Off Beat: River grad helps bring new meaning to ‘rock’ music

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter



Jon Miles played trumpet in several school bands, from Sacajawea Elementary through Columbia River High School.

The son of a piano teacher, he developed a love of music while growing up in Vancouver.

Now, as vice president of marketing, he helped the Utah Symphony explore some of America’s most impressive rock repertoire.

Classic rock wasn’t the musical genre: It was the landscape, as the orchestra played against backdrops of red-rock arches, hoodoos, spires and canyons.

The symphony’s August tour included full-scale outdoor concerts near Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks.

“We got as close as we could get to the national parks,” the 1997 Columbia River graduate said. “Three were on the boundary. We didn’t want to go into the parks because we wanted to respect their mission of preservation, but it was all set in the red rock.

“My role was to get word out and promote it, make connections with people,” he said. “I did advance work, coordinating with county councils and mayors and visitors bureaus.”

There were 75 musicians and 75 other personnel such as stagehands. Teasdale, site of the Capitol Reef concert, has a population of 175, so the townspeople barely outnumbered the touring group.

“Twelve hundred people showed up, which is half the population of the county.”

Smaller performances took place in park visitors centers. After staffers researched native bird songs, members of a woodwind quintet performed them and taught kids to play bird songs on a piano.

“One of my favorite moments was a brass quintet concert at Dead Horse Point State Park, on the viewpoint overlooking Canyonlands,” Miles said.

“The concert at Bryce literally was on the rim of the canyon; you could see all the hoodoos and Mount Escalante. The orchestra was playing ‘New World Symphony’ and there were sunsets on both sides of us,” he said. As the sun lit up the western sky, it was reflected off the opposite canyon wall.

The four free concerts drew a total attendance of 6,000.

“Some said it was the first time they ever heard an orchestra perform live.”

It also was a new experience for some musicians. About 30 orchestra members have arrived in the last two years and Miles saw a lot of them sharing “Oh, wow!” moments.

Even Miles, who studied in Utah at Brigham Young University, had some eye-opening experiences

“Capitol Reef? I didn’t even know it was there.”

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.

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