The Yakima Symphony Orchestra has presented guest performers from a wide variety of professions in recent years, from puppeteers and Shakespearean actors to an entomologist and an investment adviser. This weekend, the symphony will be joined on stage by a rancher and award-winning cutting horse and roping competitor who also happens to be a prolific singer and songwriter with a distinctive artistic voice.
Wylie Gustafson’s “day job” is on his Cross Three Quarter Horse ranch in northern Montana, where his down-to-earth cowboy lifestyle has infused some 40 years of songwriting, performing and recording.
After early efforts to break into the mainstream music industry in Los Angeles and Nashville, Wylie realized quickly that his heart was in writing and singing music that “lyrically reflects the West,” a choice that has steered him purposefully away from what he views as the superficial trappings of commercial country music.
While rooted in traditional cowboy songs, Gustafson’s music draws from a rich well of influences from rock and blues to Western swing and the stylings of Bavarian alpine yodeler Franzl Lang.
Indeed, it has been the development of his own “High Plains” yodeling style that has brought his voice to the broadest audience, from an appearance on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” to the signature yodel he created for the end of Yahoo! commercials.
Gustafson is no stranger to the eastern half of Washington, having ranched in the bustling metropolis of Dusty (between Colfax and Washtucna) for almost 15 years before returning to his native Montana.
Over many years of touring, he has developed a following in Yakima through performances in smaller venues with his four-piece band, which has also played in venues as diverse as the Lincoln Center in New York City and the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nev., in addition to tours of China, Russia, Europe, South America, Japan and Australia.
Wherever he performs, Wylie’s songwriting and stage presence generate new fans, even among those who didn’t think they would be interested in “country” music.
Riffing on the evening’s theme, the symphony will perform a few iconically Western selections of its own, including music from Aaron Copland’s music for the ballet Rodeo — the “Hoe-Down” is perhaps most widely recognized from the 1990s ad from the Beef Industry Council (“Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner ...”).
Notably, much of the orchestral music that has come to signify the American West during the last century was created by composers, like Copland, with Eastern European immigrant roots. Dmitri Tiomkin was a Russian-born composer who fled to New York after the 1917 revolution; the symphony will perform music from his Oscar-winning score to the film “High Noon.” His title song, “Do Not Forsake Me,” became popular quickly enough to help sell the film.
The program also includes film music from 1994’s “Wyatt Earp.”
• David Rogers is executive director of the Yakima Symphony Orchestra. Learn more at www.ysomusic.org.