Sedona Conservatory: The Music of the Red Rocks

  • story by David M. Brown
  • posted on 08/2018
  • posted in: Newswire

The music of Sedona is red rock spires, sculpted monuments and the towering junipers and riparian cottonwoods of Oak Creek Canyon. Surrounded by 1.8 million acres of Coconino National Forest, the world destination also draws people to Arizona for its spiritual vortexes, which, it’s said, harmonize self and world. Some 4.5 million people visit each year.

Soon, a new kind of music will also play from this unique setting of natural beauty and personal discovery. When the Sedona Conservatory is built, a premier cultural center will celebrate the performing and fine arts, humanities and Native American cultures with the world.

“The Sedona Conservatory will be set amid indescribable beauty, where the world’s finest master teachers and renowned performing and visual artists will inspire young, emerging and mid-career artists,” says Russell Fox, board president of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation.


“These living cultural treasures will guide, teach, challenge and nurture their students, instilling in them a passion for the highest artistic ideals of expressive technique in music, dance, drama and visual arts,” explains Fox, a Sedona resident and longtime conductor, educator and arts and culture advocate.

“Artists of all genres need a place of retreat, time away from the norm, free from life’s standard pressures, a time and place to rediscover, to expand, to learn, to grow,” he says. “The Sedona Conservatory will be that place, and there will be no other place like it in the world.”

All-Encompassing Campus
The multi-acre campus will be built in or adjacent to Sedona on land that would be donated to the nonprofit arts organization for the conservatory.


Fox’s group is seeking this gift of land and the construction costs from an arts benefactor, a foundation or similar organization. “All realized creativity, indeed, every significant accomplishment is a collaboration, a marriage of vision and resources, each relying on and enriching the other,” he says. “We are eagerly seeking to establish that vital relationship.”

The campus will be designed by the internationally respected architectural designer Gerry Jones and Bing Hu, AIA. An Arizona resident, Jones taught extreme mountainous terrain architecture at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West for 16 years. Approximately 80 percent of the 328 luxury homes he’s built during the past 64 years are on these challenging sites. Hu is well known for his residential and commercial work in Arizona, including communities at Desert Mountain, Silverleaf and others in north Scottsdale.

Components will include training and rehearsal studios and three performance venues, highlighted by the Festival Concert Hall, which will be home to the world’s largest concert hall pipe organ; housing for resident and guest artists and students; festival and picnic grounds; two parks; a sculpture garden; an events plaza; and above- and below-ground parking.


Also planned is a boutique hotel and conference center; a health and wellness retreat with a spa; luxury townhomes; a village of galleries, shops and cafes; even a working vineyard.

Finally, the Sedona Center & Museum for Indigenous World Cultures will celebrate Arizona’s 21 native cultures, past and present, as well as the cultures of native peoples worldwide. “The center will stimulate intercultural awakening, enrichment, understanding and a sense of global community,” Fox says.

Three mentoring divisions will constitute the Sedona Conservatory.
The Preparatory Division, or ‘pre-conservatory’ is designed to promote among young people the highest of artistic ideals and to arouse a passion for excellence in the study of music, dance, theater and visual arts. “Through a series of intense group and personalized educational experiences,” Fox explains, “students will be prepared for a lifetime of performance and creative options regardless of professional aspirations.”

The Professional Division will provide emerging and mid-career artists in music, dance and drama a year-long series of one- to two-week residential master classes with master teachers and celebrated performing artists the caliber of Yo Yo Ma, Marilyn Horne and Judi Dench. This level of offerings will also include master visual and literary artists. Public performance and display opportunities will culminate the residencies.

Finally, the Adult Enrichment Division will offer varied adult programs for nonprofessional avocational arts enthusiasts in all genres seeking greater understanding of an art form. These performance programs will provide superior classroom, solo and ensemble performing arts education, engagement and expressive expansion.

“The concept was never to create a multi-year residential degree-driven school, college or university performing and creative arts program,” Fox explains. “Excellent institutions of this type exist all around the world.”

“Fulfilling one’s artistic potential requires a highly developed technique, and you can’t create that completely on your own, no matter how talented you are,” he says. “One must be exposed to, challenged and guided by acknowledged master teachers and mentors, living exemplars of their craft. Studying ‘at the foot of the master’ will inspire, nurture and guide both gifted emerging artists and enthusiastic nonprofessionals to achieve at the highest expressive levels. Providing that extraordinary opportunity in an environment unmatched anywhere on Earth is the mission of the Sedona Conservatory.”

Pulling Out all the Stops
At Sedona Conservatory, two historic world-class pipe organs will be brought together to become the world’s largest concert hall instrument by professional organist, builder and historic organ curator, Weston Harris.

“As an active musician and conductor, I’ve had the rich opportunity of working in concert halls and churches equipped with extremely fine pipe organs,” Fox recounts. “Honestly, there is no experience on Earth even remotely similar to that provided by a truly grand organ. From the bone-shaking roar to the exquisitely heartbreaking quiet tones, there is no other instrument capable of a pipe organ’s extended tonal palette and expressive options. Remember, it was Mozart who first called the organ ‘The King of Instruments.’”

Installed at the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music’s Finney Chapel in 1955, the Aeolian-Skinner, Opus 230-A has been carefully transported from the Ohio college to Sedona, including pipes, the keyboard console and most of the wind chests. When Fox was a bachelor’s and master’s degrees student there, he played and performed on this great instrument many times.

Even larger, the landmark Estey Organ Magnum Opus 2981 was completed in 1931 at the Bridges Auditorium, Pomona College, Claremont, California.

“This instrument is especially significant in that several of the pipe sets came directly from the European and British organ-building masters responsible for the world’s finest cathedral and concert hall instruments,” explains Fox.

Changes in Pomona College’s performing arts departments have transformed Bridges Auditorium mainly into a regional theatrical rental facility, leaving its famed concert instrument silent. Through the mediation of Harris, who is the organ’s curator, the college has graciously donated this monumental instrument to the Sedona Conservatory. It is scheduled to be disassembled and transported to Sedona during the summer of 2019.

“We are thrilled that Weston will do all the work here in Arizona,” Fox says. “It will be the ‘crown jewel’ of the Conservatory –– only rivaled in majesty by Sedona’s internationally famous red rocks.”

Introducing Russell Fox
Fox first came to Arizona from Oberlin Conservatory when he became director of the Music Department at Sedona’s independent college-prep Verde Valley School.

“My wife and I were immediately smitten with Sedona’s incredible landscape and weather, but after two years we decided that our musical careers needed opportunities and challenges that the area was not yet able to provide,” he says.

They moved to Los Angeles where his wife Virginia, an opera singer, pursued her career and he worked at Los Angeles Community College, UCLA, with several orchestras and choruses, and served for 23 years as conductor and music director for the Hollywood Bowl Easter Sunrise Service.

The couple joyfully returned to Sedona in 2010. Since then he’s been board president of Northern League of Arizona Opera, a Chamber Music Sedona board member, executive director and conductor of Verde Valley Sinfonietta and board co-chair of Sedona Cultural Collaborative.

In many ways, he says, the arts chose him long ago.
Born in San Francisco, he made cross-country moves with his family, as his father, a Nabisco executive, was transferred every 18 months. His dad was also an accomplished flute player and performed with local symphonies wherever the family was.

“In addition to practicing every night, every so often he and his friends would rehearse woodwind chamber music down in the living room thinking I was sound asleep,” he recalls. “Not so! How would that be possible? How could anyone fall asleep with that fantastic music just yards away?”

His music teachers and school conductors joined his father as mentors, as he played piano, the sousaphone and percussion in school bands, sang in choirs, and eventually decided that conducting would be his focus.

During Fox’s undergraduate and graduate years, Oberlin Conservatory, located just outside of Cleveland, often hosted the great musicians of the Cleveland Orchestra, who taught, performed and gave master classes. That great ensemble often performed at Oberlin’s Finney Chapel under maestros George Szell, Pierre Boulez and Robert Shaw.

He also learned from, and was particularly inspired by, his conducting professor and dean of the Oberlin Conservatory, Robert Fountain: “As a person and conductor, he embodied every electrifying quality that absolutely brought music to life.”

Scoring for Posterity
The idea for the Sedona Conservatory began decades ago as Fox spoke with friends and colleagues. “We all realized that none of us had actually ‘decided’ to become musicians, opera singers, dancers or actors,” he says. “Rather, the art and its pursuit had chosen us. Art was not a career choice. Art was, and continues to be, life itself.”

That life in art continues today, as those early ideas for the Sedona Conservatory develop toward fruition. The arts change lives. “Our mission is to inspire greatness in human expression, refine artistic creativity, and, ultimately, to preserve, celebrate and fully engage with mankind’s treasured cultural heritage,” he says. “The campus will be a living monument to the arts.”

Tanglewood, Ravenna, Lincoln Center, Vienna’s University of Music and Performing Arts, Juilliard School, Curtis Institute, The Royal Academy, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and Boston’s Berklee College: All great cultural centers began as ideas by visionaries who were moved by the arts and wanted to share their joy with the world.

Soon to join these venues, the Sedona Conservatory is a lasting donation of extraordinary power –– a masterpiece of philanthropy.

“We invite your engaging with us in creating a most significant cultural legacy as together we establish Sedona Conservatory: an international cultural retreat and gathering place for the world’s most celebrated master teachers, performers, artists and everyone who loves the arts.”

For information about marking your legacy, e-mail Bill Ramseyer or Frank Aazami, exclusive representatives of Sedona Conservatory at Russ Lyon Sotheby’s International Realty in Scottsdale, Arizona: and Or, call 602.576.9496.

For more information about Sedona Conservatory, see