Hiking Boots and a Piano: Mountaineering Hits a High Note

With the snow quickly melting out across the Mountain West, a duo called the Musical Mountaineers will be heading into the hills to play music in some unexpected places.
Anastasia Allison and Rose Freeman prepare to serenade the wilderness. (Courtesy of Anastasia Allison)

by | Jun 16, 2021 | Local Music

Mountain peaks, frozen lakes and tulip fields are just some of the places that violinist Anastasia Allison and pianist Rose Freeman have taken their instruments. The duo, known as the Musical Mountaineers, regularly treks miles into the wilderness to perform at sunrise, unannounced, and often to no audience.

But finding them in the wilderness is a bit like finding sasquatch, explained Allison. “We are pretty cognizant of leave no trace efforts, and we’ve never wanted the Musical Mountaineers to become sort of a show. You know, there’s nobody up there when we’re there.” 

“If we announced a concert, I think it would lose some of the specialness of that or maybe the purity of why we’re doing it,” she added. “It does feel like this musical offering of sorts to the universe around us.”

That commitment to flying under the radar might be surprising given that the pair met on social media and have since gained thousands of followers through YouTube and Instagram videos of their performances. But they maintain they’re not doing the concerts for their online following. Allison, a former park ranger, was working as a railroad police officer when she said she heard a voice in her head telling to go play violin on the summit of a mountain. 

“I had always wanted to do these adventurous things and sort of just always found myself moving through life on autopilot,” she recalled. “I’ve been a violinist since I was four. I’ve always loved playing music outside, but I didn’t really know how to make that happen.”   

Then she met Freeman, the pianist, in 2017, and they decided to go on a sunrise hike in the North Cascades, near where they both live. They packed the usual supplies for any trek in the wilderness — first aid kit, extra clothes, snacks — except sticking out of their backpacks were also a violin and a 76 key keyboard. Freeman remembers that the first piece they played together was “Ashokan Farewell” by Jay Ungar. 

“It’s a beautiful folk tune that has some expressive melodies with some combined harmony chords in the piano, some non diatonic chords that really are reflective. They bring you into the present moment as a musician and as a listener in a way that nothing else I’ve experienced in life can do, or very few things in life that I experience can do this.”

The YouTube video of that first performance shows the women dressed in ball gowns, standing barefoot on a granite slab. Reflecting on the moment, Allison said it was almost like seeing a secret.  “You get to be a part of it, not just watching it from inside your home, like you feel like you’re contributing to the unfolding of this incredibly beautiful, like colorful miracle that’s happening in front of you… there’s this sort of reverence of doing it at sunrise or sunset.”

Now, four years later, the Musical Mountaineers have gained attention from Outside Magazine, The Sierra Club and the National Park Service. But still only a handful of people have actually seen them perform in the wilderness — and those that do often become friends.

“Most people spot us on the trail, on the hike down, because Rose’s piano is sticking out of her backpack, like seven feet tall,” Allison said.

Beyond carrying heavy instruments and often trekking miles in darkness, performing in such remote destinations presents other challenges as well. The artists have learned to be flexible — and how to improvise their performances, something that is often anathema to their backgrounds in classical music. “We’ve played in some pretty high winds, winds that are so high that I can’t even keep my bow on the string,” Allison explained.

So, as you head into the wilderness this summer, keep your ears open for a beautiful melody — whether it’s birds chirping, leaves rustling in the wind, or just maybe if you’re lucky, the Musical Mountaineers.

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About Emily Cohen

Emily has served as executive director of KHOL since June 2019. She has a background in ecological design and urban planning and has worked as a teacher on the US-Mexico border in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, as a policy wonk in Washington, DC and as a land use planner in Wyoming. She enjoys getting away from the operations side of radio to produce original stories about arts and culture in Jackson.

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