Violinist Allen Ames and his wife, classical guitarist Maryanne Kremer Ames, perform as their duo, “Lyra” in Oak Creek Canyon each summer, a tradition that has endured nearly three decades. Ilchi Lee speaks fondly of this lush canyon area north of Sedona in his book. Read about the simple call to Sedona that has profoundly influenced this masterful musician’s career.

Ilchi-Lee_Call-of-Sedona_Allen-Ames-at-the-Briar-Patch

LT: Allen, please tell us the story of what brought you from your hometown in the greater Phoenix area to Sedona.

AA: My parents used to take me up to Oak Creek Canyon when I was a kid and I had some really magical experiences there. Then, Maryanne and I got together. It was the first year that we really got serious. We were dating and we were forming the duo, Lyra. It’s a pretty amazing story:

She told me, “You know I’ve noticed that Phoenix gets really hot in the summertime, and the work all goes away. We should check northern Arizona and see if there’s any work up there.” I’ve lived here my whole life, and I’m banging my forehead and saying, “Doh! Why didn’t I think of that?”

We got together what repertoire we had and a little publicity tag and we went up to Flagstaff, and especially Sedona. It was just such a wonderful place that we were attracted to it. We started playing, and we landed a few gigs. We were playing at a restaurant called “Eat Your Heart Out,” (which hasn’t existed for a long time now). Joanne Olsen, who owned the Briar Patch Inn was there and heard us. One thing led to another, and she invited us to come and play for one summer, and that started the whole thing.

LT: What year did your performances there begin?

AA: The summer of 1989 was our first full summer there in residence. And then we got married at the Briar Patch the following October. We’ve been playing there for every summer ever since . . . and of course along the way we’ve made a lot of friends and formed a lot of musical relationships that continue off and on for the whole year. So we keep coming back, even when it’s not summer.

LT: How has being in Sedona influenced the way your music developed over the years?

AA: It really has had a huge influence because, of course we freelance during the year in the Phoenix area, and that’s great, we do a lot of playing. Our work in the valley consists of weddings and corporate events and the occasional concert. But in the beginning we were playing six mornings a week, now we’re just doing four mornings. But still that’s a lot of playing, and we’re doing all of it at the Briar Patch in the fantastic Oak Creek Canyon atmosphere and for the people that come there as well.

That really has formed our style as a duo, especially our compositions. Between the two of us we probably have 30 pieces of music that we’ve written, pretty much all influenced by Sedona, Oak Creek Canyon, the Briar Patch . . . that whole area. If we had been playing somewhere else in Phoenix the whole time, I’m sure that our style would have evolved to be something different. Maryanne has written the most compositions, and I feel that she has written the ones that are most beautiful. Mine tend to be a little more “jazzy.”

LT: Tell us a little bit about your wife and musical partner, Maryanne Kremer Ames.

AA: Maryanne trained as a classical guitarist in New York and, luckily for me, she moved to the Phoenix area so she could get her Master’s degree at ASU. So I met her when she was working on that—we met on a gig. But she also is trained as a symphonic percussionist and before she moved to the valley, around 1985, she was busy playing a lot of operas and orchestra jobs in New York and New Jersey as a timpanist. Now she’s playing in two or three orchestras in the Phoenix area as a timpanist and percussionist.

LT: You perform with at least two other Sedona musical groups, including the William Eaton Ensemble and the group, Meadowlark.

AA: I’ve known William Eaton since when he was living in Phoenix. I’ve been playing with his ensemble since 1985, which brings it to 30 years and of course, now that he’s in Sedona and has spearheaded a lot of things, I’ve played with him in a lot of the community efforts that he’s done. We’ve had a lot of adventures.

The last one we did has led to a couple of concerts. Last summer most of the ensemble went to a remote grotto on the Colorado River and we stayed there for almost a week, camped out in this unbelievable space and played, improvised, and recorded. Eventually a CD will come out of that. Then, when we came back, it happened to coincide with the whole event celebrating the Verde River, so it really was a river concert! In fact, William composed a piece right there that we’ll be playing again. We’re going to be doing another one soon at the Old Town Center for the Arts, “Celebrate the River.”

I also play with a group called Meadowlark. Oddly enough, they’re now residents of Sedona! I’ve been playing with Meadowlark since the early 90’s—pretty close to 20 years—and that’s been a magical experience. We’ve had our share of adventures too! We’ve shared the same performance space in years past when we used to do concerts at the Briar Patch. I think there may have been at least a couple of times when Meadowlark and William Eaton Ensemble came.

I should mention James Buchanan. He’s been the Music Director at Christ Lutheran Church for, I think, twenty years, and Maryanne and I are good friends of his. We play at least two or three concerts a year with him.

LT: Please share your feelings about Sedona, as a town, as a land.

AA: The community of Sedona has its own wonders: there’s of course, a lot of art, a lot of spirituality, but what drives it all is nature. I don’t even know where to begin with all that. Everybody talks about the red rocks, and that’s definitely there. Oak Creek Canyon itself has to be one of the most beautiful drives in the country, just to go down the canyon. And there really is something about the whole area that is so conducive to creativity. I mean, apart from the natural beauty of the rocks, I think it’s no coincidence that so many artists have been attracted there.

LT: Do you have favorite place to go to enjoy nature in Sedona?

AA: My favorite hikes are definitely in the canyon: Sterling Pass and North Wilson. Unfortunately those are two that were hit especially badly in the Brins Mesa Fire, and it will take them awhile to be restored to their natural beauty. It is interesting that Oak Creek itself has experienced a couple of really epic floods since we’ve been there, and parts of it have been really torn up. But the funny thing is that the area is growing back; the track of the creek gets changed a little bit here too, but eventually it will be as beautiful as ever. Well, it really is, but will probably be even more beautiful.

Every time someplace has a flood or a fire or an earthquake, as John Muir used to say, “It’s all part of the wild beauty-making business.” You know, the human scale is nothing. In the grand scheme of things, Nature is just reorganizing herself to make more beautiful things!

LT: Thank you, Allen!

Lynn A. TrombettaBy Lynn A. Trombetta: A freelance web writer on topics of art, music, and wellness, Lynn is also a wildlife artist/photographer, professional flutist, recording artist, and published author.