Christina Rusnak | Stehekin Artist in Residence Pt. 2
Christina Rusnak is a multifaceted composer whose work reflects a diversity of styles. Actively seeking to integrate geographic and artistic elements into her work, her goal is to compose music that engages the performers as well as the audience.
Christina Rusnak, Composer, Explorer, Music, Outdoors, Exploring with music
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Stehekin Artist in Residence Pt. 2

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The landscape is both breathtaking and formidable. The pinnacle hike, everyone told me, is Mount McGregor. The trail ascends 6500 vertical feet over 8.3 miles. Many make the trek an overnight one, but I decided to go as far as possible and back down in a day. I’d hiked over 6 miles and nearly 5000 vertical feet when I saw the trail’s stream crossing blocked by a recent landslide. Avalanches and landslides happen regularly in these steep mountains. In the past, mining companies would set up operations in the upper Stehekin and other nearby valleys only to find that all traces disappeared during the winter – crushed by the snow, mud and rock, and propelled downstream – debris revealed in spring. Paved for the first 5 miles, the road through the valley used to continue for 18 graveled miles, but the last washout terminated the last 10. Still walkable, the trail is named the Old Wagon Road.

As I contemplate the elements of my piece, I keep coming back to the values and characteristics of the people who live here year round;[1] their sense of unity in spite of differences, their perspectives – a way of seeing the world, a different sense of time, the interaction with the environment and each other. Add to that mix the motivation and impressions of day tourists and overnight visitors, and the transformation – or not – of the seasonal workers. Some come and never leave – except to get their stuff and try to explain to skeptical family members. Others never allow the character of their surroundings to penetrate their external shell; like a capsule that doesn’t open and simply passes through.

Makin' Cider

Makin' MusicThe annual Harvest Festival is held the first weekend of October in the historic Buckner Orchard. Friday night celebrated the musicianship of a resident band including a dulcimer and an electric cello. We sang folk songs; some I knew, many I did not (gratefully I can sight-sing). On the big day, dozens pick, wheelbarrow, cut and grind the apples into fresh unfiltered cider. The reward for all this work is great eating. Up to four generations of some of Stehekin’s early families attended the weekend activities. Historic memory is shared memory. Like the cyclical nature of the seasons, residents assume a level of hardship and perseverance, the way most of us assume a level of crime.

While visiting the school to discuss how composers interpret place and nature, the kids totally inspired me, teaching me what is important about the North Cascades – the woods, fresh snow, exploring the creek, getting dirty, the sounds of the bugs and learning how to make the things they need. Tonight I am captivated by the night sky and especially by the glow of the moon on Lake Chelan silhouetted by the mountainous cliffs across the water. I have never experienced anything like it.

The shapes of my pieces tend to evolve as the subject matter is revealed and the materials develop. The majestic landscape of the North Cascades, and Stehekin in particular, are challenging me to express its dichotomy of change and stability, of resilience and adaptability. It’s gonna be fun!






[1]             Quite a few people live in the Stehekin Valley and other parts in the North Cascades for weeks/months at time – some have been coming annually for 20+ years.

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