. Harclerode
knows the inside track in the music world as well, if not
better, than most. The result of these two events doubled
the attendance at the 1994 chamber festival.
With this new kid on the block, CMS had its adjustments
to make both strategically and emotionally. Organizational
obligations and responsibilities had to be redefined. Keeping
in mind their guiding principles of excellence and professionalism,
CMS adapted well, if not easily, to this new dynamic and has
prospered under the directorship of Harclerode. Chamber Music
Sedona has grown from a two-week, eight-concert festival,
to 18 concerts performed in a year-round season. The annual
budget has grown from $35,000 to $225,000!
Although CMS has survived and flourished because of
these principles, developing a symbiotic relationship with
the community that spawned it is paramount. The organization
interacts with the community by developing appreciation for
chamber music with educational programs like the Sedona Library
Music Education Series, Resident Artists Program, Sedona Youth
Orchestra, and The Quick Memorial Competition, all of which
“Each year for the last seven years we have presented
in our season ensembles from Northern Arizona University,
and we pay for their services,” said Harclerode. By incorporating
regional musicians into the season’s programs, it helps bring
recognition to the musicians and to NAU.
In 1998, CMS received a Lila Wallace-Readers Digest
Grant to partner up with two other key Sedona arts organizations
to expand the role of performing arts in Northern Arizona.
One is the Sedona Cultural Park “field of dreams.” The other
is the Sedona Arts Center, which is somewhat confusing since
performing arts seem to be anathema to the Art Center’s vision.
Nevertheless, this broader based approach intends to pool
resources to build audience levels.
By examining the attitudes and methodology of Chamber
Music Sedona’s managing team, Harclerode and current Board
President Jim Pease, the other arts organizations could readily
find a model of stability and growth.
Sedona for the Better
Sedona’s image of itself as an “arts community” is mostly
illusory. Simply because there is a plethora of retail stores
filled with statues and paintings, many in the community cloak
themselves in aesthetic garb. In reality, the emperor has
no clothes. There is minimal attention to art, music, theatre
and dance in the schools. Theatre and dance are currently
dead or moribund within the city limits. The city fathers
have, to date, focused their efforts on quantitative growth
and have largely ignored the quality of life.
“I’m not convinced
that the collective political body, the Sedona City Council
fully understands and appreciates what the arts can do, and
indeed does, for Sedona. . . “ said Harclerode, his eyes focused
somewhere in the future at Sedona’s cultural crossroads,
“unlike the city of Aspen or the city of Santa Fe, where there
is support for their arts organizations to a major degree.”
Acknowledging that Sedona is less than two-decades old, he
continues, “this is something that the visionaries and leaders
will serve our community well by taking into the larger pictureÉ
for the better of the whole community.”
In spite of this cultural malaise, and given the size
of our town, Chamber Music Sedona is a rara avis in the music
world. It consistently brings to our community the greatest
music ensembles from around the world that nourish us with
the greatest music ever written. It presents renowned and
diverse ensembles like the Amadeus Trio, Atlantic Brass Quintet,
Dorian Woodwind Quintet, and The Saint Petersburg String Quartet.
It surprises us with the new sounds from groups like the lovely
Anonymous 4, the wild Trio Voronezh from Russia, Corkey Siegel’s
Chamber Blues, and alternative music great Paul Winter’s Earth
Wearing the mantle of fine art, as befits Chamber Music
Sedona, does not necessitate elitism, although, that has been
the plight of many an organization. Its roots are deep into
the firmament of Sedona, even as it reaches national prominence.
Its ticket prices are within reach of most of its citizens.
It plays in a warm and accepting environment.
Most importantly, CMS serves up to us a feast of beautiful
music. It is not an illusion; it is the paradigm that other
arts organizations might well emulate.