The Music by the Mountain Festival
By Jon Lewis
Anything But FlatSeptember 2014
By Jon Lewis
Laura Dahl’s love of mountains blossomed early in her native Montana and continued to grow during the training that ultimately established her as an internationally renowned pianist and a member of the Stanford University faculty.
She would frequently yield to that alpine attraction by making fly-fishing trips to the Mount Shasta area with her husband, fellow Stanford professor Kenneth Goodson, before the couple started a family.
“I always thought it would be wonderful to get some property up there, and it finally happened,” Dahl says by phone from her home on the San Francisco Bay peninsula. She describes their North State home as a “nice antidote” to the frantic Bay Area lifestyle.
“I came up here about 10 years ago and was asking around about classical music and found that there was a dearth of classical music performances. I thought, ‘Good—I’ll start a festival.’”
Dahl then approached her colleague, Sally Porter Munro, a mezzo-soprano in the San Francisco Opera chorus, and asked if she would like to venture north and perform. “I said I’ll play piano and we’ll see if we can find some interest.”
A concert was arranged in the Kenneth Ford Theatre on the College of the Siskiyous campus in Weed in September 2004 and the two performed for a small but appreciative audience. “We hadn’t done sufficient advertising,” Dahl recalls. “When people heard about it, they said they wished they had gone, so we repeated it that November in Mount Shasta.”
The Music by the Mountain Festival had arrived.
The duo met with Mount Shasta philanthropists Joe and Michael Wirth, who invited other community members to listen to their plans for the young festival. Growing excitement over the festival idea led to a fundraising concert in the Wirths’ home, featuring San Francisco cellist Emil Miland.
“It was really successful,” Dahl says. “The money raised gave us the stability to launch the festival and make it a multi-day event.”
From its inception, Dahl and Munro have worked to make the festival an educational opportunity. “A big component is not just to bring high-quality musical performances to Siskiyou County, but to bring them into the schools,” Dahl says. “Educational outreach to students is in our mission statement.”
Connie Marmet, the festival board’s president, says the organization is committed to supporting music programs in schools, and particularly in those schools where programs have fallen victim to budget cuts.
With grant support from the California Arts Council and the Shasta Community Regional Foundation, Marmet says the festival board has been able to underwrite the production of musicals at elementary schools in Dunsmuir and Weed, present classical music concerts and secure music education materials.
“Last semester, in Dunsmuir and Weed, they restored at least part-time music teachers. We feel like we primed the pump,” Marmet said. The festival board is currently working on an inventory of “who teaches what and where” to help connect residents in the far-flung corners of Siskiyou County with music education resources.
“We all love music and love to bring great performers here and enjoy it, and many of us got so much enjoyment and basic training from programs in schools,” Marmet says, while today, many children are denied that exposure to music unless their parents can afford private lessons.
The 10th Music by the Mountain Festival begins Sept. 6 with a benefit gala reception for this year’s featured performer, baritone Stephen Salters. The festival continues at 4 pm Sept. 7 at the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Mount Shasta. Also performing will be College of the Siskiyous piano instructor Chiharu Sai and the duo of Caya Layman on violin and Patrick Stewart on piano.
Salters, described by the New York Times as “a man of thorough confidence, huge charm, and a vocal allure that come brimming off the stage … an ability to communicate gentleness and power with the same immediacy,” will also give a masters class on voice for the COS Music Department and area high schools.