09 Jan Frequently Asked Questions with The Musical Mountaineers!
A painter paints pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence.
I never imagined that I would be one half of The Musical Mountaineers. Even now, when I watch our videos or look at the photographs from our adventures, I have to pinch myself – “Is this real life?”. When I decided to jump in and blaze my own trail, I knew it was going to be beautiful, but I never imagined that it would be this beautiful. What started as a mere thought – a dream to inspire millions of people, but no clue where to begin – has morphed into the most lusciously delicious combination of the things that I love the most in my life: music, the wilderness, poetry, and friendship.
As Musical Mountaineers, Rose and I get asked so many questions about our own stories and about the challenges that come with the territory of carrying a violin and piano into the backcountry. I thought it would be fun to answer a lot of those questions, and share a bit more about who we are and all of the various things in our lives that led us to bringing music to the mountains.
1. When did you start playing music and what is your musical background?
Anastasia: I started playing violin when I was 4 years old, inspired by my grandmother who was coincidentally also named Rose. She gave me my very first violin (which I still have – it’s so tiny!), and I begged my parents to let me start taking lessons. My mom introduced me to my would-be violin teacher when I was 4, and according to my mom, the teacher looked at me and said, “So nice to meet you – I hear that you want to learn how to play the violin?”, and apparently I looked right back at her and said, “I already know how to play the violin.” Note: I did not know how to play the violin.
Music was a huge part of my childhood, but it wasn’t always fun and games. I remember throwing my music across the room many times because I hated practicing (in particular, learning the Bach Double Concerto still gives me nightmares). It was tough to be so committed to something at such a young age, when most of my friends were outside playing. My parents told me that I could quit the violin at any time, the only catch was that I had to tell my violin teacher that I wanted to quit, and I was never able to do that. Once, I dropped my violin onto the floor and the scroll (the curly part at the end of the neck) snapped. I was probably 7 years old and I was completely devastated. That was a critical moment for me, because I realized how much I loved it.
When I was 12 years old, I was accepted into a high school orchestra in Pennsylvania. I was severely bullied in school, and the only time I really felt like I fit in anywhere was when I was with my musical friends. My parents removed me from school and homeschooled me from 8-12th grade so that I could continue my studies without being bullied and put more of my time into music.
In college, I continued taking private lessons and I was a member of the symphony at Franklin and Marshall College. I’ve never had any musical instruction other than private lessons and orchestra/chamber music groups. I had the chance to perform in Italy while I was in college, and I won a college concerto competition and had the chance to play Vivaldi’s “Spring” from the Four Seasons with a full orchestra. I was the concertmaster of my symphony during my senior year, and for my final concert, we played Beethoven’s 9th Symphony – I still can’t listen to that piece of music without feeling incredibly emotional. I was a Latin major in college and I was a pre-med student (because everybody was pre-med), but music was really the best part of my entire college experience.
After graduation, I floundered around for awhile. I was a member of a semi-professional orchestra in Pennsylvania, until I moved to Washington State to become a park ranger. As a ranger, I used to do campground patrols with my violin to “soothe” my campers into behaving at night (it worked!).
I always lived with the (incorrect) belief that I couldn’t have music as a part of my career. I’ve never been a virtuosic violinist like Joshua Bell or Itzhak Perlman, so I thought (foolishly) that music could only ever be a hobby. Without a doubt, music is one of the most important parts of my life – it is how I express myself when words are not enough. My violin is an extension of my soul, and being able to share it now in a way that is 100% authentic to who I am is quite possibly one of the most incredible experiences of my life thus far.
At the age of 5, I sat down at my family’s upright piano with my Grandpa. I remember his gracious laughter as we sang songs and plunked around on the keys. He taught me chopsticks and a few other little pieces. When I turned 8 years old, I started taking piano lessons and loved learning all the songs! Throughout my childhood, I frequently performed “Christmas shows,” garage skate shows with piano keyboard performances, and at piano studio recitals. Later on, I continued to perform and won a concerto competition and received the opportunity to perform a Haydn Piano Concerto with a local orchestra. In college, I studied Piano Pedagogy at Whitworth University and accompanied my husband on piano through his Vocal Performance Master’s degree at Eastern Washington University. Since then, I’ve continued to accompany voice festivals, recitals, and the Washington State Solo & Ensemble Competition.
Ten years ago, I opened my own piano teaching studio and became a member of the Washington State Music Teachers Association. I highly value one-on-one education with my piano students to this day because I am convinced they learn more than just music in my studio. As a piano teacher my goal is to inspire my students to delight in and appreciate the beauty and power of the timeless language of music. I equip my students to practice productively, perform confidently, explore creative expression, and develop a rounded musical education. Music gives my students of all ages the opportunity to communicate a story, learn about themselves, and develop a diligent work ethic!
I’ve always dreamed of playing my piano on a mountain summit. As a young girl, I would draw sketches of pianos outside at my favorite campground, Lincoln Rock State Park. Six years ago when I created my piano studio website, I photo shopped a picture of a grand piano into a picture I took in the Enchantments. You can see it here!
2. What is the mission of The Musical Mountaineers?
When we carry our instruments into the wilderness, our mission is to use the powerful combination of the wilderness and music to remind people of all the good in the world, and to encourage others to follow their heart and blaze their own trail.
Each person on this planet has a unique reason for being here – a calling to follow a path that will bring them great fulfillment in life. Quite often, we unconsciously design our life and one day we wake up, look around, and think, “How did I get here?”.
We are both very normal, down-to-earth, regular people. If we can carry a violin and a piano into the mountains and become The Musical Mountaineers, then truly anybody in the world is capable of absolutely anything that they can imagine. The Musical Mountaineers is built around the idea that we can each bring our own “music” into the world – even if you don’t play an instrument. What lights you up inside? What are you passionate about? What are the ideas that you have kept hidden in your heart? Dream big and bring more good into this world!
3. Do you really carry your instruments into the wilderness? C’mon… don’t you cheat and have other people carry them… or maybe a helicopter?
We were mountain climbers and musicians separately before we combined the two hobbies. Anastasia has been climbing in the PNW for almost two decades – she is a backpacking instructor and a wilderness first responder. Rose just graduated from The Mountaineers course with the Everett Mountaineers Branch. Mountain climbing is a very tactile, physical experience. When you climb a mountain, you realize that getting to the summit is not about the summit – it’s about the journey and all of the steps that it took to arrive at that moment in time. Similarly, performing music in the mountains would not have the same appeal to us if we did not physically carry our instruments with us. There is something incredibly satisfying about hauling a violin and a piano into a remote location – it’s a beautiful juxtaposition of delicate and emotional music with the very physically demanding act of carrying a heavy pack.
4. How much do your packs weigh when they are loaded with instruments?
Rose’s pack, including the keyboard, stand, music and pedal weighs about 45lbs. Rose uses an Osprey backpacking pack to carry all of her gear. She definitely thinks that her training and experience with The Mountaineers completely prepared her for the task of hauling an entire piano up a mountain. Anastasia’s pack is considerably lighter, but the violin is much more fragile and valuable. In order to carry her violin, Anastasia uses a Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 3400 pack, and she stuffs the violin case into the pack.
In addition to the instruments, we always hike with the 10 essentials, and, of course, recital dresses.
Rose definitely wins the award for getting the most strange looks while hiking with her piano. Since the keys are in the back of the piano, most people are very confused when they see us coming down the trail. Very often, people try to guess what she is carrying. Our favorite guesses include: an ironing board (this is the most common), a massage table, and a ladder…because who doesn’t go into the backcountry to iron clothes, get a massage or climb a ladder? Then again… this begs the question… who else carries a piano into the wilderness in a backpack?
5. I’ve seen a few videos in the snow aren’t you worried about the violin in the cold temperatures?
Anastasia: The violin holds up really well in the cold temperatures, and I don’t worry about it at all. I had a violin maker look at it a few months ago, and it is in great shape. I own two violins, and I bring the “least valuable” of the two out into the wilderness. That being said, I feel that the mission of the Musical Mountaineers completely supersedes any possible damage that could be done to the violin. We have received messages from grieving parents who have played our music to help cope with the death of their children… when you realize that your music is bringing something so special into the world, worrying about the violin seems trivial. The violin is a piece of wood – I can play on any violin – it is what Rose and I put into the music that matters. It is our hearts that matter. Changing lives and making a difference in this world is what we want to do and focus our energy on.
That being said, I did have a layer of frost on my violin a few weeks ago – we performed in 17 degrees at Gold Creek Pond. The violin didn’t have any problems, but my hands were a different story. I put handwarmers in a pair of giant mittens, and I could only play for about 3-5 minutes at a time before I couldn’t feel my fingers anymore. It is mind-boggling to me how much the cold affects my ability to perform. In the warmth of my home, I can bust out a Mozart Violin Concerto, but in 17 degrees I can barely play “Silent Night”.
Rose’s keyboard is also affected by the cold (it is powered by 6 AA batteries). In several of our videos, you can actually hear the keyboard turn itself off. If you watch closely, you’ll see how brilliantly Rose is able to turn it back on and seamlessly get back to playing music – it’s fantastic!
6. Why do you wear dresses?
We are both classically trained musicians, and we spent most of our childhood performing at recitals and in concerts. A concert is always such a special experience, and wearing a dress, as a musician, signifies that this isn’t, “just practice”. So, wearing dresses is a little bit out of habit, but also out of how we feel about what we are doing – we do feel that it is special and wearing a dress and feeling beautiful, even when we don’t have an audience, still makes it feel like we are at a real concert. And, really, when your concert hall is an entire mountain range, does it get more special than that?
8. What’s your favorite musical mountaineering moment? Your least favorite moment?
Anastasia: My favorite moment is probably the first note of the first song that we ever played in the mountains. Even now, I feel like my entire life had been building up to that one moment in time. It was if everything that I had ever wanted or done or dreamed of in my entire life became real. I knew in that moment that anything and everything was possible. It still makes me incredibly emotional thinking about it – and now, looking back and seeing how far we have come in just a few short months, it still feels like the best dream.
My least favorite moment… wow. I’m going to have to say that the viciously awful wind on the summit of Granite Mountain at 5AM was pretty brutal. I still remember huddling into a ball in my dress and my shiny gold shoes, and thinking, “WHAT THE HECK am I doing here?”. I was really cold. I wanted to throw in the towel and just put my puffy coat on and hike back down to the car. It was hard for me to focus, or even want to play – but the second that we started, all of those negative thoughts just disappeared. It was so beautiful, and I was just so thankful for the gift of the day and for being alive – and for the fact that I can feel the cold and the wind. Musical Mountaineering reminds me that as long as you are breathing and feeling annoyed by how cold it is, more is right with you than wrong with you.
Rose: On our most recent backcountry concert adventure we snowshoed up to Artist Point with unobstructed views of Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan. Some of our dear friends were camping up there for the night! The light at sunset was stunning. This summer, I climbed Mount Baker with the Everett Mountaineers. It was my final glacier climb to graduate the Basic Climbing Class. Playing my piano with Anastasia on violin at sunset at the base of Mount Baker was truly unforgettable! I’ll never forget the moment the last light of 2017 drifted away as we shared our music with dear family and friends.
On our first adventure, black flies hatched at sunrise while we performed. You couldn’t see that in our first video! However, as soon as I got home my face swelled up so much I could barely open my eyes. That day will remain as one of the most beautiful days of my life, but also the most uncomfortable!!
9. I want to see you perform. When will you be in the mountains next, or how do I find you?
We don’t announce our concerts for a few reasons:
- They are usually very spontaneous, because they are extremely weather dependent
- We want to abide by Leave No Trace ethics, which includes no group size in a wilderness area of over 12 people
- We are usually up and down the mountain before most people make it to the trailhead – we like to perform at sunrise because it’s beautiful and also because we don’t want to disturb anybody who might not want to hear music in the backcountry
- If you are lucky enough to find us in the wilderness – please say hello! Finding The Musical Mountaineers is like finding Sasquatch – it’s very rare, and we love meeting people who are inspired by our music!
- We are hoping to have an officially announced concert in the next few months (stay tuned on the Events page of this blog or follow us on Instagram to get the most up to date info and for “hints” on where we might end up.
- You can follow us on our YouTube channel to watch our mountain concerts!
10. What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself or life since starting The Musical Mountaineers?
Anastasia: I’ve learned that if you follow your heart and just let go and trust, that your path will reveal itself to you and it will be more beautiful than you can ever possibly imagine. I’ve also learned that the time will never be right, or that things will never be perfect. I make mistakes playing the violin – I don’t always play in tune, but it doesn’t matter. This isn’t about perfection – it’s about sharing who I am and inspiring others. We are so hard on ourselves sometimes and we hold ourselves to a ridiculsously high and unattainable standard that nobody can possibly reach. Be kind to yourself – appreciate the “imperfections”. Know that the only person that you ever have to be in your entire life is YOU. Isn’t that a relief? I can just be who I am, and that is always enough. It’s so liberating to realize that.
Rose: This past year, I’ve embraced challenges and climbed mountains I never thought I’d have the ability to climb. Five years ago, I was in the hospital with aura migraines and chronic hives. If you told me then that I’d recover, feel strong, climb glaciers, and hike to summits with a piano on my back, I wouldn’t have believed you. Since September when Anastasia and I started Musical Mountaineering, I’ve seen how change is possible one step at a time. I’ve seen how one dream can bloom into reality when you persevere. To me, it’s the most beautiful thing to arrive at a summit at sunrise with a 45 pound piano backpack on my back. I’m so excited for many sunrise serenades to come in 2018!
11. Do you perform for events? Do you do collaborations?
Yes, we do! We absolutely love collaborating with other artists. You can contact Anastasia through this website, or through our G-mail account (firstname.lastname@example.org) for collaboration requests or for an event quote. We have collaborated with visual artists like Claire Giordano and Nikki Frumkin. We have played at numerous professional events for corporations like Boeing and B.E. Myers, and we have been featured on King5 Evening Magazine, in The Everett Herald and on KOMO News. We have some other “secret projects” that we are working on that are really really really really exciting. We are also looking forward to participating in SamsaraFest in Enumclaw, Washington in March of 2017.
12. What’s next for the Musical Mountaineers?
We are really excited about working with our friend Mitch Pittman on some more videos. We are excited to continue collaborations with more incredibly talented artists such as Claire and Nikki, and other musicians (Anastasia wants to perform on stage with Sia one day) who are blazing their own trails in their own unique ways. We continue to dream big – we would love to climb one of the volcanoes this year with our instruments, and we are constantly planning more mountaineering trips. We are both allowing The Musical Mountaineers to be a pure expression of who we are – we aren’t forcing it or pushing it, we are just allowing it to grow organically and in a way that feels exciting to us. We really feel called to continue to use this beautiful platform as a vehicle for more good in this world – we want to explore new ways to do that. Music is such a powerful tool, and we feel so blessed to have the opportunity to share our music in such a unique and meaningful way. Really, we both agree that the sky is the limit! Maybe it’s best to quote Herman Melville to properly answer this question, “I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I’ll go to it laughing.”
Thank you to everybody for coming along for this incredible adventure – thank you for your comments, messages and the overwhelming outpouring of kind words. We dedicate every single step of every single climb to all of you. This day includes all of us – let’s shine brightly together.
Have any more questions for The Musical Mountaineers? Leave them in the comments below and I’ll answer all of them!