Summit County pianist, composer Len Rhodes has multiple holiday performances
What: A variety show featuring the yuletide classics and comic interludes.
When: 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 19, 20 and 23. 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 21 and 22.
Where: Flex Theater at the Lake Dillon Theatre Company, 460 Blue River Parkway, Silverthorne.
Cost: $14.50–$41.50 depending on seating. Visit LakeDillonTheatre.org to purchase.
New York New Year’s Eve
What: A cabaret performance and celebration counting down to the ball drop in New York.
When: Dec. 31 from 6-10 p.m.
Where: Lake Dillon Theatre Company, 460 Blue River Parkway, Silverthorne.
Cost: $200, which includes catered dinner and open bar. Visit LakeDillonTheatre.org to purchase.
If you’ve seen a classical performance in Summit County, chances are Len Rhodes had a hand in it. The man of many musical talents is an organist, pianist, composer, arranger, teacher and musical director. Currently he can be seen as the musical director of the Lake Dillon Theatre Company in Silverthorne and the Eagle River Presbyterian Church in Avon along with being the artistic director of Summit Music and Arts. Previously he was the music director at Lord of the Mountains Lutheran Church in Dillon and other churches in Colorado.
Before that, he was a 13-year-old organist in Kent, England.
Born and raised in England, his mother taught him how to play the piano when he was only 2. A year after he became a paid professional with the church organ he started educating others.
“My dad was just an amazing educator, a historian and he loved serious, classical music,” Rhodes said. “That was a huge influence in a way as well … I had that drive even as a child, it was good.
“It’s just what I did and I never thought about doing anything else. … My music was always my primary focus and you didn’t question it.”
Rhodes was exposed to classical music from his parents as classic rock of the ’60s was simultaneously exploding in England. Within half a mile of his neighborhood were the residences of artists like David Bowie and The Rolling Stones’ Bill Wyman.
“For someone who was really serious about classical music, that was actually really a wonderful diversion. All of my life I’ve been able to cross that bridge and play very serious, heavy duty classical music like Debussy and Ravel, but I’m just as comfortable doing rock ‘n’ roll and jazz.”
The two genres are also linked in history and style. Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page is known for breaking into Bach’s “Bouree in E Minor” during a solo of “Heartbreaker” and “‘Stairway to Heaven’ is an iconic progression stemming from Pachelbel, stemming from Bach, stemming from Haydn,” said Rhodes.
Yet Rhodes never sought stardom. He prefers to stay in the realm of educating himself and others in private lessons. Through his lectures and performances, one thing Rhodes wants to accomplish is erasing the stigma of chamber music.
“For whatever reason, people say they don’t like chamber music,” said Rhodes. “I would tell people that what chamber music is, by definition, one instrument to a part (as opposed to an orchestra which could have multiple violins). … Led Zeppelin is chamber music! Pink Floyd is chamber music! One individual has a particular responsibility to maintain their line. Classic rock is the epitome of chamber music. … If we invited Led Zeppelin to the (Silverthorne) Pavilion 25 years ago it would certainly sell out. If we ask a string quartet to play in the Pavilion, it won’t sell out. But the genre isn’t that different.”
Rhodes came to America to network in the ’80s and lived and worked in Texas. The cool mountain climate brought him north to Colorado. His skillset allows him to work practically anywhere and he doesn’t have a favorite job as long as he isn’t stretched too thin. He looks at his schedule as a sort of jigsaw puzzle with pieces divided into projects — and at least one piece dedicated to watching his home Premier League football club, Crystal Palace.
“Whatever I take on, I enjoy,” said Rhodes. “Every element, or every aspect of what I’m able to do has its own particular stimulation, its own particular excitement. The important thing for me is what I say ‘yes’ to, I can be honestly committed to.
“At the end of the day that’s what the arts is all about. It shouldn’t be self serving. It should be much, much more than that. Yes we want to establish ourselves as being good, but why? Who are we working for?”
A recent example is Rhodes’ work on “Broadway Then and Now” with the Lake Dillon Theatre Company. The program combined works from staple Broadway productions like “Oklahoma” to more modern pieces from “Hamilton” and “Wicked.” While artistic director Christopher Alleman picked the songs, it was Rhodes’ duty to arrange the songs so that they worked for the performers or transitioned smoothly from one to the next as well as play live on a grand piano. Rhodes only had four days of rehearsals for the 32 songs in show.
“You can’t say ‘I’ll look at that tomorrow night.’ There’s not a moment to lose from the time you get your music to the time you meet your cast. You owe your audience the best you can offer — the best you can give.”
Now his focus turns to more upcoming performances with the theater company. Next week Holiday Follies takes to the stage with a three-piece band consisting of Rhodes on piano, a drummer and a bassist. The pre-Christmas celebration will have six actors and singers performing holiday classics and comic interludes. Then on Dec. 31, the theater rings in 2019, Eastern Standard Time, with New York New Year’s Eve.
While the two annual performances will have traditional songs that folks know like “Auld Lang Syne,” cast members will also bring their own favorites to work into the shows, hopefully adding new pieces on top of the classics.
“Your reasons for enjoyment may differ from your best friend who saw the same show. That’s where the role of the director is so significant. At the end of the day we could all pick our favorite songs but they won’t be yours. The role is to make sure whatever you do, it’s going to be appealing to who you anticipate your audience to be.”
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