Helping to Heal: Classical Piano Performances for Wildfire Refugees

Helping to Heal: Classical Piano Performances for Wildfire Refugees

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In early September, all of Oregon and California experienced one of the most destructive string of wildfires in the west coast’s history. Over 2,000 fires burned throughout the forests, eventually causing massive evacuations and hazardous air quality for many of us here in Oregon. Two months later, most of the fires have now died out, with Riverside and Lionshead being the few exceptions. Now, as people begin to rebuild and move forward, one local pianist decided to do what he could to help the healing process with a touch of much-needed musical distraction.

Hunter Noack is a classical pianist who began the project titled, In a Landscape: Classical Music in the Wild. As a one-man army with a nine-foot Steinway on the back of his truck, Noack has been performing free outdoor concerts for residents of areas hit hardest by the fires across the Pacific Northwest. He says that each performance is sporadic and there is no concrete schedule. Instead, he’s just been moving from town to town and surprising residents with these impromptu performances.

Along the way, Noack found the Gates Community Church of Christ, which is one of the few buildings that survived the wildfires in one local town. The church has been helping those who who lost their homes to the fire by offering refuge, food and water. Noack performs for this particular congregation most often- in a way, they’re his regular audience.

“Sometimes it’s background music; sometimes they come and sit closer to the piano,” he said. “It’s just been really amazing to hear how meaningful listening music is for people who have lost so much.”

It’s very beautiful to see how the audience react to Noack’s playing. They’ve lost so much, yet are able to sit together, listen, meditate and dwell on the idea that nothing ends forever. That they have the means to continue to learn, listen, and experience together no matter what has transpired. It’s also a sharing experience between the performer and the audience. The act of listening or watching a performer is not purely for sheer entertainment; It’s a period of time in which the outside world dissolves and all that remains is that meditative state of mind in which we can all breathe a little, think clearer, and acknowledge that no matter what happens- beautiful things still exist.

“People have volunteered their stories,” Noack said, recalling one woman’s experience. “The way she was talking about that loss, I felt like she had given me a gift by sharing her story.”

Noack plans to continue the performances until the winter really starts to begin. Before then, his music will continue to help those across the coast find their little moments of peace as they continue to rebuild.

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