‘As the Sound of Many Waters’

Powell percussionist finds inspiration with a rod and reel in his hands

Posted 1/25/24

If you listen long enough in the isolation of Wyoming’s great outdoors, away from the chaos of civilization and the constant hum of tires on pavement, you can hear the Shoshone River’s …

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‘As the Sound of Many Waters’

Powell percussionist finds inspiration with a rod and reel in his hands


If you listen long enough in the isolation of Wyoming’s great outdoors, away from the chaos of civilization and the constant hum of tires on pavement, you can hear the Shoshone River’s song as it rolls over rocks, splashes against catches and circles in eddies. The rhythm of the rushing water is as old as the hills, yet constantly changing.

With rods and reels in hand, a boy and his father, wanting to separate themselves from common pools, hiked to an isolated place on the Shoshone River where few go. There, in the safety of his guide, Rod Paris, and in between the excitement of feisty fish and youthful exploration, Zach Paris first became comforted by the sounds of rushing water.

At the time he had no idea how those experiences would transform into professional inspiration. However, after his father suddenly died much too soon at 55, Paris almost lost his passion for fishing.

“I guess it was mostly a family experience for me when I was younger,” he said.

After high school, Paris moved away from the favorite fishing holes of his childhood to attend college. He didn’t fish for almost a decade, although there isn’t a lot of spare time when you’re chasing a doctorate and starting a family.

Paris started with an undergraduate degree from the University of Wyoming. Then he relocated to the land of the Big Red in Lincoln, Nebraska, for his master’s degree. He finished his education, receiving a doctorate in percussion performance from Arizona State, before scoring a job in his hometown at Northwest College. He married his high school sweetheart, Janelle, in 2010 and together they started a family.

In 2020, sweet memories of time on the river began to hound him.

“I went back to my dad’s and my favorite fishing spot and laid into a bunch of fish. It was super fun. And that kind of kicked it off again for me, you know, mountains all around, just being outside. It was great,” he said.

He became reacquainted with the sounds of the rushing water and how it moves in perfect harmony with the wind, the movements of flora and the occasional panicked splashes of a trout on the line. It drew him in, triggering childhood memories of carefree afternoons chasing fish with his father.

“A bunch of memories came flooding back fishing that same spot, but this time it was just me,” he said.


Renewing a commitment

It wasn’t just a one-trip wonder. Paris started to make frequent trips to that special spot on the banks of the Shoshone.

“Being able to go fishing and having that time in nature has been really good for him,” Janelle said. “It gives him some quiet time, and he has always loved to use that time for prayer and reflecting on God’s goodness. I know he always feels more refreshed after a good morning of fishing.”

Paris soon discovered the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s Master Angler Program. There are three levels of achievement in the program; Master Angler, Trophy Angler and Ultimate Angler.

“The program is a way for Game and Fish to encourage anglers to explore the many fantastic fishing opportunities we have in our state,” said Cody Region Fisheries Supervisor Sam Hochhalter. “Perhaps the program will also give anglers incentive to try new waters and pursue different species. And for those of us who are responsible for managing the state’s fish resources, we love to see pictures of people enjoying the resource.”

Roughly 50 anglers have completed the program through to the Ultimate Angler status. Including Paris, only four have completed it in the Cody Region.

“To me, the most impressive aspect of a person achieving the Ultimate Angler award is the level of commitment that is involved. If you look at the minimum length necessary for a given species to be considered trophy quality, the bar is set pretty high,” Hochhalter said.

While some, like rainbow trout, aren’t too difficult to catch in the region, many species are, he said. “The fact these anglers captured 10 different species of trophy size showcases a true talent for fishing. It also takes a considerable commitment of time, travel, and, I have no doubt, patience to accomplish this,” he said.

Paris said all 11 trophy fish he documented in pursuit of the Ultimate Angler award were caught within an hour of Powell “to keep the trips short,” he said.

With three children and a full schedule of classes to teach, he doesn’t have the time it takes to make multiple long trips to the southern portion of the state. He’s committed to his profession, but there have been times he has rushed to class straight from a fishing trip.

“There were a couple instances where I was pulling waders off right before walking into the music building to teach my first class for the day. But I was never late once, that’s for sure,” Paris said.


The challenge continues

Paris can’t wait until he can take all of his daughters on his fishing trips, like his father did for him.

“Our girls, Cahlia (6), Aylin (3) and Ryah (1) love to go on ‘adventures’ with Zach,” Janelle said. “Especially the older two.”

This past summer Cahlia and Aylin were first able to go kayaking with Zach. Cahlia sat in the back seat and Aylin was in front with her father.

“It was quite a sight. Even in the cold weather, they bundle up and get out and catch some fish,” Janelle said. 

The couple is now keeping track of the fish Cahlia and Aylin catch. They’re all excited to keep adding their entries on the Game and Fish Youth Fish challenges, she said.


The sound of water

Paris spent many days doing short trips to most of the fishing holes around the Powell area. He’d arrive before sunrise or stay after dark chasing trophy-sized fish. Most of the trout he has caught came from the Shoshone River between Powell and Cody or area reservoirs. Other species he had to do research to find. One of the best sources of advice came from state fisheries biologists, like Hochhalter.

He first met Hochhalter at the Newton lakes while he was checking for invasive goldfish.

Paris told him of his quest, discussing the many species he had already caught. Hochhalter had several suggestions, including heading to Bighorn Lake for catfish. Once on the shores of the lake, Paris decided to throw a few lures and eventually pulled in a master angler-sized smallmouth bass.

“Thanks to his recommendation, I eventually ended up catching two different species that I wouldn’t necessarily have gone and targeted there,” he said.

Paris will continue to add more fish to his list. There is a 20-fish challenge he wants to complete.

Catching 20 trophy-sized fish in Wyoming will mean longer trips, taking more time yet resulting in many great memories, he said. There are only 28 game fish species to chase in the state.

“The master angler challenge definitely provided a chase for me,” he said. “I started seeking out species that I couldn’t fish my normal spots if I wanted to log some new species. Getting out to new waters is super fun and made for a lot of disappointment for sure. Trying new spots means getting skunked occasionally. But I definitely also have some new favorite spots now and I’ll keep going back.”

But something else happened while Paris was making the many trips it took to catch his 11 Master Angler fish. He didn’t always catch fish, but he was always inspired by the sounds of nature and rushing water.


Professional inspiration

Paris, who is the director of Bands and Percussion Studies at NWC, turned his experiences into a composition called “As the Sound of Many Waters,” which was just recently recorded and released.

“It is quite extraordinary the multitude of sonic properties water can produce; from the mighty sounds of waves, waterfalls and rushing rivers, to the delicate sound of light rain or the falling of a single droplet,” he said.

The composition builds from a haunting beginning to a torrent using a combination of three timbral families of woods, metals, and skins, as well as shake and scrape instruments. According to the program notes: “As the Sound of Many Waters” is a contemporary work for a table-top multi-percussion setup and backing track that explores the various sonic characteristics of water; ranging from sparse ethereal sections that depict the falling of single water droplets to high-energy moments that reflect the sound of raging rapids.

The title of the composition speaks to both his divine inspiration and memories of his father. Biblical text compares the sound of saints in heaven praising God to the sound of many waters (Revelation 14:2). Much like a waterfall contains many different sizes of water droplets that create the multitude of frequencies we hear, there is a multitude of irreplaceable voices that are no longer here on Earth but continue to produce their unique sounds.

“Though we can no longer hear these voices on Earth, we believe we will hear them again,” Paris said.