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Ardean Watts, the former official pianist and associate conductor for the Utah Symphony, doesn't like to practice.

"I just don't have the drive," Watts told the Deseret News. "I have a lot of energy, but I just don't like to sit by myself and play. I'd rather play with other musicians and enjoy their company."On May 12, Watts was presented the 1996 Madeleine Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts and Humanities as part of the ninth annual Madeleine Festival. It is one of the many awards this man, now 68, has attained in his active lifetime.

"The award is a big statement," said Watts. "But it's not a personal thing for me. There are many people who aren't honored that are doing big things in the world of art and humanities. I'm just one in a cast of thousands. There are people who possess richer talents than I, who have done more. But I am deeply honored."

Ardean Walton Watts began his music career at 5 when he started playing piano. He cites his mother, Dewena Walton Watts, as the main musical influence in his life.

"Without question, she was the force behind my love for music," Watts said. "I and my two brothers all became professional musicians. One (Blaine) is a singer and the other (Don) is a high school choir director."

From the time Watts began playing piano in his native Kanosh, all those who heard him agreed he possessed a gift.

"I believe the gift came through genes and grace," said Watts. "Music is as natural as eating to me. There wasn't ever a time when I sat down and made a rational decision to pursue it as a career. It was something that I just did. And that road was reinforced by the most fortuitous circumstances."

After graduating from Brigham Young University in 1952, Watts moved to Austria to study piano at the Academy of Music in Vienna. He returned to Bountiful in 1954 and met the second most influential person in his life, Maestro Maurice Abravanel.

"That was the most important event in my professional life," Watts reverently noted. "It began a long association that only ended with his death."

Abravanel, who conducted the Utah Symphony for more than 32 years, died in 1993. He was 90.

"Before I met Maurice, never did I dream of becoming a conductor," said Watts. "I even eliminated piano from my list because of my dislike for practice. But Maurice helped me recognize the fact I didn't have to be taught the musical language. He gave me the opportunity to be a conductor. And with that I found I could make music with other people all day and night, all the time."

Watts became the Utah Symphony's pianist in 1956 and moved up to associate conductor in 1968, a position he held for 11 years.

"After I retired from the symphony, I decided to return wholeheartedly to teaching," Watts said. "I became heavily involved in the electronic music world - synthesizers and such - and this was about the same time computers began coming out. I became very interested in the applications of music and education using electric instruments."

In 1992, the University of Utah Liberal Education Administration recognized Watts with a Distinguished Service Award (the Professors Award) after he staged aproject demonstrating the impact of electronics in music and arts.

Watts was also the founding father of the University of Utah Opera, which later became Utah Opera, and was musical director for Ballet West and Pioneer Memorial Theater. He recently served as chairman on the Utah Arts Council.

As a man of the arts, Watts sees the cut in the Utah Symphony's 1996 summer season as a travesty.

"I really wasn't surprised, though," he said about the crisis. "The cut is a result of a cycle that started maybe 10 years ago. The Symphony faced a decade of seeing deficits at the end of each season with no concrete solution put in place.

"It's a terrible thing to happen," he continued. "This problem will have a direct impact on the orchestra quality. The pay in later seasons will be reduced 25 to 30 percent. We'll have to settle for musicians who aren't as trained, who will work for less."

The Symphony cuts are a reflection of how the government is treating the arts in general, said Watts.

"Lawmakers are making a serious mistake singling out arts - which deserve our care and respect more than the marketplace," Watts said. "The mistake of subsidizing corporations, hoping benefits will trickle down is a gross misplacement of our values. I look to the European tradition where government - federal and regional - play a far more important role in the preservation of the artistic development.

"Some people in support of the cuts are saying the arts - such as the symphony and ballet - are elitist and expensive and not attainable for the public," Watts continued. "But take, for instance, a comparison between the Utah Jazz and the operas and symphonies we have here. People can go see a game for $25-$100, while students and others can attend the opera and symphony for $5. So which one really caters to the elite?"

Those thoughts on artistic economics moved Watts to chain himself to a piano in front of the Federal Building last summer to protest the funding cuts for artists.

"That was probably the most fun thing I've done," laughed Watts.

Then on a more serious note, he said, "The most important thing about the protest is the fact I did something."

These days Watts is enjoying the quiet life with his wife Elna - to whom he's been married for 45 years - and seeing his grandchildren.

"I've been very lucky," Watts smiled. "I have a wonderful family (of eight children - four of whom live out of state) who care about me and I about them. When my wife and I were raising them, we didn't have time to sit and talk about things like we do now. This time is most delicious to me.

"I thought after I was rotated out of the Arts Council position, as law would have it done, that I'd be able to read a lot of books and attend a lot of plays. But there are so many things I want to do."

In addition to being a member of the Mushroom Society of Utah - an organization whose main interest is getting out into the forest to study and, in some cases, taste mushrooms - Watts, an environmental activist, sits on the Hawkwatch International board of directors and belongs to practically every other societal organization he could find. He is also planning a scuba diving trip for the summer.

"I'm looking at the South Pacific or Mexico," Watts said. "I'm taking classes and will get certified here before I go. It's just another way of getting people aware of the environment. I'm happy being a naturalist. I always think I'd be just as content being a park ranger instead of a musician. It all boiled down to my choices."

Then with a sly wink, Watts said, "My dance of life is one that has been graced by many partners."