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West Valley City Journal

Symphony celebrates ‘Star Wars’ while public celebrates Native American artists at UCCC

Nov 03, 2017 02:25PM ● By Keyra Kristoffersen

Natalie Rausch and Chelsie Anderson perform as Princess Leia. (Keyra Kristoffersen/City Journals)

The West Valley Symphony celebrated the 40th anniversary of the release of “Star Wars” and the anticipation of the upcoming movie, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” being released in December with a concert at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center called “Time and Space” on October 14.

“There’s a lot of ‘Star Wars’ fans in the orchestra,” said Donny Gilbert, the symphony conductor, “The 40th anniversary of ‘Star Wars’ doesn’t come around all that often.”

Two years ago, the symphony performed a “Star Wars” specific concert for the release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in 2015 to celebrate the decades separating it from “The Return of the Jedi” in 1983. That concert went over so well, said Gilbert, that the performance had to be delayed in order to set up an additional few hundred seats for all of the people in attendance. 

“It blew me away how many people showed up,” Gilbert said. 

Member of the 501st Legion, a “Star Wars” cosplay group that uses “Star Wars” enthusiasm to promote contributions to local communities, attended in costume along with many others dressed as Luke, Leia, Padme, Chewbacca, Storm Troopers and Darth Vader. 

This year, John Bigbie, founder of the Utah chapter of the Saber Guild, a “Star Wars” performance group, came with some of the chapter dressed as Jedis and Siths and performed an impromptu lightsaber battle on stage between songs.

Anyone attending the concert this year was also encouraged to come in costume. Music from the first seven movies were performed along with classic themes from other science fiction movies such as “Back to the Future” and “Doctor Who” which was conducted by George Dye. 

“I wanted to do more of an all-encompassing science fiction thing and discuss some of the history of science fiction and touch on some of the big subjects,” said Gilbert. “It’s just to have fun and to listen to some great music.” 

The West Valley Symphony is a community group made up of 50-60 members who volunteer their time and talents to perform several concerts a year, typically free to the public at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center. Musicians in the community are welcome to join them for rehearsals every Wednesday night at 7 p.m. Their next performance is with Sterling Poulson and the Choral Arts Society of Utah for the KUTV Holiday Pops Concert at Cottonwood High School on December 9. Tickets are $12 and proceeds go toward The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree Program. 

On December 18, the symphony will perform for the second year in a row at the 32nd annual Christmas Carole Sing-Along at the Vivint Smart Home Arena. It is free to the public.

Along with concerts by the West Valley Symphony, the Utah Cultural Celebration Center has also been host for an assortment of both traditional and contemporary art pieces celebrating Native American artists in Utah. 

“It’s not just traditional leather work or bead work, basket weaving, although we do have all of that, it’s also watercolor, sculpture, pencils, photography, more modern pieces as well,” said Mike Christensen of the UCCC.  

The exhibit ran from September 7 to October 12 and featured 70-80 pieces from stylized graphic design photography to early works by Utah Native artist Allen Howser, who passed away in the 1990’s, and are on loan from private collectors.

Christensen and the UCCC were approached in 2016 by Dru Drury of the Native American Trading Post and a collector named Gary Swenson who had an idea for this type of exhibit to gather from Native American artwork both from living and deceased artists.

Christensen has said that the exhibit garnered a good response from the community with scout, school and senior groups regularly visiting while it was open to the public. 

The gallery will soon host the Day of the Dead Altar Exhibition from October 25 to November 3 where families construct individual altars to honor their dead along with other thematic artwork on display. The opening reception is on October 28. 

In December, an exhibit called “Bob Hope: An American Treasure” will open and run until April 2018. Pieces are on loan from the World Golf Hall of Fame and include artifacts such as personal items, clothing, golf clubs, contracts and interactive videos.

“It’s more of a museum installation,” said Christensen. 

For more information about upcoming events and exhibits at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center, visit: For information about the West Valley Symphony, visit: