I almost didn’t want to write this. I almost didn’t want to share what seemed like a secret between me and less than 50 other people. I actually wasn’t planning on writing anything so not a single writer’s note was taken during my entire evening. Just as well. This experience was about the moment, was about giving and feeling, friendship, the human experience, the story of life told through instruments, the then and now of chamber music. Me focusing on my notebook would have changed things and I wouldn’t change what happened to me last Saturday, July 26th, for anything.
The tiny group of dusty yet cultured alpinists in their flip-flops, shorts and sunscreen that made up the audience bonded first over burgers, chips and beer and then during an emotionally charged performance of classical music that stirred my soul and rejuvenated my creative mind. I spent the afternoon and evening at Powder Mountain’s Timberline Lodge at the first in what may someday become a Music in the Mountains Series. It was simply unforgettable, one of those moments that makes life bearable and possible.
Having lived in the tiny skiers’ town of Alta, Utah, for the 1990s as a barely adult, I long again for that rustic charm and small gatherings of highly talented visitors and artist royalty sharing their gifts in intimate spaces. This is the reason I moved to Ogden – to be as close as possible to world-class skiing and the alpine culture on my sometimes nonexistent income as a single mother, to be able to share with my children my love of purple mountains majesty, surrounded by agriculturally rich farmlands and all this only an hour from a major international airport.
Michelle Ross is a violinist, composer and improviser based out of New York City, where she trained at Julliard and under Itzhak Perlman. She was introduced to her instrument at the age of 5, at public school, proving that there is great strength, importance and validity in arts programs being available to all children of any socio-economic status. Her website announces her first album debuts this fall. Ross and her hand-picked accompaniments of viola, cello, flute and piano, fully embraced the mountain environment. Apparently the great universal nature spirit wanted to add to this ensemble as the microphones kept picking up the light wind as it blew across the mountaintop.
This evening’s palace chamber was Powder Mountain’s tiny outdoor amphitheater, a few rows of split log benches precariously perched before a small stage. The musicians were conversing not only with each other, but with nature and with me personally, intimately. I responded with tears, laughter and waves of emotion. I wasn’t merely an observer but, as clearly intended by Michelle, a fully participatory member of her group. I could feel the thought and time and concern that went into picking these few pieces just for me, just for us mountain folk, just for this night. It was an experience that can never be replicated, a once in a lifetime. I think I will check Powder Mountain’s calendar daily for the next one. I don’t ever want to miss anything like this.
I worried about bringing my 3 year old twins boys and their 5 year old brother to something so sophisticated and so they stayed home with a sitter but this event was absolutely kid friendly. A little away from the benches and under the shade of a giant tree, was a family with small children, a dog barking in the background, nature’s whispering wind in the audio system, the occasional sandal grinding a bit of gravel, the flautist brushing a resting bug off her arm during a pause, a ground squirrel foraging for morsels by the yurt. Anyone, child and adult alike, would benefit from something so amazing. I felt like I was being embraced by close personal friends and a violinist whose energy seeps from her very being, whose passionate grin signaled the shocked audience into applause. Given that Michelle herself was exposed to the violin through a community program, I have a feeling that smile of musical love would have been shared even if my toddlers were standing on a picnic table pointing at her and dancing in a circle until dizzy with the happies.
It began with Bach. Followed by a piece about Appalachia by a still living composer that I was too overwhelmed wiping away my tears to remember his name, so deeply was I stirred. There was a segment of meditation. Clearly Michelle wanted you to fully immerse in the locale by closing your eyes, having a guided visionary experience, breathing in the pure air of high altitude and living in a moment that simply was. I could feel the thought and time and concern that went into choosing these few pieces just for me, just for this teensy group of extremely privileged mountain folk.
The second half of the concert was a four piece piano concerto by romantic German composer Robert Schumann. The viola player, AJ Nilles, educated us about Schumann’s struggle with mental illness and forewarned to listen for the roller coaster of emotions this challenge causes in one’s life. Undoubtedly, I heard mania, the lowest heartbreaking sadness, joy, angels, demons and true love, the ultimate release of acceptance of your own story and how to channel the struggle that is life into creative art. I was filled to the brim in such a way that I came home and added 20 pages to the novel I’ve been working on for years.
Chamber music shared intimately with friends. I fell in love with five people last Saturday. And while they may never remember me, I will never forget them.
Violin: Michelle Ross
Viola: AJ Nilles
Cello: Michael Haas
Flute: Catherine Gregory
Piano: Gabriella Martinez
For more information about Michelle, visit her website: www.michellerossviolin.com
About the Author
Portia L. Millet grew up on the coast of Connecticut and in the city of Washington, DC, where she used to take the direct Delta flight to the “greatest snow on earth” before coming to her senses and moving to Utah. Portia is a writer, lifetime skier, roller derby player, lover of all things edible, and single mother of three amazing little boys intent on raising three great men right here in Ogden by embracing the history, art, culture and sport of this unique and storied town.