"What is my music on the mountain?"
Editor's note: When we saw Rose and Anastasia performing music atop mountains around the Pacific Northwest, we had to know more. Some of us throw our harmonica or ukulele into our backpacks before hiking or camping, but a full-on keyboard and stand?! Truly wild and wonderful.
By KEEN Fans Anastasia Allison and Rose Freeman, The Musical Mountaineers
We didn’t try to become The Musical Mountaineers, rather, the entire universe - all of the summits and rivers and trees in the entire world - conspired to bring us together.
When we look back on our lives from this new vantage point, we both can tell that each step was always leading us to find each other.
We met through a serendipitous series of events that involved Rose taking a mountaineering glacier course, Anastasia almost dying in a car accident, and an Instagram book giveaway. Once upon a time we were just two women, going about our lives and going through the motions. This is the story of not only how we met, but about the ripple effect of good. It is a story about inspiring others to find the music in their own hearts.
Making music in the KEEN Targhee.
I’ve played violin since I was 4 years old, and I started volunteering with the National Park Service when I was 12. I always loved playing simple hymns outdoors, but I didn’t think that was something that a musician could do. I listened to the words that the world told me about was and wasn’t possible, “You can’t make a living doing what you love.” I never saw myself as the type of violinist who could perform on stage at Carnegie Hall, so I thought that meant that I wasn’t good enough to do much with music, except enjoy it.
After floundering around for a bit in college, I decided to go to Medical School, but at the last minute, I changed my mind and decided to pursue a career as a park ranger. As a ranger, I found great joy in patrolling the campground with my violin and leading campfire programs with fun tunes and fiddle music. I found so much joy in connecting with others in nature through my music. In 2012, I was laid off from my job as a ranger and even though I had always wanted to pursue a more adventure-inspired path, I thought that I was being reckless and foolish to have dreams like that. I took a job as a police officer with the railroad and I still remember looking at other people who were doing really amazing, adventurous things for a living, and I thought that they had gotten "lucky" in life, and that maybe I was just not one of those lucky people.
I suddenly knew that I needed to play my violin on the summit of a mountain.
After a few years as a police officer, I found myself feeling very negative about my job. I desperately wanted to create something new for myself, but I couldn't get past the ‘how’ of making this possible. I was completely paralyzed by beliefs, and I begged for the answers. One day, driving home from Stevens Pass in January after snowshoeing, my mom and my husband and I were involved in a very nearly fatal accident when our truck hit black ice and spun across the highway into a path of a semi truck. It was in that moment that I realized that all of my fears about going after my dreams were an illusion. If I didn’t have fear in the moment where I faced my own mortality - I knew that my ‘fears’ about following my heart were unfounded and manufactured. I decided to jump in and go for it.
I started small - by focusing on gratitude and appreciation for exactly where I was, even though it wasn’t where I wanted to be. During this time, after working a night shift as a police officer, I climbed into bed one night and suddenly had a startling vision - I suddenly knew that I needed to play my violin on the summit of a mountain. I logged into Craig’s List and posted an ad for myself as an ‘adventure elopement’ violinist. I thought this would be my ticket to freedom, but instead, I heard… crickets. I wasn’t dissuaded - I started doing 7 little habits every day to change my life, and one of those habits was giving. One day I randomly decided to give away a book about hiking on instagram. I had about 92 followers at the time, so the entire giveaway was a bit silly. One person entered my giveaway and her name was Rose Freeman. A few months later, when we finally met in person, I would learn that Rose had been drawing sketches of pianos in the wilderness for most of her life.
The KEEN Targhee: for all-terrain music adventures.
Ever since I was a little girl I’ve recognized the powerful language of music to bring light into the world. In my own life, I’ve seen my piano music make people laugh, cry, and come together in singing songs. The healing power of music has the ability to change hearts. It’s always been a dream of mine to bring music to the wilderness to combine two things that have taught me to be present in this world.
We never expected this little dream of two musicians to touch the hearts of so many people.
Light danced on the horizon and painted the glaciers surrounding us cotton-candy pink. I heard birds sing as they flew above us in the crisp alpine air. As I lifted my hands to play the first notes of “Ashokan Farewell” with Anastasia, I looked up to see the outline of Mount Baker, Mount Shuksan and Glacier Peak. It was surreal. Since that morning nearly two years ago, we’ve climbed to 20 summits and performed sunrise serenades at 35 unique locations around the Cascade Mountain Range. We never expected this little dream of two musicians to touch the hearts of so many people. It’s our desire that the Musical Mountaineers mission of bringing light into the world through music and the wilderness continues to spread to those who need to hear our music.
It was 3:02 a.m. last October at the trailhead for Hidden Lake Peak in the North Cascades, and we had a very special sunrise concert to play. “These boots are just too big!,” I exclaimed. Anastasia sleepily looked back at me. After five minutes of re-tying my laces tighter, I stepped out of my 4-Runner to walk around the parking lot. Upon further investigating, I realized I brought my husband’s boots on this adventure! The Musical Mountaineers have taught us in every moment we have a choice: to resist contrast, or become a friend to it. The sharp sting of pain or disappointment is harsh, but the stillness that exists between our notes on the mountain is the same stillness that lies just under the surface of all life. In this case, we were flexible and found a pair of trail runners for me to wear to the summit that morning. Now, I always remember to bring my own boots!
Playing Sunrise Symphonies on the Summit
Musical Mountaineering is not for the faint of heart. When we first started, Rose’s piano backpack weighed over 45 lbs. We now divide up the weight more equally so that each climb is a true team effort. For our wilderness concerts, we usually wake up around 1-2 a.m. and drive to the trailhead. We start hiking in the dark by the light of our headlamps and we time our arrival so that we can make it to the summit just before sunrise. We change into gowns at the summit and quickly set up the piano and tune the violin. Each concert feels like a flurry of activity right down to the moment where we play the first note. That first note is magic - it has the power to pull us into the present moment in a way that is difficult to describe. Our music on the mountain is beautiful and fleeting - but the stillness that exists around it is just as special.
When we carried a violin and a piano into the backcountry on September 1, 2017, for the very first time, we could not possibly have imagined the journey that we were about to embark upon. As much as we love the ‘big’ moments in Musical Mountaineering - like performing on stage at Benaroya Hall for the Washington National Parks Fund Benefit Concert - we find just as much fulfillment in connecting with others and in the knowing that we can bring a moment of joy or peace to those who take a few minutes to listen to one of our wilderness concerts. We receive countless messages from people who say that our music has changed their life and that hearing our story has encouraged them to pursue their own dreams. That is truly the ripple effect of good, and it is what keeps us climbing mountains.
Even though the music of The Musical Mountaineers has spread beyond the very first cell phone video that we shared with the public - the purity of our mission remains the same. We perform unannounced sunrise serenades in order to use the powerful combination of nature and music to bring more light into the world. We want our simple tunes on summits to inspire others to ask themselves the question: “What is my music on a mountain?”