By a stroke of luck and a little bit of impulsive decision-making, I found myself in the middle of nowhere for 10 days, 600-some miles and a 19-hour train ride away from home with people I didn’t know. It was the first music festival I had ever attended, and at the time, staring groggily at the sleepy town of Dunsmuir, Calif. for the first time, I didn’t know that I would walk away completely inspired.
Every year, a small group of students from all over California, sometimes from other countries, meet in Dunsmuir for 10 days for the Pacific Crest Music Festival. This year, there were students from the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles (YOLA) and The Harmony Project, a girl who had just moved to the U.S. from El Salvador, another who lived on a ranch in Montague, two students from Sacramento, and another from Arcata, Calif.
Founded by Michael Whitson, who we all affectionately refer to as Mike, Pacific Crest Music Festival (PCMF) is “designed to push each student artist beyond what they thought was the limit of their capabilities.”
The small student size, and personalized design gives everyone the chance to participate in two chamber music groups. One provides us with the opportunity to play in a group with a coach to allow students an interactive and collaborative learning experience and the other allows us to put a piece together by ourselves to apply what we have learned from playing with their coaches. We also had the opportunity to play in a chamber orchestra, take private lessons from truly passionate and dedicated faculty, see a visual representation of music through an eurhythmy class and performance, and organize and participate in a community outreach with the Boys and Girls Club of Lake Siskiyou where we shared our knowledge of music with other children to hopefully inspire them, too, to pick up an instrument and discover the world music has to offer.
At the start of the camp, we were asked what we would like to get out of the week musically and personally, and what would make us leave happy.
“It would make me happy if I left knowing that this was an experience I would miss,” Jackie, a cellist, shared.
Back to the routines of normal life with only photos to remind us of our time there, all of us can easily agree that it was an experience we would miss, yet one that would somehow stay with us forever.
Though the week was centered around music, the experience was more than challenging our individual limits. Over the course of the week, we had bonded through dish washing, burnt pancakes, frustrating midnight practices, rehearsals after running up and down stairs to simulate concert nerves, and trips down to the nearby river. Tackling challenging repertoire made even more challenging by doubling up on parts, members of the Beethoven group reflected back on the obstacles they faced trying to put the final movement of the Quartet No. 4 in C minor together, remembering the tensions that built up as the concert drew nearer.
“We had to learn to be able to work with others although we had different opinions,” Jackie reflected, thinking back on the arguments that arose during rehearsals.
Having been faced with challenges as a pianist experiencing chamber music for the first time, Signe admits that the challenges let her come away from the experience feeling stronger as a person with a new appreciation and respect for music.
“I learned that every instrument has a different feeling and sound to it,” a fellow violinist, Beatrice, reflected. “So a musician will need to change their style, character, or technique of playing to match that of another instrument.”
Generally an introvert, I was amazed at the speed in which music brought us all together. Despite all of our differences, music, as Gigi said, bonds people really quickly and creates special connections.
Aside from having the pleasure to work and play side-by side with a remarkable teacher and inspiring performer, Patrick Dalton-Holmes, I never ceased to be amazed by the openness, generosity, and willpower of the musicians I had the honor of interacting with. I will never forget the night the girls stayed up until midnight to bake a cake for two girls’ birthdays and the brownies Jacob baked to celebrate the special day. I will always remember the overwhelming support from all of the faculty and chaperones, and even the chef, Dave, whose unwavering faith in us inspired us to fight through discouraging rehearsals and heated arguments.
Though many of them never had consistent private lessons until much later in their musical career, I was inspired by the level of determination to succeed no matter the circumstance.
“When you put your mind to something, you can really accomplish anything,” our violist, Hannah says.
That would end up being the main lesson music would instill in all of us, and a lesson I had the honor of seeing in action. Determined not to let their later start in music discourage them from reaching their goals, they made the most they could out of their resources. They sought to pursue their dreams without hesitation and many worked hard in the hopes that one day, they will be like the teachers that provided them the help to reach where they are today. Undaunted by the various child prodigies circulating the internet, they allowed music to encourage rather than discourage, connect and bond rather than instill hostile competition, and shape them into the people they are today.
The night of the concert, the audience was packed. Children, teens, parents, and grandparents all showed up to support us, never hesitating to let us know their thoughts on the concert or make a donation to the jar. Curious children wandered up and asked us about our instruments while the adults took a genuine interest in each and every one of our backgrounds. Many of the audience members also openly shared the impact our music had left on them, reminding all of us of the power of music to everyone and encouraging us to play on.
As the week came to an end, we revisited those three questions again, but with the knowledge that we had found another home and family up in the small town of Dunsmuir.
“The best way to meet amazing people is through a common passion in music and chamber music,” Miles, a violinist, says. “I wish the week could have lasted forever.”
Breaking the stereotype that classical music existed only for the elite in fancy concert halls with stuffy suits and gowns, the festival was a refreshing reminder that music is for uniting and expressing. Nicely summed up by Chris, a cellist in both my chamber groups, we all “learned the value of building long-lasting connections and friendships, not only through music, but also through all avenues of life.”
Musically, we had all gained more experience in working together, resolving conflicts, and performing. Personally, we forged new connections, saw different perspectives, pushed our limits and came out stronger and more open-minded. And finally, we left with new lessons in life and the knowledge that it was truly an experience we would treasure and miss.