Backstage at the Deer Valley® Music Festival: The volunteers that make it all possible

Do you love the arts, and are you looking for a fun way to help the community? The Utah Symphony’s volunteer program is the perfect place to see world-class talent for free and spend your time helping others!

Utah Symphony | Utah Opera is a non-profit company. Because of this, we rely on volunteers to help us run all of our concerts and shows. I went backstage at the Deer Valley® Music Festival to see the amazing volunteers in action and ask them some questions about their experience.

My first stop backstage was to talk with the person in charge of the volunteers, Melissa Robison. She has worked as the Front of House Director at the Utah Symphony for 10 years, and she runs the volunteer program. She said each performance has about 100 volunteers assisting the staff and patrons. Many volunteers help at more than one performance, so the total number of volunteers every summer averages out to be approximately 600 people giving a combined estimate of 8,500 service hours.

One of those many volunteers is Arlem Hale. He has been volunteering with Utah Symphony | Utah Opera for over eight years. He enjoys volunteering at the festival because of the wonderful people he meets up in the clean mountain air. His favorite memory at the festival is when he met and shook hands with Country Music Hall of Fame inductee Kenny Rogers. He says the volunteers are vital because “The Utah Symphony could not pull this off without us.” He has made lasting friendships with the other volunteers and symphony musicians and considers them all to be family.

I also met a married couple who volunteer together at the festival. Rebekah and Joel Hopper have been married for just over a year and have been volunteering at the festival together for the past two years. Rebekah volunteered with the symphony prior to meeting her husband, and once they met, he joined her and the tradition has continued ever since. They are both music lovers and enjoy supporting the arts through service. Joel said, “Volunteering is a great way to spend the summer and have fun, free date nights.”

Besides getting to watch the concert, volunteers are also given ticket vouchers to use at future concerts during the year. Many of the summer volunteers use their vouchers to attend performances during the fall, like the upcoming opera production of “Romeo & Juliet.”

After talking with the Hoppers, I was scanning the crowd and noticed three kids with walkie-talkies and volunteer vests. Melissa introduced them and said they were the junior interns. All around the age of 15-16, they spend their summer attending the concerts and keeping morale high between the volunteers. They run snacks and drinks to the volunteers and make sure everyone is having a fun time.

The junior interns are chosen by Melissa and get a great service experience to put on college applications. This excited group of young people mentioned that their favorite parts were helping everyone, goofing off during their free time, and getting to watch the concerts. Each said their families volunteer with them and that they love helping run the concerts.

During my tour backstage, I was excited to see many different people and ages volunteering. Everyone was so friendly and the volunteers were all happy to help in any way. Melissa said, “We are one big family and have a blast working together. I have never laughed so hard or enjoyed a concert so much as I have with this amazing group of volunteers. We love adding family members every year, and we would love to have more join us!”

Volunteering with Utah Symphony | Utah Opera creates the opportunity to build lasting friendships, support the arts and attend concerts for free. For more information on how to get involved visit our website here.  

The author, Shaundra Rushton, is a summer intern in the marketing department at Utah Symphony | Utah Opera. She is studying at Weber State University, and will soon graduate with her bachelor’s degree in communication. She is a singer, instrumentalist, writer, and loving wife to her also musically inclined husband.

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A mother-daughter date night at the Deer Valley® Music Festival

On Friday, July 13th I took my mom to the ABBA concert at the Deer Valley® Music Festival for a mother-daughter date night. We had such a blast! We arrived early in Park City to explore the town before the concert. Living in Ogden, we don’t often have the chance to visit this historic town, so we wanted to make the most of our time there.

We arrived in Park City before the concert and decided to explore Main Street. We walked along the street checking out the unique shops and getting our tourist fill. The first shop we went into was a high-end jewelry store way too pricey for a college student like me. Mom and I examined the fine diamonds as if we were royalty from a distant land, and were treated to gingersnap cookies on a silver platter by a store worker. The cookies instantly brightened our day. Who doesn’t like free cookies?

After that, we decided to look at the many clothing shops populating the street. We tried on outfits and silly hats galore and stumbled across our greatest find of the night-a store full of cowboy clothing. We suited up in our boots, hats and fringe jackets and posed as heroes of the Wild West.

It was in this store that a great change came over my mom. She changed from a city slicker into a cowboy hat aficionado. She was determined to find the perfect cowboy hat for her. Never mind that she had only ridden a horse maybe twice in her life—she wanted to find the perfect hat no matter what. After trying on most of the hats in the store and asking the workers many questions on the slight differences in hat styles and uses, she finally found the hat she wanted.

Being the good daughter that I am, I had to step in and remind her of her city slicker ways before she spent $400+ on a hat that would only be worn at parades and firework shows. She reluctantly put the hat down, took the worker’s contact card and walked out the door a cowgirl convert. I expect by now she has already petitioned my dad for a ranch of her own.

After the cowboy hat escapade, we walked through art galleries, ate dinner at a Brazilian restaurant and headed up to Deer Valley Resort just in time for the concert to begin.

My mom is a big ABBA fan, and from the opening number, she was up dancing and singing along with the symphony. She convinced me to stand up and belt the lyrics along with her, and by the end of the night, we had danced to almost every song. The crowd was just as animated as we were, and people young and old could be seen swaying along to the nostalgic sounds of ABBA.

A highlight of the evening was when three audience members dressed in colorful wings and costumes led the crowd in a conga line. My mom immediately jumped up and ran to join the fun, pulling me along with her. Our conga line triumphantly belted the words to “Fernando” as we danced across the ski hill.

Each song was better than the last, and we were sad when the ABBA tribute band performed their last song. As they walked off the stage, the crowd realized the song “Dancing Queen” had not been performed and began chanting “Dancing Queen!” repeatedly until the band walked back on stage to perform three encore numbers.

Not one soul in the audience was sitting down for the encore songs, and the night sky rang with 5,000 voices singing “Dancing Queen” in unison. The tribute band bid the crowd goodbye with the final number “Thank You for the Music,” and wished us all the best of luck on our next adventure. It truly was the perfect ending to a wonderful mother-daughter date at the Deer Valley® Music Festival.

On our way home, we sang ABBA songs and talked about our favorite parts of the day. We both had so much fun and our relationship was strengthened. We drew closer at the Deer Valley® Music Festival, and can’t wait to have another night out at the festival next year.

The author, Shaundra Rushton, is a summer intern in the marketing department at Utah Symphony | Utah Opera. She is studying at Weber State University, and will soon graduate with her bachelor’s degree in communication. She is a singer, instrumentalist, writer, and loving wife to her also musically inclined husband.

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5 things to enjoy in Park City during the Deer Valley® Music Festival

Park City is one of Utah’s hidden jewels. The people are friendly, the streets are historic, and there is always some fun event going on! Are you attending the Deer Valley® Music Festival and want to explore the city beforehand or do you want to stay and play after the concert? Here is a list of fun things to do during your Deer Valley® Music Festival weekend excursion.

#1 Enjoy the great outdoors

Park City is home to many incredible hiking and biking trails. You can take guided historical hikes, walk to scenic viewpoints, or push yourself to the limits with mountain peak trails. The Deer Valley Resort, alone, has 70 miles of biking trails that spread over 6 mountains! Come to explore the outdoors and then spend an evening relaxing at the Deer Valley® Music Festival.

#2 Relax at outdoor concerts

Park City’s music scene is thriving, with performances fitting every budget and preference. The Deer Valley® Music Festival is the summer home of Utah Symphony |Utah Opera (USUO). Escape into the music with Utah Symphony and world-renowned guest artists for a magical night on the slopes of Deer Valley Resort. You might even see us around town. This summer we’re hosting free pop-up community concerts featuring Utah Symphony ensembles, our Utah Opera Resident artists and more.

#3 Savor some fine dining

Park City has many food and wine events throughout the year. Summer is one of the best times to explore food-related activities the city has to offer. There are food tours of Historic Main Street, culinary classes, and wine tastings with Fox School of Wine, Park City Wine Club, and Utah Wine Tours. One popular local event is the Mines & Wines tour that explores artisan wines and local mining history every Saturday during the summer. Not to mention, Park City is home to some amazing restaurants. Spend the afternoon tasting and exploring history before enjoying an evening under the stars.

#4 Take an art stroll

Many art strolls and art festivals take place during the summer in Park City. The Last Friday Gallery Stroll is a fun and free event that takes place the last Friday of every month during the summer. At this event, you can walk through art galleries and experience the local art scene without breaking the bank. The Kimball Arts Festival is held the first weekend in August. This event includes kids’ art classes, “make it and take it” activities, vendors, displays, and more. Come to the Kimball Arts Festival and then enjoy a concert that night!

#5 Make some memories with your family

Many activities that take place in Park City are family friendly. One of the local favorites is the Park Silly Sunday Market that takes place every Sunday of the summer season. Main street is sectioned off for the event, food trucks and vendors sell wares, families, and children explore booths and activities, and Utah Symphony ensembles will perform on the outdoor stage. Experiencing the Utah Olympic Park is another way to thrill families of all ages. It’s a great place to enjoy exhilarating tubing, a high ropes course, zip lining, outdoor bobsledding, tour the Olympic facilities and museums, and more. Exploring the Utah Olympic Park is a family-friendly way to pass the time before your concert that evening.

With many activities and events to keep you busy, I’m sure your Deer Valley® Music Festival weekend excursion will be a big hit! Check out our concert schedule here.

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Utah Symphony | Utah Opera: Making world-class music accessible to all children in Utah regardless of distance or demographic

Julie Edwards, the Utah Symphony’s violist said, “you never know who you will touch in one of our performances. I was also once a student hearing a string quartet in a school concert for the first time.” Those first interactions, especially for talented musicians waiting to be exposed to the right instrument or right sounds, can be the inspiration that creates some of the greatest musicians of our time and is what helps continue the valuable appreciation for the classical arts. Utah Symphony | Utah Opera’s outreach to K-12 schools across the state—a program which constitute nearly a third of all programming for USUO, continues that tradition through live orchestra and opera performances for students.

Utah Symphony Associate Conductor Rei Hotoda sits with students following a concert

What is a unique achievement from the part of the Utah Symphony | Utah Opera is the outreach not only to urban schools but to every school across Utah, even in the most rural areas. Ongoing funding for this education program from the state legislature is “critical,” according to teacher Michael McDonald, from Eureka, Utah: “We have a really small community with high poverty rates and minimal access to fine arts and so it’s really amazing that the symphony can make it out here for a concert and have personal time with the kids.” In 2016, there were also many free symphony and opera performances for community members in areas including Richfield, Ephraim, Randolph, Moab and Monticello.

Regardless of distance or demographic, USUO’s arts outreach to schools provides opportunities for Utahns to be exposed to world-class music without having to pay or travel. “These kids would never otherwise have these opportunities in these areas. It just isn’t going to happen,” McDonald said. The USUO education program also provides many unique opportunities for students to learn more about music and to grow as artists themselves, including personal instruction before or after school concerts through “Musicians in the Classroom,” “Masterclasses” with visiting world-class guest artists, and many other programs. For budding musicians, opportunities to perform in Abravanel Hall with the Utah Symphony are also available through “Salute to Youth” and “All-Star Evening” annual concerts.

USUO’s history of arts outreach to schools goes back to the days before Utah Symphony’s merger with Utah Opera when Music Director Maurice Abravanel inaugurated the first dedicated arts outreach to schools, performing as many school concerts as possible across the intermountain west. Abravanel later became the principal advocate for the Professional Outreach Programs in the Schools (POPS) funding from the Utah State Legislature. Because of this program, Utah Symphony still gives school performances but now they are able to reach every school district in the state (on 3 year cycles) including rural communities, performing more than 40 in-school concerts and 10 5th grade concerts in Abravanel Hall, serving more than 60,000 students per year, including those in small communities. Utah Opera’s five resident artists also travel to school districts on a yearly basis with opera programs. Sara Coit, Utah Opera Resident Artist said, “A couple months ago we went to this school where there were only five kids but they were so enthusiastic and fun! And knowing they may never have this experience otherwise is special for us too.”

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Maurice Abravanel’s Legacy: Passion for access to the arts and Utah Symphony’s outreach to local and rural schools

The fascinating life and remarkable legacy of Maurice Abravanel has left a permanent mark on the music community in Utah. After an immensely successful early career conducting around the world and becoming the youngest conductor ever hired by New York’s Metropolitan Opera at the age of 33, Abravanel, offered the opportunity to “have his own symphony,” took the position as Music Director of the very little known Utah Symphony, a group of part-time local musicians. But he saw the potential and turned his 1 year contract into more than 30 years of impassioned service from 1947 to 1979.

Abravanel said, “I feel that some of my greatest musical experiences with the symphony were in high school gymnasiums.”

During his tenure with the Utah Symphony, Abravanel created a world-renowned, professional orchestra—one of only 15 in the United States that presently sustain a full-time symphony. What is less known about his service was that he was also a champion for the greater community of the arts in Utah, particularly for schoolchildren. Maurice Abravanel cared deeply for his adopted home in Utah and “he got to know the community beautifully,” according to symphony violinist, Frances Darger. Abravanel inaugurated Utah’s first dedicated arts outreach to schools, performing as many school concerts as possible across the intermountain west, garnering enough interest to be featured in the New York Times for his education outreach. This love for the community and belief in the inspiration that music can bring to children motivated him to become the principal advocate for the Professional Outreach Programs in the Schools (POPS) funding from the Utah State Legislature in 1975, with assistance from Senator Haven Barlow—the longest serving legislator in Utah history. Overtime, POPS grew to include funding for the Utah Opera, Ballet West, Utah Shakespeare Festival and others to provide outreach to Utah schools.  Currently, because of these efforts, up to 400,000 K-12 students each year, have access to world-class performing arts to enrich their lives and education. Because of this program, Utah Symphony still gives school performances but now they are able to reach every school district in the state (on 3 year cycles), performing more than 40 in-school concerts per year as well as 10 concerts for 5th graders in Abravanel Hall each spring.

Michael McDonald, theatre teacher and district arts coordinator in Eureka, Utah, expressed great appreciation and need for the program: “We have a really small community with high poverty rates and minimal access to fine arts and so it’s amazing that they can make it out here for a concert and have time with the kids.” Symphony concerts in rural areas will often also welcome the community to attend the performance at the school, or do an additional evening performance to include all community members.

The many advocates for the POPS outreach program and Utah Symphony | Utah Opera over the years include Senator Margaret Dayton who has tirelessly advocated for the arts, Utah Symphony and the POPS program; Senator Haven Barlow’s son, Representative Stewart Barlow, who has continued his father’s passion for service and making the arts accessible; as well as Representative Patrice Arent.

Arent recalls her experiences with Abravanel, who was part of her Jewish community growing up: “He loved to talk to younger people, like me, about music and what the symphony was doing—his enthusiasm was incredibly contagious.” Abravanel’s insistence that “every concert was the most important concert,” according to cellist Bonnie Mangold, was what created that accessibility for children that he loved providing in concerts. A lot of the students found it difficult to understand his accent, but he enjoyed the performances immensely. He once said to symphony flutist Ralph Gochnour: “I feel that some of my greatest musical experiences with the symphony were in high school gymnasiums.” Current Utah Symphony trumpeter Jeff Luke comments after 13 years performing concerts in schools: “I think these performances were significant to Maestro Abravanel, as they are to me, because the kids are so appreciative. Many of them literally have never heard classical music before. They are happy to participate with us when it comes to clapping rhythms, or even dancing with the music, and they always give us an enthusiastic standing ovation at the end of the concert. We know we have made a difference and that feels good.”

Representative Arent has also visited schools as a legislator for a variety of POPS concerts: “I can watch them become quiet and attentive when the program starts and they start to get excited about Shakespeare or Mozart for the first time. It’s just thrilling to be there.” Likewise Senator Margaret Dayton shares her experience living in rural Carbon County: “It was a highlight for the community to have the Symphony perform at Carbon High School on a regular basis.  [It] created culturally enhancing opportunities that many rural citizens would not otherwise have. Truly the citizens of our state are blessed and benefitted by the Utah Symphony.”

Utah Symphony Associate Conductor Rei Hotoda sits with students following a concert

Abravanel’s goals for his symphony and for music included that not only should music be performed in an emotional and connective way but also that it has the capacity to change lives. Craig Fineshriber, the principal percussionist in the orchestra for nine years during Abravanel’s tenure, recalled working with Abravanel on a difficult piece when the Maestro said “’We need to work harder on this part. Let’s make it beautiful. Not because you are musicians, but because you are human beings.’ And that’s the way he looked at it,” Fineshriber remarked, “Being a great musician or being a great anything makes you a better human being, and that’s what it’s about. That’s what art is about.” The tradition of sharing the life-changing power of music continues for generations of school children who have benefited not only from the beauty of music but of the personal development that it can nurture. Michael McDonald comments on his school’s recent visit from the Symphony and the individual time symphony members spent in the classroom:  “This year was the best time we’ve ever had with the symphony. It was so personal. It gave the kids a view into the path of person who has become a successful person, not just as a musician but as a member of society.”

While the prestige that Maestro Abravanel almost single-handedly created for the Utah Symphony would have been more than enough to create a prominent legacy, his passion for music and the arts brought him to desire that all people could access it and be inspired by it as he was. The breadth and depth of arts outreach provided by the POPS program, which also funds ongoing Utah Symphony outreach, stretches this legendary conductor’s legacy for generations beyond his own time.

You can learn more about Utah Symphony | Utah Opera educational opportunities and resources available by visiting

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USUO Family Spotlight: The Lyon Family

Kara and Blair Lyon pose with their son Jarrett at Abravanel Hall

The Lyon family is being recognized for their years of service and participation in Utah Symphony | Utah Opera (USUO) education programs and concerts. In this remarkable family of six, the love for their children and their connection with music as a source of healing in their lives is so apparent. Paula  Fowler, USUO’s Director of Education and Community Outreach has said, “They are just an indispensable, joyful part of our Utah Opera extended family. They are a family where everyone is born with music in their veins.”

The Lyon family is unlike most families you may ever meet. They are a very musical family and have two sons with autism. But what is most remarkable about them is their outlook on life and the perspective they carry with them in their unique family dynamic, caretaking for their 16-year-old son Jarrett, who is nonverbal and requires full-time care. Blair and Kara Lyon have four sons in total who have all been involved in music, including Jarrett who is very “musically sensitive,” as Blair describes him. Their oldest son Allyn, runs the music department at Beaver High School, teaching orchestra, choir, band and guitar; Treyson is currently serving an LDS mission in Mexico and has participated in musical theatre; Andrew is a trained singer with an associate degree in media music; and Jarrett is their youngest.

The Lyon Family poses with Utah Opera Resident Artists following the performance

The highlight of their participation with USUO has been the annual Access to Music concerts for families with children with special needs, of any age. They have been involved with the Access to Music concerts since they started in 2001 and they have performed as a family string group which has provided pre-concert music for the concerts for many years. “We are so grateful for the Access concerts. These kids can bounce around in their chairs, be loud and enjoy music in this free, uninhibited way and it makes me think this box of normalcy that the rest of us are stuck in can be really constraining. Jarrett sees the world and hears music in a different way and I think that is really special,” Kara says.

Kara was the one who first started the three oldest boys on the piano and is very musical and loves to sing. She uses what Blair calls her “music therapy skills” as she teaches young children to swim, including many with special needs. Blair, Kara’s husband, is a music specialist in the Salt Lake City School District and has taught for over 25 years. He said, “Music has always been a part of my life and we wanted that for our children.”

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Musical Curiosity: Ives Style

ives-photoThis season, Utah Symphony Music Director Thierry Fischer has programmed four symphonies by American composer Charles Ives.  Symphony No. 1 fits solidly into the late Romantic style.  In his other symphonies he exhibits his interest in experimental approaches, often applied to his trademark use of hymn tunes and traditional songs.

Charles Ives was fortunate to have a father who not only encouraged his son’s musical education, but believed in encouraging his son’s curiosity to explore and experiment with his musical voice.  George Ives explored music outside the “normal” bounds of music theory and composition, and his experiments had a deep influence on Charles’ thoughts about composition.

Contine reading

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“I can’t imagine where I would be now if I hadn’t seen that performance.”

Our Utah Opera in-the-schools programs are offered to every school in the state on a 3-5 year rotation plan. Our presentations are general assembly programs in which Utah’s students get to hear and see professional opera artists in action. We want our events to be inspiring, and we hope that teachers and students return to class and continue exploring their opera experience (we provide post-assembly suggestions in the teacher materials in that hope). Our artists get a lot of fan mail throughout the year, and they write back to all the classes who write to them. One young Park City student, for instance, recently wrote in his letter, “That was a great show! I want to see that show again. I like music just as much as you do. I am learning how to play the piano until I can play it just like Timothy [the pianist in our performing troupe].”

Contine reading

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Meet Madeline Adkins – Utah Symphony’s New Concertmaster

madeline-adkins-2015-photo-by-cassidy-duhon-08“From the moment I started working with the orchestra, they were so warm and friendly. There’s a unique spirit to the group and everyone really has such a great attitude and loves to play music. I’m really looking forward to being a part of that.”

~Madeline Adkins

The Utah Symphony is thrilled to welcome Madeline Adkins as she begins her role as concertmaster this 2016–17 season. Originally from the college town of Denton, Texas, Ms. Adkins knew from a young age that she wanted to become a musician. She is the youngest of eight children, six of whom are currently musicians. “My parents were music professors at the University of North Texas,” says Ms. Adkins. “We were encouraged to play starting at the age of five, and many of us continued professionally in orchestras around the country.”

Contine reading

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Paul Meecham Q&A


Utah Symphony | Utah Opera’s President and CEO Paul Meecham started July 1, 2016 after completing a final 100th anniversary season with Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, where he held the role of their chief executive for 10 years. He shares why he and his family are excited to move to Utah and start a new chapter.

Q: First of all, welcome to Utah. Everyone is thrilled to have someone with your vast industry experience. What factors influenced you to take the role as the President and CEO of Utah Symphony | Utah Opera?

A: Ultimately, it was an easy decision to make because of the people at USUO. In meeting with Thierry Fischer, Christopher McBeth, the board, staff and musicians, as well as several community leaders, I immediately sense a shared vision towards artistic and community excellence. I believe that the synergies created in merging the Symphony and the Opera have yet more potential to be tapped, and the success of the Deer Valley® Music Festival has added a whole new and exciting dimension.

Q: Among other things, Utah is known as a mecca for outdoor recreation, phenomenal geographic landscape and community involvement. Tell us what your family is excited about experiencing.

A: Well, we are certainly looking forward to the world-class skiing! And none in the family has ever visited the fabulous national and state parks in southern Utah. Also, I think my kids have already got their hearts set on Dinosaur National Monument! My wife and I love hiking, so couldn’t be happier in moving to Utah. We’ll have to see whether my thirteen-year old son and eleven-year old daughter will agree with us! Both our kids are keen on sports such as soccer and baseball, and my daughter rides horses, of which I’m told you have a few in the state! We are a close-knit family and have quickly picked up that Utah is a very family-friendly state so we expect to settle in very quickly.

Q: Utah has had a big year in the media, attracting attention as the best place for skiing, mountain biking, as well as earning accolades as the top state for business. What has surprised you most about Utah?

A: I think the biggest surprise has been the quality of all the arts. Obviously I was aware of the world-class symphony, but was less familiar with the equally high level of the opera, ballet, theater and visual arts scene.

Q: Your experience leading top-tier orchestras is widely known and respected in the classical music industry. We feel fortunate to have attracted a leader with such a great track record to help shape what is yet to come. Describe what you see in store for the future of the organization.

A: It’s perhaps too early to speak of an overarching vision yet—after all, I just began July 1! However, I will want to build upon the momentum that has developed during the 75th anniversary including the celebrated Carnegie Hall performance, the commercial recordings, and the artistic partnerships forged with the ballet, theater, and others. And just around the corner is another reason to celebrate—the 40th season of Utah Opera in 2017–18. There’s much to look forward to in the years ahead!

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