Saturday, April 21 , 2018, 10:17 pm | Fair 56º


Judy Crowell: In the Music of Yellowstone National Park Are Sounds to Match Its Sights

Cowboy composer Jett Hitt is an unassuming ambassador for one of America's most majestic destinations

Not long ago, while traveling through Yellowstone National Park with my family, I was standing in the massive lobby of the Old Faithful Inn. Built in 1904 in a style known as National Park Service Rustic, the inn underwent a three-year, $22 million renovation that began in 2005.

As I stood there, in front of the 500-ton, 85-foot stone fireplace, some of the most beautiful music I’d ever heard began to fill the cavernous space.

“Do you hear what I’m hearing?” I asked. “I wonder who composed this.”

You can imagine my surprise when a handsome young cowboy, wearing jeans, cowboy boots, chaps and a tan Stetson and seated at a nearby table stood up and introduced himself.

“I’m glad you like it,” he said. “The music is a concerto called ‘Yellowstone for Violin and Orchestra.’ It was recorded in Bratislava by the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra and I’m the composer. My name is Jett Hitt.”

Not until I purchased the CD and returned home did I realize the extent of his humility. This unassuming composer who refers to himself as an “Ozark Mountain Hillbilly,” complete with a grandfather who was incarcerated during the 1930s for making moonshine, is also a widely published photographer, a Yellowstone outfitter offering pack trips and a professor who holds degrees in both music and German, including a doctorate in music composition. His concerto in three movements has become one of the most requested pieces of music on classical stations throughout the country.

“Music is always about place for me,” Hitt will tell you, “and this work was inspired by the most majestic place that I have ever seen.”

The first movement immediately whisks you away to the wilderness of Yellowstone and was inspired, in part, by a wolf pack chasing down an elk. One can hear the cries of animals and Indian chants as the sounds of strings soar through forests and canyons, giving the listener “a glimpse into what is surely the Garden of Eden without the tree.”

A nighttime ride on Jitterbug, his red roan filly, inspired the second movement as he “looked up to see the sky rent in two, one half dark and foreboding and the other filled with a million stars.” An area known as the Hoodoos, formed by many earthquakes and consumed by the spirit of the American Indian, “a place to know God,” was reached by Hitt on horseback.

“Hopefully, in this last movement, I have given the listener a small impression of a horseback ride up through the Hoodoos to the top of creation,” he explained.

Horse pack trips through Yellowstone occur from July through September. There are more than a dozen trips from which to choose, with one of the most popular and leisurely a 47-mile, four-day trip, operating from a base camp. A breathtaking way to view wildlife, it includes beautiful views of the Red Mountains, Mount Hancock, Mount Sheridan and Heart Lake.

A gray wolf surveys the landscape.
A gray wolf surveys the landscape. (Jett Hitt photo)

Living composers “don’t get no respect,” as Rodney Dangerfield used to say. And, sadly, it’s often true that “no man is a prophet in his own land.”

Hitt deserves to have his magnificent concerto performed and premiered in the United States, preferably Santa Barbara. How I would love to sit in The Granada as his evocative music wafts through the rafters. Stirring up a Great Gray Owl or two to swoop down from the balconies, a few North American gray wolves roaming the aisles, an eagle perched on a crystal chandelier, a bighorn ram aiding the percussion section. What a sight that would be. What amazing sounds we would hear.

» Click here for more information on Yellowstone National Park.

» Click here for more information on Yellowstone Wilderness Outfitters.

» Click here for photos of and more information about the Old Faithful Inn renovation from Frank Markley’s Yellowstone Notebook.

— Noozhawk contributing writer Judy Crowell is an author, freelance travel writer and part-time Santa Barbara resident. She can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Horses graze below Mount Sheridan in Yellowstone National Park.
Horses graze below Mount Sheridan in Yellowstone National Park. (Jett Hitt photo)

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