By Cherity Koepke
Happy Wednesday, readers! It’s a very special day today. On this day, we pay tribute to something near and dear to the hearts of everyone on this group. Something that makes us smile every time we think about its mere existence. Pie. Happy pie day! Now, I know it’s not technically “pie” but “pi,” but you feel free to honor the day in your way and we’ll honor it in ours. Oh, it’s also Heath’s birthday. Now—on with the day.
I’m kidding—HAPPY BIRTHDAY HEATH! To celebrate his birthday Heath has chosen to see some of the scenic parts of Western Colorado on our way to Gunnison, so we’ll be driving through Black Canyon. It’s one of my favorite places in the state and I’m looking forward to playing tour guide. But first, we have a rare morning where we don’t have a timetable or a call for a show, so we’re taking advantage of it.
Some of the group elect to go to a natural hot springs that’s close by, while some decide to sleep in, walk around Ridgeway, and get two breakfasts. (Jordan and, yes, they involved coffee.) Heath, Vanessa, Nicole, Katie, Andrew, and Nathan are the bathing beauties. Nick slept in. I had a leisurely morning and didn’t begin my day until 8:00 AM—that’s pretty major in my world.
I work for a bit and then get packed up, meeting the rest of the group in the lobby so we can check out. As they trickle in, some look sleepy, some look waterlogged (but relaxed), and some look happily fed and caffeinated. After checking on the table repair from Monday, we get all our stuff into the cars—somehow, we now have more than we left with. We load up and drive just up the road to Ouray, where we grab lunch. I learn more about the Young Artists at lunch, including weird things they ate in college and what their nicknames are or were. One is just too priceless not to share. Our Andrew was once called “Moon Pie.” I’ve always thought of him as that very thing, so it’s validating to know that others saw it, too. I absolutely love it. The spot that we select for lunch lets its patrons write all over the walls. Some people sign their name, some draw pictures, and some offer quotes. Andrew leaves his symbol: a humanized moon pie. The rest of us make sure to leave our marks, too, and even go one better and ensure that people know that the Opera Colorado Young Artists were here. After lunch, we walk around town for a little while. Vanessa and I find a cute and quirky shop, carrying kitchen items. People—I know that necessity is the mother of invention, but can someone please tell me why you need a special set of tongs to take toast out of the toaster? Is there a real need for this particular utensil?
I give the call, rounding everyone up so we can get on the road and begin our drive to Gunnison. We make a stop for gas and then another stop so Heath can get allergy medication (he’s better today). Nick, Jordan, and I have a Wicked sing-along. No, not a sing-along that was really good, as in “wicked.” I mean we sing along to the musical Wicked. Nick makes a lovely Glenda and Jordan is a convincing Elphaba, although he is a little pouty. He wanted to sit in the front seat so he could have the better view for the Black Canyon drive. Nick offered, but apparently he was “kinda rude about it,” so Jordan got in the back. Boys… (Actually, everyone gets along great but they relish teasing each other.)
Today’s drive is beautiful. We’re seeing a lot of wildlife: elk, deer, a yak (or maybe it was a musk ox; it went by too quickly for me to really get a gander on it), llamas, and even a herd of big horn sheep. We turn into Black Canyon National Park and gradually work our way up to the east rim. I stop at an overlook and everyone jumps out of the cars, making noises like they’re watching a fireworks display. I snap a picture of the group, we present Heath with a birthday card and then everyone hikes around and enjoys the view. I call down the cliff when it’s time to go. We have a lot of road left to cover and time’s a-wastin‘! We turn back onto the road to continue to the summit—except there is no summit. It didn’t disappear, we just can’t get to it. The road is closed. Boo! But never fear, this tour guide has a few tricks up her sleeve. We head back to the highway, for I know of another road into the canyon.
Having grown bored with our sing-along, Nick decides to turn feline and swat bugs that have made their way into our car. Now, mind you readers, Jordan and I do not have bugs on our sides of the car. It’s just Nick. He says it’s because they know a vegetarian won’t hurt them. That might be true, but there are three bugs that will not be passing on that belief. We reach the turn off to the lesser-known road, into the canyon, and I pull off so the Young Artists can look at the Blue Mesa dam. Nathan is awed at the sight and shouts, “This is amazing!” Birthday boy Heath shouts, “Dam!” We have just a few minutes to drive around and take in the views before we have to make tracks to Gunnison. I pull off one more time for one more stunning view. Then, it’s back on the road for now, because we really do have some place to be.
We’re staying with host families tonight. Although it’s not something we do regularly, I have developed some close relationships with the people in Gunnison. I feel comfortable allowing the Young Artists to stay with them. It’s a way for us to avoid the cost of a hotel, on a day we don’t have a performance, but it’s also a way to get to know the community we’re performing for tomorrow. A win-win, as far as I see it. We meet the guys’ host and send them off—they’re apparently staying at a ranch outside of town, poor things. I wonder if they’ll have to help with the chores… The ladies are staying in two other locations. Jordan and I are staying at the home of the elementary school music teacher. We have just enough time to grab dinner before we are expected by our hosts.
We choose one of my favorite local spots for dinner. They serve a funky type of fusion cuisine. To give you an idea of just how eclectic it is, the menu has nachos and spanakopita on it. Over dinner, I listen to the girls talk about their hot springs experience. It was eventful. Apparently there was chanting, both wordless and in Latin, thanks to Vanessa. Nicole interrupted a couple’s massage (in progress). All of the bathers got up close and personal with some other visitors, who decided to partake of the hot springs sans-bathing suits. Heath and Andrew just tried to keep eye contact and not look below the neck, while Katie and Nicole tried to be nonchalant, despite close proximity to body parts that were not their own. Vanessa was sympathetic, but secretly questioned their life choices. Nathan struck up a conversation.
After dinner, we all head to our housing. It’s fifty-shades of dark out here and Jordan and I have the farthest to go. The GPS in our vehicle takes this exact moment to go on strike. I end up having to make a U-turn on the side of a sheer drop-off. We then have to make another U-turn in someone’s driveway. Then we hit a dirt road, that only off-road vehicles should be allowed on. I almost hit a deer and then a dog, that was chasing the deer, and narrowly avoid running over a mouse. I turn around again, because Jordan thinks that the house where we made the U-turn was the right house. So we go back again and he goes up to the door to see if this is the place. Thankfully it is and the creatures of the night can rest easy. I’m done driving today. We bring in our things, get settled, and spend the last few hours of the evening visiting with our hosts and their sweet kitties, one of whom spends the evening sitting on the sofa, curled up against the back of my neck.
It gets late, so we decide to turn in. We have a three-event day tomorrow. Well… we HAD a three-event day; it’s now a four-event day. Word gets around when we’re in these towns on tour and now I’ve been asked to do another coaching session. So, we have a performance of Cinderella, I’ll be teaching a master class at the college, then doing a coaching session with the high school choir teacher, and then we have an Arias & Ensembles performance for the community in the evening. See why I said it was a good thing we had a day with no singing? As busy as it will be, being busy is what we should be. It means we’re here for a reason and we’re serving this community. I hope we keep on being busy for years to come.
So, that’s it for today readers.
Cherity Koepke is Opera Colorado’s Director of Education & Community Programs and the Director of the Young Artist Program. To learn more about some of Opera Colorado’s many education and community opportunities, click here. To learn more about this year’s Young Artists, click here.