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Founder of Symphony of the Canyons Kortney Stirland retires after 38 years

Back in 1984, Kortney Stirland was asked to put together a little symphony for a church event, no more than 20 or 25 people to accompany a production of “The Music Man”. Stirland said, “We had such a good time; we just wanted to keep it going.” And so, the Kanab Civic Orchestra was born … and many of those founding members are still going. As the orchestra grew, more and more people from outside of Kanab started volunteering, to the point that ‘Kanab Civic Orchestra’ became a bit of a misnomer; in 1999 they changed the group’s name to the one they’re known by today: The Symphony of the Canyons.

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The fearless leader of the Symphony of the Canyons, Kortney Stirland, will be retiring from his role as symphony director this coming fall. Stirland will be leaving a legacy he created, and the shoes he leaves behind will be big ones to fill.

“I’m a glutton for punishment I suppose,” Stirland joked when asked about his part in founding the group and conducting it ever since. “I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t absolutely love it. I can’t remember a bad concert, and this one coming is set to be my favorite yet.” Stirland cites the symphony’s yearly trips to the North Rim, and the Kane County feature concert in Salt Lake as some of his highlight memories. The symphony has played multiple shows a year since, and most are free to the public … the only concerts that charge admission are the Christmas Festival (which keeps them in mileage and instruments) and the semi-annual Broadway shows (which are higher value productions and need to pay for themselves). The symphony averages 35 to 40 members in the off season, with an uptick in summer and around Christmas. Each member volunteers their time, practicing every Thursday, and more often to prep for big shows. That’s a lot of time dedicated, and Kortney Stirland has been there for it all.

And now, after 38 years conducting, Stirland is passing off the baton. “My wife and I decided since our five kids and twelve grandkids are all up in the Wasatch Front, we just want to be with our family. Travel’s getting harder as we’re getting older, and we don’t want to miss out on all the important moments; our family is our primary reason for going.” Stirland followed up with a smile and shake of the head though, as he stated, “Don’t worry. I’m happy to say that the symphony will go on!”

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The symphony’s board of directors, chaired by Dave Owens, are set to choose a new conductor, or a few, to share the responsibility, potentially from the symphony’s current volunteers. “There are multiple qualified directors in our group,” Stirland said. “But we’re blessed with a problem: they’re too good on their instruments; we’re not sure we can afford to lose them to the conductor’s stand!”

“I’ve seen folks go from not very strong players, to accomplished musicians!” Stirland went on when asked what the symphony’s plans were for the future. “And I hope to see more members, especially more high school kids getting started. I want to see all these folks playing better than they ever have; that’s my hope for the symphony.” The symphony, as always, is open to new volunteers of just about any skill level. Stirland repeated multiple times how blessed the group was whenever someone young and inexperienced was looking to get started and started practicing with the group on Thursdays. With a smile, he offered the interviewer - who had casual experience playing the trombone in high school and nothing more - a chair for Thursday night practices. “The world’s changing,” Stirland said. “We need more social media presence, more musicians; just more young people.”

Stirland’s last concert is set for this September, with just a show or two in between, including this summer’s rock and roll and Broadway show featuring local vocalists. He concluded, “I’m so grateful that I was able to be a part of this endeavor. Grateful to the musicians, the community, the businesses and the people.”

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