phillip@bimstein.com
 
reprinted from the Deseret News, June 30, 1998
Part 3 of a 5-part series

Sounds of harmony now ring in Springdale


By Lucinda Dillon
Deseret News staff writer

SPRINGDALE--This community has been healed by music.

Springdale is a town once so divided that a Washington County deputy sheriff had to attend town meetings to keep the peace. It is a place where unprecedented vehemence and acrimony spewed about the Zion Canyon Cinemax theater, which brought its six-story screen, its thunderous stereo system and spectacular camera work to the breathtakingly beautiful entrance of Zion National Park.

It is a place where astonishing beauty has at times belied a vicious conflict between city officials that wormed its way through a district court, town councils and Springdale homes.

It is a place where the arty, philosophical meanderings of the current mayor have successfully wedded with Springdale's sturdy Mormon heritage and tradition.

And where a town born out of a rough-hewn farming and ranching tradition stands out as the only southern Utah town to support a plan to protect 5.7 million acres as wilderness.

Springdale is a community of contrasts; and it would take a great philosophy, a great faith and a great will to blend these contrasts.
Springdale Mayor Phillip Kent Bimstein apparently has this will. And music--as it has been through the years in this community of 350--is at the heart of his philosophy.

"Opposing voices and sounds can find harmony," Bimstein says.
That simple philosophy, it seems, has a holistic healing power--it's also helping to make Springdale one of the most sought after tourist destinations.
Before Bimstein, "politically, Springdale was a mess," said Scott Hirschi, director of the Washington County Economic Development Council. But in 4 1/2 years as mayor, he has changed that.

"He has been able to work very well with all sides," Hirschi said. "The controversies have mostly disappeared."

Bimstein won't take the credit. It was a combination of factors: a community council, some new staff and the citizens willingness to click with something positive. "It's not like I go around preaching these philosophies every day. I think it's more about the behavior and the actions that result from these philosophies.

"It's really the community. The residents are responsible for the turnaround."

Soothing the savage beast

Chicago-born Bimstein was backpacking through southern Utah when he first happened on Springdale, nestled beneath sandstone cliffs at the mouth of Zion Canyon.

He dreamed about the place. He dreamed of making Springdale his home, and several years ago, he returned to live. As a successful composer, he brought with him his music and his nurturing, funky view of community dynamics.

Today he makes a good living writing music, and much of what he writes now is inspired by the southern Utah landscape. His compositions are performed in San Francisco, Las Vegas and other places in the West.
But mostly he sticks close to home, carefully considering the opinions and viewpoints of a diverse community. He was married when he moved to town, but after a friendly divorce, he says the townspeople are his only family.
Music.

It kept the townspeople together in the early 1900s, when times were tough and people learned if they picked up their banjos and guitars and collected in song on the neighbor's porch, things seemed a lot easier. Later there was the Geffin Family Band and the Marshall Band.

It's what 87-year-old Elva Twitchell remembers most about growing up around Springdale. Everyone played an instrument. Some people made their own. Everyone joined in. Nobody had formal lessons. They just learned.
With Bimstein's help, music has helped to heal a community.

Once ravaged by small-town crisis, controversy and political strife, Springdale is now a robust enclave of artists and environmentalists, old-timers and new-timers, hikers, bikers and pioneer stock.

When Bimstein moved to town, he wrote a "cow concerto" inspired by the community, its residents and the area. One was about Garland Hirschi, a local cattleman. "I got to know the community through music and musical projects. I wrote several pieces and got to know the town."

Maybe it was flattery that helped him win over the community. Maybe it was his groovy, all-accepting philosophy that makes people believe they are the flutes and strings and percussion in an orchestra.

Something did.

"Music-making has always been a vital part of this community," Bimstein said. "This is the way people passed on stories about each other. It brought us together. That tradition is old."

But with merrymaking, music has been used to solve problems. And there have been a few.

Not always great harmony

The troubled times aren't far behind, but residents are trying to forget what nearly destroyed the community in the early 1990s. . . it was an embarrassment, what happened with former Mayor Robert Ralston.

After a lengthy dispute between Ralston and the Town Council, Ralston said the city's staff was incompetent and sued.

A 5th District judge eventually called the claims groundless and dismissed the case. But the ruling came two years after Ralston accused seven city workers--including the water superintendent, the town water commissioner, council members, the town attorney and recorder --of incompetence.
The state Attorney General's Office investigated claims ranging from malfeasance in office to misuse of public funds.

All were determined to be unfounded or mistakes committed without malice.
It was what town clerk Sue Fraley described as "a lot of torture," and the ordeal damaged the town's reputation and pride. Residents lost trust in the people entrusted with the town's government.

The community lost its self-esteem.

That's was about the time Bimstein moved to town. He didn't dive into politics right away but got involved in the arts council and other arts projects.

Bimstein ended up with a couple of other sticky issues on his lap. The big theater issue for one, decided before his term in office, and two lawsuits hanging over from the previous administration.

Again, music and the community's unique arty flavor intervened.

"We were very polarized--people were at each other's throats about various issues," Bimstein said. The local arts council offered a series of lectures that really were round-table discussions. The theme: "Embracing opposites: in search of the public good."

Utah author Terry Tempest Williams came to talk; so did Daniel Kemmis, the mayor of Missoula, Mont.

It was more like a humanities program, and it worked.

Soon after, Bimstein, who says he simply fell in love with the color of the red rock and canyons, was asked to run for mayor.

He won, and brought his philosophy along.

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