Canyon Clamor

Not just birds are singing at Sabino.

The hills really are alive with the sounds of music, specifically a festive foothills portion of the Santa Catalina Mountains.

Sabino Canyon, Tucson's desert oasis that entertains more than 1.5 million visitors year-round with its natural beauty, offers something special this week. Friday, December 7, from 5 to 9 p.m., visitors will get to mingle with Santa Claus and Smokey Bear--all part of the seventh annual Holiday Music in the Canyon festival.

"There's tons of folks here from start to finish," says Jim Ruhman, president of the sponsoring Friends of Sabino Canyon. "Bleacher seats are filled, hay bales are all occupied and standing room is traditionally jammed. With lots of people in a small area, there's a sense of oneness and belonging--and that's especially important right now."

"It grows bigger every year," says Friends board member Howard Weiss. "We estimate 2,500 to 3,000 people showed up last year for the free community event."

Free means a spirit-of-the-season waiver of the usual parking and entrance fees. But don't come with an empty wallet. "We accept contributions to enter the canyon ($1 being the suggested donation)," says Weiss. Cans of food for the Community Food Bank are also accepted at the entry point. Cash contributions will assist Friends volunteers in their clean-up and improvement projects. Since 1995, approximately three-quarters of a million dollars has been donated for canyon maintenance and upgrading. Additional funds will be raised through a silent auction of unique holiday gifts and the sale of hot meals.

"This is a magical night of enchantment," says Heidi Schewel, Coordinator of Visitors Services for the Coronado National Forest Santa Catalina Ranger District. And she paints a vivid scene. "It's beautiful to watch the sun dip behind the western horizon, and the Catalinas assume a rose-colored hue while over 800 glowing luminarias light the quarter-mile path from the canyon entrance to the stage."

Along the path of flickering lights, groups of costumed strolling carolers from the Old Pueblo Madrigal Singers will do without instrumental accompaniment and fill the night air with pure a cappella vocals. A roving horn section from the Shadz Utterback Alumni Jazz Band will offer lots of brass, as well as clarinets and chimes. Entertainment awaits on stages at the visitor center and at the former ranger station, now called the Lowell Complex.

At the visitor center, the Tucson Horizon Chorus performs at 5 p.m., followed by the Tucson Accordion Club (5:45) and the Canyon View Steel Band (6:30).

On the main stage, the program opens at 5 p.m. with Ballet Folklorico La Paloma, fresh from their native folk-dancing presentation at the 2000 Olympics in Australia. They will be followed by the Ronstadt Philharmonico, an amalgam of brothers and cousins who claim Linda Ronstadt as a family member. The internationally acclaimed Tucson Boys' Chorus begins to tune up shortly after for their performance from 6:20 to 7 p.m. Director Julian Ackerley has planned a repertoire including traditional tunes, contemporary music, songs and ballads of the Southwest and some classical choir works spanning the Middle Ages through the 20th century. And yes, there will be time left for holiday favorites and some sing-alongs. A second Boys' Chorus appearance will be from 7:40 to 8:20 p.m. Channel 4 weatherman Jimmy Stewart will check his charts to ensure good weather prior to stepping on stage as master of ceremonies.

For the musically disinclined who just want to absorb the spirit of the season in an outdoor surrounding, interpretive programs are scheduled for presentation in the ranger station.

The silent auction fundraiser will offer prizes ranging from works of art and handmade Christmas decorations to hotel and golf packages. This year Friends of Sabino Canyon are raising funds to complete the "Gateway Project," begun in October. Slated for completion by spring 2002, improvements to the visitor center plaza will include greater wheelchair accessibility, wider walkways, drinking fountains, a bicycle parking area and new ramadas for outdoor nature presentations.

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