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Yukon musician gets $125K to fly grand piano deep into Kluane park for video shoot

Matthew Lien's longtime dream of airlifting a grand piano into the remote and spectacular Kluane National Park may finally come true, thanks to some prize money from the Yukon government. His project is among the 3 winners of the 125 Prize, awarded to mark the territory's 125th anniversary.  (Submitted by Matthew Lien - image credit)
Matthew Lien's longtime dream of airlifting a grand piano into the remote and spectacular Kluane National Park may finally come true, thanks to some prize money from the Yukon government. His project is among the 3 winners of the 125 Prize, awarded to mark the territory's 125th anniversary. (Submitted by Matthew Lien - image credit)

Musician Matthew Lien says he first had the idea about 40 years ago: Could he airlift a grand piano into the remote mountains of Yukon's Kluane National Park to film an epic music video?

Decades later, the answer appears to be yes — thanks to a $125,000 grant from the Yukon government to help Lien and his collaborators make it happen this summer.

The project is one of three that will receive funding this year as part of a one-time initiative to mark the territory's 125th anniversary. The 125 Prize is meant to "inspire the next generation of Yukoners to be bold and creative and to entice others to experience the magic of this place," according to a government news release.

The tourism department received 93 pitches for prize money, and a selection committee "comprising a range of community members from across the territory" settled on the three winning projects, announced this week.

Lien's pitch received the biggest chunk of money.

"I feel, you know, really excited," said Lien on Tuesday.

"Luckily I've found a beautiful full-size grand Heintzman piano that's going to be used for this and it's in beautiful condition, nice and shiny, and it's just going to be awesome up there."

The plan is for Lien, in collaboration with fellow Yukon musician Diyet, to create an original composition in three movements, each representing a different aspect of the vast park's ecosystem. That will happen in the next few months, and then in July, they'll aim to film the video in three representative locations within the park.

"Most of the music will be recorded in the studio, but there's no way I'm going to put a piano onto the icefield and not play that thing, you know?" Lien said.

The plan is also to film the whole process throughout the coming months, and the challenges Lien's team faces as they work to pull it off, and ultimately get that piano into some remote and dramatic places.

Kluane National Park, Yukon, in 2011.
Kluane National Park, Yukon, in 2011.

A view of Kluane National Park. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

"Weather is definitely an issue. But there's so many challenges involved with this, all of which I'm sure we'll overcome," he said.

"It just feels sometimes in life you can feel that there's a script that the universe is preparing for you, and failure in this script, I don't see it as an option ... it's really a once in a lifetime opportunity."

'Under-told' Yukon stories

The other 125 Prize winners include a duo who's aiming to compile a collection of quirky and lesser-known Yukon stories from over the years, and a group of climbers planning a first ascent of a certain alpine route in southern Yukon.

Amy Kenny and Tedd Tucker — the story-collecting duo — were awarded $79,305 for their project entitled It's Weird Up Here, which they say will be like "a yearbook Frankensteined together with a Pierre Berton anthology."

Kenny said they'll spend the coming months hunting for "under-told" Yukon stories.

"So, the kinds of things that are fun or funny or impressive or noteworthy for some reason, but maybe just never made it into mainstream news," she said.

"This is an opportunity for us to be able to look into some of the weirder and like, less traditionally-told stories in the Yukon."

"A lot of things happen in the dark up here in the long winter months, and I think a lot of those stories just kind of drift around," said Tucker.

As an example, Kenny refers to tales of a one-time "league of lady wrestlers" in Beaver Creek, Yukon.

"I heard one version of the story and I was like, there's no way this is true. And then I heard a slightly different version of the story, and I'm like, which of these things is true and what are the details of it and can I be involved?"

Their plan is to start sharing stories, with illustrations, through social media and then eventually compile them into something like a "cool little artistic zine," Tucker said.

A first ascent

The third 125 Prize winner is a project that would see a climbing team, led by John Serjeantson, attempt the first known climb up a particular route on Radelet Peak, at the headwaters of the Wheaton River, in early July.

"It's amazing mountains, you know, surrounded by granite spires, and there's kind of this one line that really sticks out, this steep kind of jagged ridge line that follows up to this sub-peak, away from the main peak," Serjeantson said.

"And our intention is to try and climb that."

The team has been awarded $18,903 for the project, most of which will pay for the helicopter ride into the area. It's possible to hike in, Serjeantson said, but that makes it more challenging to then actually manage the climb.

"The more time you actually get at the base of the route ... the higher chance you have to get up," he said.

He's not exactly sure how difficult a climb it will be, but he certainly expects some technical challenges.

"It's really hard to say. You know, you kind of look at the photos and you take a look at it through binoculars and
try and grasp the features you're gonna climb and what they're gonna be like," he said.

"But it's kind of impossible to know until you're right up there."