PORT ANGELES — In preparation for an unusual event later this week, James Garlick stepped inside the roofless Field Arts & Events Hall to play the music he loves.
On the west side of the building, not far from the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Garlick lifted his violin — and filled the space with sound. A natural, gentle reverberation came back around, making him all the more eager for the official performance to come.
Shortly after sunset this Wednesday, Field Hall, under construction at Front and Oak streets on Port Angeles’ waterfront, will have its topping-off ceremony. The event, to be streamed online, will include music, a salute to the builders and, for the big flourish, placement of the final beam atop the structure’s steel frame.
With no large gatherings or concerts allowed amid the coronavirus pandemic, Garlick and his longtime friend, violist Richard O’Neill, worked with Field Hall executive director Chris Fidler to make this event happen.
O’Neill and Garlick, locally grown, internationally known musicians, will stand on the concrete where the stage will later be built, and play some Schubert, some Mozart and a surprise encore of a piece they played a few years ago with the Port Angeles Symphony.
“We are really hungry to share music with the community in a safe, accessible way,” Garlick said after his foray inside the hall.
Showtime is 8 p.m., about 20 minutes after sunset, and Fidler has set out to make the evening a dramatic one: Laser lights will illuminate the sky and a 150-foot-tall crane will pick up the marigold-colored beam from adjacent Pebble Beach and raise it over the building.
That’s after nightfall; during the day, the beam will rest on the beach beside the Olympic Discovery Trail where, Fidler said, people can sign their names on it and, if they choose, make a donation toward the nonprofit project.
“We’ll have some folks there,” answering questions, socially distancing and wearing masks, he added, along with architectural renderings of the finished buildings.
Field Hall is part of a planned Waterfront Center campus, to eventually add a marine discovery center and the Elwha Klallam Tribe cultural center.
This topping-off milestone comes nearly 11 months after the groundbreaking for the $34 million complex, designed to encompass a 500-seat concert hall, 300-seat conference center, coffee shop, ticket office and 1,000-square-foot art gallery.
The music space will be named the Donna Morris Auditorium for the woman who, in 2016, bequeathed $9 million toward the building of a performing arts center for Port Angeles. Field Arts & Events Hall gets its name from Dorothy Field, who purchased the waterfront land.
Many months before the pandemic, Fidler met with Garlick and O’Neill, the artistic directors of Port Angeles’ Music on the Strait festival. They envisioned a day when the two-week festival of chamber music, which has drawn performers from across the country, could move into the Donna Morris Auditorium.
Music on the Strait has sold out its ticketed concerts and free performances since it began in 2018. The venues, Peninsula College’s Maier Hall and Port Angeles’ Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, are acoustically excellent, said Garlick, but he and O’Neill also imagine a day when their festival could happen in the much larger hall on the Strait, befitting the name.
At the start of this year, Garlick and O’Neill also had high hopes of a 2020 Music on the Strait festival. They had to cancel it along with the rest of this summer’s live music events.
“For musicians, this [pandemic] has been cataclysmic,” O’Neill said.
He recently relocated from Southern California to Boulder, Colo., to join the famed Takács Quartet, which has virtual and live concerts slated later this year at Colorado and Stanford universities, at the Library of Congress and at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
For O’Neill, who grew up in Sequim, it feels surreal to play in such a place as Field Hall. He remembers well the days when he and Garlick would go to the nearby Black Ball ferry terminal and catch the MV Coho to Victoria, B.C., for music lessons.
Wednesday’s ceremony, for both performers, is a chance to highlight the importance of live music in Port Angeles — and the hope for its return.
Canceling festivals and concerts is crushing, Garlick said; it hasn’t dimmed his love for performing classical music. In recent months, he’s spent time at his family’s cabin in Port Angeles, practicing simply for the love of it.
As for the time frame of the Waterfront Center completion, Fidler said the coronavirus has rendered everything fluid. The original opening was to be in fall 2021. Gov. Jay Inslee’s ban on construction in Washington state last spring interrupted progress, “but we’re making up time,” Fidler said.
Garlick added that now is a critical moment for the local arts community, which inspired musicians such as O’Neill and himself.
“The message we want to share,” he said, “is that it’s crucial to support all of our local arts organizations: the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center, the Juan de Fuca Foundation, the Port Angeles Symphony, Centrum.
“So many people are struggling,” he added.
“Music and art can offer solace in hard times.”
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.