News Column

Playin' the classics: Yuma music series turns 30 this year

November 22, 2013


Nov. 22--Yuma's only concert series dedicated to classical music turns 30 this year. To celebrate, organizers are kicking off a seven-concert series featuring everything from the piano and organ to the harp and operatic voice.

The series at St. Paul's Episcopal Church kicks off Sunday with a performance by the Moaic Harp Trio, a Tucson-based group made up of musicians playing the harp, flute and viola.

The concerts continue through May 2014, featuring both world-class performers from around the nation and musicians living here in Yuma. Concerts are held on Sundays, at 5 p.m. unless noted otherwise. The events are open to the general public and admission is a free-will offering.

The classical concert series began when St. Paul's installed its star instrument, its majestic 752-pipe organ. The series was the brainchild of organist Betty Rae Norfleet and the late pianist Charles Phillips, both veteran Yuma musicians at the time.

"Mostly it started out with the St. Paul's choir, along with the pipe organ and the piano," explained Sally Houston-Baker, who now coordinates the concert series. "We would bring in someone special one or twice during the season, but the rest we did ourselves."

Eventually, though, the series began to build a good reputation, and musicians began asking if they could come to Yuma and share their artistry. Since then, guest musicians have ranged from a pianist who traveled from Italy to an organist from Mexico City.

"There are people all over who are looking for a place to perform," Houston-Baker said. "Because we are out there, we get to know them."

The series is currently the only one of its kind in Yuma County, dedicated to bringing an annual slate of classical concerts for music lovers with a passion for that tradition of music.

The importance of what the series brings to Yuma culturally -- and possibly even spiritually -- is not lost on Houston-Baker, who says live performances of classical music are needed here more than ever today.

"We know that music feeds the soul and good music is not always available on the radio," she said. "We try to provide something that is not what you hear every day."

Concerts draw anywhere from 40 to 100 people.

"It just depends on who gets the message. Our winter people make up a large part of our audience. Our older people still appreciate good music," Houston-Baker said. "We also have some music teachers in the community and they support us by having their children attend. We keep putting the music out there in hopes that it will catch on."

Here are the seven concerts planned for the 2013-2014 series:

Mosaic Harp Trio: Performing this Sunday

The Mosaic Harp Trio is comprised of Tucson Symphony personnel: harpist Patricia Harris, flutist Pat Watrous and violist Ann Weaver. The current players of the Harp Trio have trained with luminaries in their respective fields, and studied at such noted institutions as the Eastman School of Music and Rice University.

The Mosaic Trio personnel have performed extensively around the state while on the Arizona Commission on the Arts Roster as the Tucson Symphony Harp Trio.

For more information, go to

Kevin Ayesh, piano: Performing December 15

Pianist Kevin Ayesh has performed throughout the United States. Ayesh has served as the head of the music department at Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock, North Carolina since 1992. As a North Carolina Visiting Artist, he appeared before thousands across that state between 1988 and 1992, performing as many as 75 recitals in a season. A native of Wichita, Kansas, Ayesh received his bachelor of music degree with highest honors from the University of Texas; his master's and doctorate degrees are from the University of Maryland.

Ayesh is the recipient of many prizes, including the Naftzger Piano Award, Baltimore Music Club Award, and winner of both the JCC Baltimore Piano Competition and the Maryland State Music Teachers' Elizabeth R. Davis Memorial Piano Competition. He has been a finalist in several national and international competitions, was awarded second prize at the Wideman Piano Competition, and won both third prize and composer's prize at the New Orleans International Piano Competition.

This past summer he was the guest artist-teacher at the Lindlar International Piano Festival in Germany; he has also presented a master class at Hong Kong Baptist University.

Ayesh has appeared three times as concerto soloist with the Hendersonville (NC) Symphony Orchestra; twice with the Brevard Philharmonic Orchestra, twice with the Asheville Chamber Players, and also with the Asheville Symphony Orchestra, the Blue Ridge Orchestra, the Wichita Community Orchestra, and the Maryland Youth Symphony Orchestra. He has given numerous lecture-recitals of the piano music of American composer Robert Starer.

Arizona Western College Music Faculty: Performing January 19

This concert will feature both instrumental and vocal performances from AWC music professors. The lineup of performances has not been announced.

Brent and Kesley Rogers, piano and vocal: Performing February 2

Brent Rogers taught choral music at Arizona Western College, while Kelsey Rogers taught piano. They have since moved to Tucson, where they are working on their doctorates. Their program for the concert has not yet been announced.

James D'Leon: Performing March 23

James D'Leon studied piano at Julliard in New York City and graduated summa cum laude from Temple University's Esther Boyer College of Music. He later earned a fellowship to the Eastman School of Music, where he earned a doctor of musical arts degree in piano performance and literature.

His honors include having competed at such prestigious international piano competitions as The Leeds International Piano Competition in England and the Van Cliburn Competition. He received top honors in the New York Artist International Competition, which led to his New York debut recital at Carnegie Hall.

D'Leon discovered his music gifts at a very young age, growing up in his native South Korea. He began playing piano at age 4 and performed his first solo recital just a year later.

After earning the full scholarship to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music as a youngster, D'Leon won the young soloist competition of both the San Francisco Symphony and the Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra. He later studied music with Miriam Gottlieb in Pennsylvania. By the age of 14, he had won every local competition in that state, culminating in his debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Academic of Music. He performed the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2.

In 2009 D'Leon was selected as an official Steinway Concert Artist listed on both the New York and Hamburg, Germany, rosters. Since then, his performances have taken him throughout England, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Canada and 40 U.S. states.

Allen Morlock, organist: Performing April 27

Allen Morlock teaches music in Yuma and plays the organ for Trinity United Methodist Church. He performed last year during the AWC Music Faculty concert. He has taught piano at AWC.

Young Musicians of Yuma Benefit Concert: Performing May 4

This concert will feature 15-20 students of local music teachers. There will be both instrumentalists and vocalists, ranging in age from about 12 to college age.

For more information about the concert series, call Houston-Baker at 782-066 or 782-5155.


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