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Prelude for Yuba Salmon was a collaborative adventure in musicianship, composing, and environmental stewardship. MIM’s Young Composers Project teamed with educators at Sierra Streams Institute (SSI) and were taken through a curriculum focused on the plight of the salmon and their importance to the environmental health of the region’s watershed.  The curriculum included both lab and field work. Students then created  music that responded to the their experience.  The project culminated in chamber and orchestral compositions to and were premiered by the MIM Festival Orchestra during the 2014 summer festival.

The experience, inspiration and process was in a 30-minute documentary film, where the music created also served as the score for the film.  In September 2014, RIVER MUSIC was premiered on KVIE public television to great acclaim, and has been accepted to the prestigious Wild and Scenic Film Festival, where it has received top billing and will be shown on January 16 at the Center for the Arts.  Click here for more information on the film festival.  Watch a preview of River Music below.

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YCP/SSI collaboration student blog:

Rafting Trip

Jesse Haennelt, BRHS grad, gap year 2:
I didn’t know what to expect with this rafting trip. I was told it would be very cold and wet so I bundled up. It was not very long before we all realized the weather predictions were wrong. I had to take off a few layers in order to be comfortable. We then went down the river. We stopped at various locations to eat, hike, collect macro invertebrates, etc. I have to say the part I liked the most about the trip was floating on the water and gently moving downstream while peering over the edge of the raft. I could hardly see into the water, and whenever someone pointed out a fish, all I usually saw was a shadow moving swiftly away from us. There was something else about the rafting trip I never expected. It brought us Young Composers together more than any other trip or event. The only time we all spend together is usually in a classroom, and we usually just listen and try to learn. The rafting trip made room for us to share with each other and bond. It was so different than our usual classroom experience and I think it was very important and influential in all of our music (and possibly outside of music). I believe it will continue to be for the rest of our lives.

Caroline Bronson senior NUHS:
We started at Park’s Bar and paddled down the river. What I found incredible was that this particular part of the river is where all three forks come together. Throughout the day we had moments of excitement at seeing, up close, salmon jumping, swimming, and duking it out at the surface. We also had a moment of calm introspection as we sat on the mounds of gravel and listened to the guides talk about the history of the river. The trip gave me the inspiration to write a piano trio for the concert in June, with the piano playing the part of the fish and the violin and cello the part of the water.

Toby Thomas-Rose, junior NUHS:
The first of bit this full-circle education, that took place for me, was being able to relate to my biology class that I took last year to the actual field of work in which it was applied. We saw and learned about the environment and learned how all of the different aspects of the environment plays so significantly into the lives of one species. At some point during the rafting trip, the different aspects of the environment began to make an impression on me of different characters. These characters began to take on roles in the environment for me. The ambiguity of the struggle of the salmon and the clash with the other characters, as they went along through their environment, I hope to explore this through the medium of an art. This is where the fields meet. The struggle of the Salmon against their environment becomes somehow humanized into a language that we can understand (science). Then from that language, we can even further humanize the Salmon and create an emotional attachment to the ideas that they are symbolic of through music. The truths of the science are exaggerated into characters or motifs that, if done right, can create the intended impression for the listener.

Elissa Karim, senior NUHS:
As eloquently as I can try, there is no profound way of verbally explaining I got to watch salmon slam their bodies against rocks for their final task of mating. However, the experience was on another level of profound inspiration both as a human and a musician. These powerful creatures expose themselves so vulnerably to the elements to perform instinctively what they have always known they had to do: mate. In their final breaths of life, they give themselves up to the overpowering instinct of continuing its existence. I think that is one of the most fundamental emotions and is overwhelming to witness, as I was able to. I was inspired by their drive. This drive to live and continue, literally through the utter pain and demise they must know is inevitable. They have a rich part in their life cycle and on the environment. The circle of life and death when viewed up close like that, in the water with them, changes perspective on struggle and fight, as well as passion, and perhaps love. I find the life cycle also a powerful element that applied musically could be dynamic and passionate. Part of me also wonders if they ever fight nature. As humans, we fight nature—hurricanes, floods, disease. We struggle to push away the entropy that surrounds us. The salmon do not. Maybe they cannot. Either way, I ask the question: are they strong to give in to entropy or are we strong to fight it?

Callum McKean, Sophomore NUHS:
The first thing that struck me when we pulled up to the creek for the reforestation trip was the glorious weather. Although it was the fall and it had been quite cold recently, I found myself removing layers almost as soon as I left the car. The second thing that struck me was the fact that we weren’t actually working with streams or salmon, like in the past. Instead, we were going to plant small trees or bushes or shrubs in the soil next to the creek. I was perfectly happy to do this on such a beautiful day, but it seemed to me that the relevance of the activity was a bit of a stretch. I wasn’t sure why we were there. As I followed our group to the area where we were going to be planting, right next to the creek, I looked around at the trees being tossed around in the breeze and the water sliding on down the creek bed. I stayed conscious of these things as I dug; the insects crawling all over, the calls of the birds in the distance. Slowly, I noticed myself moving more freely, more naturally, digging with smooth and assured motions and handling the plants gently and sweetly. I interacted with the soil in a way I never thought I could, persuading it out of the way of the plants’ roots and then letting it mix with the plants’ soil. The wind and the creek and the trees and the bugs and birds all seemed to be moving with me, and me with it. We had locked in with each other. It felt like the kind of rapport musicians reach when they’ve been playing together for years. It was like a radio station slowly shaking the static and coming into tune. When I felt this, I realized something. The various beings by this creek and I may have, in truth, been moving individually, but together, we made up something bigger. We were combining, if you will, to form the bigger picture. This ecosystem, this country, this world, everything is made up of tiny pieces that interact in their own beautiful little ways, and I was one of those tiny little pieces. And that was when I realized we were there.

Kaia Montana Smith, eighth grade:
Habitat Restoration Day was one of my favorite trips with SSI because we got to not only learn about the ecosystem around us, but also influence it in a positive way. A lot of times when people rip themselves away from their televisions and step outside they just see ‘trees,’ and ‘grass.’ In reality, it’s a bit more complicated; every single plant and animal is interacting with everything else. At Habitat Restoration Day we were able to plant over a hundred native plants of various different species. In five or ten years, all of these plants will probably be helping to thelower water temperature and provide improved habitat space for salmon, benthic macro-invertebrates, and lots of other wildlife.

Caroline Cox, 18 Ghidotti
Macro Day at the River

Even through my incredibly fashionable waders, I could feel the cold river water encase my skin. Perhaps it had been the wrong day to wear shorts.

I jerkily kicked at the riverbed in an effort to loosen macro invertebrates from their muddy home and hopefully warm my legs up at the same time. The sediment lodged at the bottom of the creek billowed and flowed into our waiting net, but despite my intense exercise, the cold January chill did not yield and I remained standing, shivering in the clear stream.

After several cycles of kicking and shivering, our nets were sufficiently filled with dirt and macro invertebrates. We sifted through the grit with spoons at nearby picnic tables and found a few little creatures. And, unlike me, they seemed comfortable in the freezing weather.

Even with the uncomfortable temperature, our day at the creek was beautiful. The wind rustled through the trees and the creek water was unbelievably clear. It was the perfect day to acquire musical inspiration.

Jozi Gullickson, 8th grade
Nevada City Charter School

We took a field trip to collect more tiny macro-invertebrates from Little Deer Creek where it flows through Pioneer Park. Students in the group split up into pairs and waded into the freezing cold water. One person had to scrub the rocks to get all the “macros” to lift off while the other person held the net downstream to catch them floating away. After we had picked the insects out of the collected mud, we put them into plastic ice cube trays to separate and help identify them. Later we wrote a poem or journaled about our experience and the importance of macro-invertebrates in the ecosystem. I love the way that studying the type and abundance of the smallest insect larvae living in our waterways can help us to evaluate the health of the stream ecosystems in our community. I’m proud that Sierra Streams has pioneered this understanding and that it’s helped people to monitor small watersheds all over our country.

Dashiell Jones, 8th grade
Nevada City School of the Arts

Wading into water that felt like 460 degrees below zero was definitely a shocking experience. In my head I started going through the steps of how to survive if I fell into some sort of hypothermic paralysis, though as the day progressed, I learned that for many creatures this water is an important and life-supporting part of the ecosystem in Nevada County.   For instance, this surprisingly cold, constantly moving stream of water is home to a horde of incredibly interesting (for lack of a better word) little life forms, who have been given the general title of “Benthic Macroinvertebrates.”  Finding these strange creatures in the water involved a process of having one person (often the person less willing to get his or her hands wet) stand with a net in the water, catching the debris of the other partner, who was positioned upstream. The upstream partner’s job was to free up sunken rocks, in the hope of knocking loose Benthic Macroinvertebrates, which would float downstream into the aforementioned net. The cooperation between Sierra Streams Institute and The Young Composers Program was a fun and eye-opening experience to participate in. I, along with the other students, was privileged to be able to learn about rivers and streams as part of our Young Composers Program.


Music in the Mountains gratefully acknowledges the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation and the League of American Orchestras and The Volgenau Foundation for their generous support of this program.

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