Hunter Noack grew up in central Oregon hunting, fishing and spending as much time as he possibly could outdoors. At least, when he wasn’t playing the piano.
“There are certain experiences in the outdoors,” the classically trained musician said, “like backpacking in Yosemite — I’ve never been so ecstatic and inspired and happy.”
He sometimes could get to that same happy place making music, and he dreamed of somehow bringing the two fundamental elements of his being together.
“I wanted to bring a piano camping,” he said, “like having a guitar, sitting around the campfire, bringing people together in beautiful and magical places.”
While he hasn’t quite duplicated that experience with his 9-foot concert grand Steinway Model D, built in 1912, he has come close with his nonprofit In a Landscape, performing works by Debussy, Ravel, Listz, Chopin and others — he adjusts his set somewhat to the environment in which he is playing — on a flat-bed trailer/portable stage on public lands and other properties that have a good story to tell.
Noack pulls into Jackson Hole to play for Teton Pines members tonight at 5 and for any and all at Fox Creek Ranch in Victor, Idaho, at 4 p.m. Saturday.
Noack conceived the idea for In a Landscape in 2016. He had been living in London, earning his master’s degree at the Guildhall School, where he began presenting classical music in atypical venues. When he came home to Oregon, he still had in mind the idea of bringing classical music to people in new ways, “to get people more engaged in the story or the context,” he said.
He wrote a grant request about an idea — performing outdoors with the music transmitted to listeners through headphones — which funded the initial experimental phase of In a Landscape.
“A lot of people have put pianos outdoors,” he said, but not all had surmounted the acoustical challenges. The headphones not only solved that, but actually deepened the experience, he said.
“It democratized the experience,” Noack said. There were no “good” seats or “bad” seats. It also allowed listeners to make the visual focus of the performance something other than the musician.
“Everyone can come up to the piano, see the keys, or wander a few hundred feet away and have an experience that is their own, but is also shared,” he said. “The headphones were a little bit of gamble — I wasn’t sure it would work year after year — but it’s been such a success, I had to do more, go more places.”
That first year he gave nine performance in the Portland area. The following year he gave 14 throughout Oregon. In 2021 he has 40 dates booked, mostly in the Northwest.
“It’s hard,” he said of reaching out farther. “There are so many incredible landscapes and so many incredible places to be. We’re one pianist and one piano, so there are limiting factors.”
The past few years have helped him refine the project, work out the kinks, make connections: “I’m guessing next year we’ll be cruising more farther afield.”
The years also have helped Noack understand what his project is about, what he was trying to accomplish. Music in the outdoors is a natural combination, but there’s something more to it than that.
The first experience many people have with classical music is as a movie soundtrack, he said.
“When we take our eyes away from the performer and watch the leaves rustling in the trees or reflections on water, it becomes a soundtrack,” he said. “There’s something about that synesthetic experience that I think creates an emotional response. It suddenly brings you into the present. People say it makes them feel like you’re in your own movie.
“That happen with an iPod, but knowing it’s live and with other people, sharing something that’s happening in the moment with other people, the feeling of a shared experience, that heightens the experience and makes everything seem somehow more urgent.”
A flock of geese flies by, “and it’s almost as if it was choreographed,” he said. The sunset seems to collaborate with the music, and a place where a listener has gone 100 times before becomes new again, is imprinted on layers of the brain.
That, in turn, can inspire people to champion the landscape-venues. He compared all the work that goes into an artist preparing a piece of music to all of the work that a rancher or a park ranger or a conservationist does to care for the land around them.
“That’s what keeps me so excited about it,” he said of the project.
His Fox Creek Ranch date is a good example. A few years back, Noack was playing a party at the Sundance Film Festival, where a film he had scored, “Moonlight Sonata,” had premiered. He got to talking to a woman named Nancy Huntsman about “In a Landscape,” and she got excited and told him about her Teton Valley ranch, how she and her late husband had restoring it, keeping it working as a functional cattle ranch while also enhancing its wildlife values, in particular for sandhill cranes.
“She said to come out and see the place,” Noack said.
It took him a couple of years to make the visit, but when he did he fell in love with the place and with family’s story.
“Nancy is involved with the Teton Regional Land Trust, so we made this in partnership with them.”
Since he was in the neighborhood, he made a couple of calls and managed to secure a second gig with the Pines.
“That’s not mission driven, but it works for us and we’ve done plenty of private shows like that,” he said. “I’m just excited to get my feet wet in Jackson Hole and hope to come back to do more conservation-oriented concerts.”
Visit InALandscape.org for more info about Noack and his project and for details about his Fox Creek Ranch performance. ￼