This Sunday evening, at 5 p.m., the soulful saxophone music of the acclaimed local artist Bob Hemenger will be the featured music at Sunday Night Unplugged.
Sunday Night Unplugged, a monthly service at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, provides an atmosphere of quiet meditation through music, readings and silence that allows participants to listen, reflect and pray in a unique setting. Each month a different musician is featured, bringing their own personal spirituality through their musical offerings.
Bob Hemenger is a well known musician and educator who came to Pagosa Springs 20 years ago. At the time, he was leading a wilderness survival and tracking training program with Tom Brown, Jr. Many would be surprised to learn that Bob Hemenger’s degrees are not in music, but in biology. He has long had a deep fascination with nature, the lifestyles and practices of indigenous people, and how music plays a part in the intertwining expressions of nature and the human spirit.
Bob began his music training at age 5, learning to play the piano. It became apparent that he had a strong aptitude for music and in the fifth grade he began playing saxophone in his public school band program. In high school he enjoyed playing in jazz bands, where he began to learn the art of improvisation. In college he played in an award winning jazz band and continued to develop his skills. His improvisational jazz skills have been recognized by many top recording artists who have invited him to join them on their recordings, to perform as a warm-up act for their concerts, or as a guest member of their bands. Indeed, it was Dan Fogelberg and his wife, Anastasia, who first invited him to visit them in Pagosa Springs and introduced him to the beauty of the Southern San Juan Wilderness.
Since his arrival in Pagosa Springs, Hemenger has continued to develop a deeper appreciation of music and nature. For the past five years he has served as an instructor at the Victor Wooten music and nature camps in Only, Tenn., near Nashville. Wooten, a five-time Grammy award winner, purchased property and developed a 147-acre camp for musicians who wish to enrich their music with the wealth of spiritual resources found in nature.
“Bob Hemenger is at the top of my list when it comes to embodying music and nature. He was there when I first made the connection almost twenty years ago. I can’t say enough good things about Bob,” said Wooten.
Students at Pagosa Springs High School benefit from Hemenger’s talents, knowledge and experiences through his leadership in the Americana Project. The Americana Project was developed in Oregon to inspire the creativity of young people, and to demonstrate the cultural and historical significance of American roots music and cultural expression. Hemenger heard about the project and worked to get a grant to create something similar for the students here in Pagosa Springs.
“What I am seeing is some beautiful self-expression, confidence building and a deeper love of music developing in our young musicians,” said Hemenger. “Americana gives them time in their day to be really creative. A couple of days during the week they just jam and write. Through the process of one starting an idea and others jumping in, they write songs. It creates some very powerful moments. Getting up and singing a song you wrote by yourself in front of a crowd is hard to do, but they learn to do it. There are some amazingly talented kids in this place. Americana gives them a chance to explore and approach music in a different way,” he said.
Hemenger explains that improvisation requires an ability to truly listen and respond. This improvisational technique can be applied to many other aspects of life, teaching us to listen to each other, to build on each other’s ideas, and to create something together from a uniting of minds and souls. He recently joined Victor Wooten, Steve Bailey and J.D. Blair on an exciting trip to share this message with the entire freshman class at Stanford University.
“We used music and improv as a metaphor for coming together and creating something bigger than yourself. I wonder how many world problems could be solved using this technique,” said Hemenger.
This Sunday evening at 5 p.m., we will be able to experience the amazing musical skills of Bob Hemenger at Sunday Night Unplugged. Sunday Night Unplugged is free and open to the public.
St. Patrick’s is located at 225 S. Pagosa Blvd. For more information, call 731-5801, or go to www.stpatrickspagosa.org.