MARIPOSA – When the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra premieres Founder/Conductor Les Marsden’s half-hour symphonic piece Yosemite! on Apr. 25 and 26, there’ll be a unique connection for one of the MSO’s musicians.
The final section of Marsden’s Yosemite! includes his musical interpretation of the park’s famed, long-ended Firefall, the nightly summertime spectacle created when the embers of a massive bonfire were pushed off the edge of Glacier Point.
And MSO flutist Susan Randol’s father was the man who pushed those embers off the cliff.
Ranger Naturalist Ted McVey of Merced led the Camp Curry campfire programs and served as the Curry “caller” starting in 1955, before being stationed at Glacier Point during the summers of 1958 – 1960.
During his Glacier Point years, Ranger McVey would present his evening Naturalist Program about 20 feet from the giant bed of coals. Visitors would take in McVey’s stories of Yosemite while enjoying the magnificent background view.
At the conclusion of his program, the assembled audience would walk to the edge of Glacier Point for the 9 p.m. exchange of calls from Camp Curry and responses from Glacier Point:
“Hello, Glacier Point!”
“Hello, Camp Curry!”
“Is the Fire Ready?”
“The Fire is Ready!”
“Let the Fire Fall!”
“The Fire Falls!”
The coals would then be pushed over the edge using a special rake approximately four feet wide and one foot high, with a very long handle to avoid the intense heat.
The “Firefall” was informally started in 1872 by early trail developer and Glacier Point Hotelier James McCauley. It became an institution under legendary Camp Curry founder David Curry in the early 1900s and continued with only a few years’ interruption until 1968, at which time traffic concerns, the damage to Yosemite Valley’s meadows by eager Firefall observers and its very unnatural nature caused the National Park Service to end the practice.
The final Firefall was held on January 25, 1968 with few observers due to the winter conditions.
Merced native Ranger McVey’s experiences included being struck by lightning while atop Half Dome on Aug. 9, 1958 – which he described as “a blue flash and deafening crack” – and serving in Washington state’s Olympic National Park.
In 1962 he was one of the first instructors for Merced College and later became Dean of the college’s Los Banos campus. Though a full-time National Park ranger, he was allowed nine months off each year to teach. The late McVey’s campfire programs in the parks (including several summers headquartered at Wawona) always included his great joy of singing and that legacy of music continues in his daughter Susan’s performances with the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra.
Though the Firefall calls have been silenced for nearly 50 years, audiences will have the opportunity to hear those words again and to reminisce on Saturday Apr. 25, at 7 p.m., in Mariposa’s Fiester Auditorium or on Sunday, Apr. 26, at 2 p.m., in Yosemite National Park’s Ahwahnee Hotel itself, as the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra performs Marsden’s half-hour tribute to America’s crown jewel park.
The concert also includes Jean Sibelius’ Third Symphony and Guest Artist Ira Lehn as soloist in Camille Saint-Saën’s Cello Concerto #1, the very piece with which Mr. Lehn made his professional debut in 1951 with legendary conductor Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Full concert information is available by visiting the Mariposa County Arts Council’s website at http://tinyurl.com/MariposaSO