50,000 years ago, before man could read or women could write, historians believe music was created. Most likely the human voice was the first instrument, accompanied, possibly, by sticks. Since Paleolithic times, humans of all cultures have made music; it touches, shapes, inspires all aspects of our lives. Imagine a wedding, a graduation, a movie without music – impossible! Music is as vital to us as the air we breathe. So claimed Einstein; so claim those bringing Music by the Mountain to Siskiyou County.

Mt. Shastan Marge Wheeler, retired nurse, flutist, musical composer and self-employed businesswoman, planted the seed that blossomed into Music by the Mountain. In the fall of 2004, seeing a need for more live classical performances in the area, Wheeler urged her new neighbor, accomplished pianist Laura Dahl, and Dahl’s friend, San Francisco opera singer Sally Porter Munro, to give a piano and voice recital at Weed Presbyterian Church.

“Almost on a whim, we decided to do it,” Dahl laughed.

“After the recital, people were very enthusiastic and said, ‘let’s start a classical musical festival up here,’” Dahl said. “The next thing we knew, we started a board and held our first official fundraiser in the home of Joe and Michael Wirth. People gave very generous donations, as did local businesses, which enabled us to have our first festival event in the summer of 2005.” A concert series was born.

Once yearly since 2005, Music by the Mountain has hosted a late summer “classical musical banquet” for the Siskiyou County community. In spring 2010, the nine member board decided to expand the program. Thus, in addition to providing an August performance, the Stanford Chamber Chorale will again perform in spring 2011.

Music by the Mountain has a dual purpose. “Of course we delight in sharing our music during concerts,” Dahl commented, “but we also have an educational agenda. Anytime we give a concert, we do school outreach associated with it. This past spring, 500 children and young adults had workshops with the 24 member Stanford Chamber Chorale. We went to COS, Mount Shasta High, and Sisson. Students throughout the county heard the choir perform and then interacted with them after the performance. It had an incredible effect. Students love to see people performing; it lets them know they can do it themselves.”

As part of the outreach program, on September 13th, Dahl, Munro and Don La Voy, who plays the French horn, gave workshops at College of the Siskiyous, Mount Shasta High and Sisson Elementary. “The elementary and high schools weren’t in session during August,” Dahl said. “We went to Elaine Schaffer’s classes at COS; the other schools asked us to perform this fall. Naturally we agreed.”

At 1:05 p.m., 50 sixth graders crowded into Fred Wichmann’s choir and band class at Sisson to hear music from Italy, Great Britain, New York, Russia and America. Before they played the pieces, Dahl or Munro provided background about the composer, the period and the music. After a particularly rousing rendition of two pieces from “My Fair Lady,” Munro invited student response.

“It made me happy,” one boy said. “It made me happy and sad,” a girl behind him said. “It made me feel strange, a little strange,” a boy shouted.  The students laughed.

“There’s no right or wrong answer,” Munro assured them. “Music takes you off somewhere so you feel something you didn’t even know you could feel.”

“It made me feel like my heart had ears,” a boy piped in. The class laughed. “No, really,” he said.
“I know just what you mean,” Dahl smiled. “That’s why we’re musicians. So we can make you feel and then say things that no one has ever said!”

Playing music does more than elicit feelings, according to Dahl, La Voy, Wichmann and Munro. “Music is a leveler of class.” That’s exactly right,” Wichmann echoed. “This is the only place where some of my students succeed during the day. Of course we have student leaders and athletes in the class, too, but in these rooms, it’s how you play the instrument that counts, not who you are.”

“Playing music improves math and language skills; there’s a proven connection between music and those skills,” said Dahl, who is a professor at Stanford University and owns a vacation home in the Mt. Shasta area.

“Pythagoras, the father of geometry, was the first to establish the connection between music and math,” La Voy claimed.

Research shows that music helps Alzheimer’s patients as well as stroke victims; the brain retains music. “Music stays in our system; there’s all sorts of research documenting its benefits,” Dahl noted. “That’s why Music by the Mountain is so popular and important, I think. No matter what their age or background, people crave music. We’re glad we can bring it to them.”