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Heroes of the Valley: A tribute to Napa County's farmworkers

Heroes of the Valley: A tribute to Napa County's farmworkers

From the Napa Valley Wine Insider Digest: March 27, 2021 series
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Photographer Geoff Hansen and music composer William Gantt met on the board of the Arts Council Napa Valley.

“I’d just finished a creative collaboration with NVUSD educator Nick Burdick, who’d taken photos of a hike in Yosemite,” said Gantt. “I coordinated Nick’s photos of the hike with my musical composition and called it ‘Yosemite High Hike.’

“I’d long admired Geoff Hansen’s photographs around Napa Valley, especially of the vineyards and their workers,” continued Gantt. “Those images inspired me to do something similar with Geoff’s photos.”

When the two met to discuss it, Hansen was immediately drawn to Gantt’s vision.

“I’d been looking for an opportunity to showcase the harvest photographs electronically,” said Hansen. “We discussed the project and I selected images of the workers that might fit with William’s musical creation. From those, he selected the images that would go together.”

The result is “Heroes of the Valley: A Tribute.” It tells the story of the workers’ commitment to their jobs and pays tribute to those workers.

“It is necessary to give the spotlight to the backbone and heart of the wine industry,” Chris DeNatale, executive director of the Arts Council Napa Valley, wrote in an email. “Geoff Hansen’s photography paired with the musical composition of William Gantt captures the essence of our Valley’s agricultural workers beautifully, telling their story through an artistic lens.”

Hansen moved to the Napa Valley from Redding after retiring from his 40-year career as an attorney and judge about six years ago.

“I took up professional photography and am enjoying it,” said Hansen. “I have an interest in the people at harvest. We appreciate wine from Napa Valley but need to know the blood, sweat, and tears that go into making the wine. Wine doesn’t just materialize; people ought to understand how it gets to their glass.”

Including the piercing chill of the early morning, Hansen encountered a few other hurdles photographing the vineyards and workers.

“First, it was technically challenging,” Hansen said. “People are moving fast in low light because it’s three or four in the morning. Naturally, I didn’t want to blind them with a flash. I had to improve my low-light skills and knowledge.

“Some of the workers couldn’t have care less that I was there. A couple wanted to pose and mug for the camera. Some pulled their hoodies over their faces. I tried to be sensitive, so I’d approach the crew chief first and explain what I wanted to do. If they preferred to be left alone, I’d respect that.”

Another obstacle was the language barrier.

“I had a complete lack of Spanish,” he said. “Now I’ve learned a few phrases so I can communicate with the workers this year.”

William Gantt taught at Vintage high from 1986 until his retirement in 2017 and continues to substitute teach for music instructors.

“I took the photographs Geoff sent me and looked at the faces and action,” said Gantt. “I arrived at a sequence and in my head began hearing how to set them to music.”

The melody sounds like a full professional orchestra, but Gantt chuckled at that comparison. “People are amazed when I tell them it’s software generated.”

For his compositions, he uses a scoring software called Sibelius with NotePerformer, an Artificial Intelligence-based playback engine for musical notation. That produces a full orchestral sound.

Gantt explained part of his process of matching photos to music.

“The music is rather melancholy for the early morning shots. When the workers march forward into their day, drums come in as they make headway with the grapes. I wanted it so the melody was not too repetitive but that the themes were the same. For that, I used different rhythms and different musical instruments.”

Both men agree on the purpose of “Heroes of the Valley.”

“These workers are very skilled,” said Gantt. “They’re out there busting their chops. Wine drinkers may not think about the people making things happen. Our project needs to be shared; to get it out there.”

In the future, Gantt would like to do more collaborations like this. Hansen now wants to try adding video to his still images.

Through music and images, Heroes of the Valley shows what hard work and dedication go into Napa Valley’s wine industry.

To view Heroes of the Valley, visit: www.ganttmusic.com/musical-media-to-share

For more about William Gantt: www.ganttmusic.com

For more images by Geoff Hansen: www.geoffhansen.photography.

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