Working behind the scenes at music festival

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Robert Spano and ASO perform at last year's Ojai Music Festival. Malibu resident Gretchen Hays is responsible for arranging housing for visiting artists. Photo by Robert Millard

Gretchen Hays may be the ultimate volunteer, someone who is active in a slew of nonpaying jobs. Although all her efforts are rewarding, the “job” that probably gives her the most fun is working at the annual Ojai Music Festival.

It was 13 years ago that Hays read an article in The Malibu Times about the festival needing volunteers. She commandeered her friend and neighbor, Carolyn Berry, and the two drove to the scenic town 90 miles north of Los Angeles. Their services were gratefully accepted.

There are myriad responsibilities involved in running a four-day event that attracts thousands of people each summer. Hays helped out in many ways and finally achieved the elevated post of head artist liaison. Aided by approximately 10 other volunteers, she must find housing and transportation for the many musicians who will be performing.

“I have a list of more than 70 people who are willing to offer their homes,” Hays said. “I don’t think there are many communities that would be so generous and supportive.”

There are always challenges, especially when a group the size of the Cleveland Orchestra arrives. On another occasion, during a windy session in the outdoor amphitheater, clothes pins had to be found quickly to hold the music for the Emerson Quartet.

Although the classics are always programmed, the Ojai Music Festival is noted for its espousal of new music, offering works by such composers as John Adams, Osvaldo Golijov and Elliott Carter. “I still enjoy Mozart and Beethoven,” Hays said, “but thanks to the festival, I now appreciate a wider range of music.”

Working at the festival gives Hays an opportunity to meet many of the performers. “I recently helped Susan Graham get into her dress,” she said with glee. Graham is a celebrated mezzo soprano who is currently starring in the “The Merry Widow” at the Music Center. Jeffrey P. Haydon, executive director of the festival, recently spoke at a reception at Hays’ home, which attracted 25 music lovers.

Hays and her husband, Wayne, have lived Malibu for almost 40 years. She has worked with childcare programs at local schools and volunteered for other causes, earning a Dolphin Award from The Malibu Times.