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This Cowley County Artist Isn't Too Busy to Work on New Projects

Posted on Sat, Apr. 26, 2003

Who is Gary Gackstatter, exactly? He's a hippie, right, that guy with longish hair and a kooky hat who holes up in his office at all hours, playing his guitar and chugging gallons of herbal tea without apparent need of food or sleep? Isn't he the one who tools around Ark City in a 1978 Volkswagen camper?

He and son Evan, 17, escape with their guitars as often as possible to Oklahoma's Red Rock Canyon campgrounds. Surely this isn't the same pedigreed Gary who conducts the Winfield Regional Symphony? These volunteer musicians play for the joy of performing innovative music. Then there's the Gary G. who draws award-winning pen and ink sketches of rural stone bridges. Every fall and spring, this Gary and his wife, Shannon, stage a bus tour and chuck wagon supper as a fund-raiser for the community arts council. Reportedly, the real Gary G. is an eclectic, intense 43-year-old who runs the music program at Cowley County Community College. He teaches band, jazz ensemble and music appreciation. He even conducts the school symphony. Might that explain why he has been spotted at public libraries in Winfield and Ark City teaching pre-schoolers how to conduct music?

Four years in a row, Gary G. won the songwriting contest at the Walnut Valley Festival. The governor presented him with the state's highest award for supporting the arts. So let's say this guy holds a few irons in the fire. Why is he so fired up for us to drive to Ark City on Friday at 7:30 for a free concert? This is the third time Gary G. has led his bold symphony off a cliff into unknown waters. He thinks we'll love it. He hopes it stirs creative juices, and brings warmth and enjoyment and sweet memories to an audience of all ages. Remember in 1999 when he conducted the world premiere of the live performance of Elmer Bernstein's score for "To Kill A Mockingbird"? The actors who played Scout, Jem and Tom Robinson showed up to narrate and help celebrate.

Last year, the Winfield musicians performed Gackstatter's original score to one of his favorite children's books, "Jacob the Baker." For many years, this book, subtitled "Gentle Wisdom For a Complicated World," has been an international bestseller. Author Noah benShea read excerpts during the performance. Friday's premiere will entwine a third element, art, with literature and music. Again, Gackstatter called the author, M. B. Goffstein, with an unusual proposition."Brook was surprised and happy about it," Gackstatter says of Goffstein. "Getting these books published has taken so much out of her. She's written and illustrated 30 books and won the Caldecott Medal. "While the symphony plays and Gackstatter narrates, Goffstein's compelling artwork will be shown on two huge screens erected on each side of the stage.

Gackstatter's score, page by page and word by word, matches 10 of Goffstein's short, sparse books.This concert is something different, a stretch of creativity dreamed up and performed by Kansas musicians. It's an opportunity to take home whatever music, art or words that touch our souls. "He's always looking to open up avenues for others to be creative," Gary's wife, Shannon, said. "He likes for people to imagine what they can do themselves. "Every weekday at 6 a.m., after his workout but before his hour-long trombone and guitar practice, Gackstatter grabs his favorite book and heads for the hot tub. The book, "Walking in the World," is the latest in author Julia Cameron's series on awakening higher creativity. Gackstatter needs it, he says, because he's not there yet.


For more information, see www.garygackstatter.com or call (800) 593-2222. The show will last an hour and parents are encouraged to bring their children. To get to the Cowley County Community College Brown Center Theatre, take I-35 south to the Arkansas City exit, then follow U.S. 166 to Second Street, in the heart of downtown.