As the summer afternoon started to fade over Vista House, a historic building perched along Oregon’s Historic Columbia River Highway, Hunter Noack ’11 was playing his 9-foot grand piano. Two hundred people listened to his outdoor concert against the sweeping backdrop of the Columbia River Gorge. Then, the USC Thornton School of Music alumnus remembers hearing a distant rumbling rising from the highway.
Suddenly, a gang of Harleys roared up and did circles around the piano. It was the juxtaposition of everything that isn’t supposed to go together. But it felt so striking and perfect.Hunter Noack
“Suddenly, a gang of Harleys roared up and did circles around the piano,” says Noack, a classically trained pianist. “It was the juxtaposition of everything that isn’t supposed to go together. But it felt so striking and perfect.”
Classical music concerts aren’t usually accompanied by motorcycles or staged outdoors along a highway. But when those elements combined that summer day, they captured an energy and spontaneity that would be hard to replicate, an ultimate “you had to be there” moment. An older friend later told Noack it was one of the top five experiences of his life.
Playing at Parks
These outdoor performances that connect people with music are exactly what Noack hopes to create with In a Landscape, his piano concerts that are performed at ranches, farms, state parks, managed timber forests and historic sites across the West. “I’m like the background soundtrack,” he says. Audience members listen through wireless headphones so they can stand, stretch, dance or wander during the concert.
Noack was inspired by the federal Works Progress Administration’s music and theater programs during the Great Depression. The government agency, later renamed the Work Projects Administration, put thousands of artists and musicians to work staging free performances in public spaces. “Arts were part of our country’s overall health just as much as roads,” Noack says.
When he first started In a Landscape, he wanted to offer a new way to enjoy classical music. But with each performance, he realized something more was going on. People of various ages, backgrounds and beliefs found a sense of connectedness. Some were moved to tears. Others felt a deep peace. Many were energized. “It really showed the power, even magic, of music and nature,” he says. “How many opportunities do we have to find meaningful and healing moments in fellowship with 200 or 300 other people?”
So far, his concerts have been mostly in Oregon and the West, but Noack hopes to expand. He also plans to continue offering low-priced and subsidized tickets so more people can attend. “I get so excited and want to go everywhere and perform for more people,” he says.