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The City Journals

Hillcrest High string quartet plays for Governor and First Lady

Dec 14, 2018 12:36PM ● By Julie Slama

Hillcrest High School’s Honors String Quartet recently played for Utah Governor Gary Herbert and the First Lady Jeanette Herbert as Brookwood Elementary schoolchildren decorate Christmas tree. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

While school children from Brookwood Elementary in Sandy decorated the Governor’s Mansion library Christmas tree for Governor Gary Herbert and his wife and First Lady, Jeanette, a string quartet played light classical and traditional Christmas carols across the Grand Hall in the parlor.

It was four female students comprising Hillcrest High School’s Honors String Quartet. For all of them, it was their first time visiting the Governor’s Mansion.

 The Herberts paused to hear them play before joining the Brookwood students in decorating. 

“She thanked us for coming,” senior and student body vice president Rebecca Palmatier said. “We introduced ourselves and she said she was happy to have us there.”

As they appreciated the classical music, the Governor said, “I play a little piano.” 

However, Anna Lehnardt, the Governor’s public information officer, said he is a talented pianist. He is known to play during the Herbert family Christmas gatherings.

The four, senior Brynne Gallup and Palmatier, on violins; sophomore Valerie Young on viola; and junior Caroline Ciet on cello, all perform with Hillcrest High’s Chamber Orchestra.

“They are all my sectional leaders in the advanced orchestra and very dedicated to the music program at Hillcrest,” orchestra director RaNae Dalgleish said. “Three of them will be featured soloists in January on Concerto Night.”

The students rehearsed a couple times before their morning performance Dec. 4.

“We thought with the spirit of the students decorating the Christmas tree, it would be appropriate to play Christmas music, but with the elegant mansion, we also wanted to play some classical music as well,” said Palmatier, who has played violin since she was three and plans to study violin in college. “The mansion is beautiful.”

The parlor is not only the First Lady’s favorite room, but it’s that of the quartet.

“It’s really pretty,” said Gallup, who has been playing violin since she was three. “I felt like it was a church as we arrived. It has really good acoustics in here.”

Caroline, who is a junior, said she appreciated “every room with its own theme and style.” She has played cello for 10 years and after performing a leading role in the school’s fall musical, “Hairspray,” would like to attend New York University with hopes of performing on Broadway.

Valerie, who has played violin since fourth grade before picking up viola this past year, said that the mansion is elegant. She’s thinking of pursuing a career in either architecture or interior design, so she appreciated the tour given by the First Lady.

“She knows so much about the mansion,” said the sophomore.

The parlor is decorated in blues, golds and whites.

“I love this room with the sunshine pouring in,” Jeanette said. “It always feels warm.”

She led the high school students to the library, pointing out Navajo basketry on top of the bookshelves, which are filled with books about Utah or about Utah artists. The library also has the desk where just the day before Herbert signed legislation legalizing medical marijuana. 

Jeanette pointed out the horned hat rack that was given to Park City silver miner Thomas Kearns, who built the mansion, by his friend, President Theodore Roosevelt. 

Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and George W. Bush also visited the mansion, she said.

The tour continued through the formal dining room, where she pointed out the wildlife on the walls, to the kitchen, where from the windows, they could see the carriage house. The kitchen features the steam-heated radiator that doubled as a warming oven as well as a call board and a dumbwaiter. 

These were technological comforts back in 1902 when Kearns Mansion was completed. It was built to rival the Vanderbilt and Carnegie homes in the east and was known to entertain lavish parties for leading political and religious dignitaries.

The mansion was donated to the state in 1937 and also has been used by the Utah Historical Society.

The students then were led into the family dining room, which Jeanette said she sometimes uses for her office, and they are introduced to photographs of all the Utah governors and spouses.

Their tour continued up to the fourth floor, passing garland-decorated stairwells, to the ballroom, which was decorated for that night’s opening festivities of the season.

“There are rules for using the ballroom. Either the Governor or myself need to be home to have a function in there. Mostly, it’s used for official uses, but with our son, we do host a singles dance and about a quarter to midnight, when the rest of the house is quiet, I can hear the dancing and party going on,” she told the teenagers.

Jeanette also told them that the former bowling alley in the basement fell into disrepair, so she oversaw the remodeling of a bedroom and large family room with a kitchenette in its space. The family room holds one of the pianos in the mansion, which Herbert is known to play.

The other piano is in the parlor, where the quartet performed. 

“I wish I could have played it,” Palmatier said. “It was beautiful. It was amazing to play here.”