The members of Mont Alto are all experienced professional musicians who are never happier than when working in a small chamber group, reviving this long-neglected music.
Rodney Sauer studied at the Oberlin Conservatory while majoring in Chemistry at Oberlin College. While obtaining a Masters Degree in Chemistry at the University of Colorado, he started the Mont Alto Ragtime and Tango Orchestra as a 1910s-era dance music ensemble. But after encountering a large archive of "photoplay music" at the university’s music archives, he started using it to compile small-orchestra silent film scores. His five-piece chamber ensemble was renamed “The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra,” and has become known for the quality of its film score compilations and performances.
Since then, Mr. Sauer has continued to enlarge his collection of silent film music, acquiring five different collections of orchestrations from historic theaters, keeping copies and donating the originals to the University of Colorado's American Music Research Center. These include collections from Montana, Indiana, Rhode Island, and most recently the Grauman Theatre library, originally from the Million Dollar and Metropolitan Theatres in Los Angeles.
Mr. Sauer has scored over 150 silent films, all using this historic music repertoire. The five-piece Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra tours the country, and regularly plays at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, the Telluride Film Festival, the Turner Classic Movies festival, and many others.
Mont Alto's recorded silent film scores can be heard on video releases from Kino-Lorber, the Criterion Collection, Flicker Alley, Lobster Films, Image Entertainment, Blackhawk Films, the Cohen Film Collection, Eureka Films, and on Turner Classic Movies.
Mont Alto has four self-released CDs. Entreaty was chosen as "Album of the Week" by KDFC Classical FM, in San Francisco, for the week of June 11, 2018, and still gets airplay on classical music stations around the country.
Mr. Sauer is also adept at solo and small-ensemble improvised silent film scores on piano and occasionally accordion, although Mont Alto is his major musical endeavor.
Britt Swenson received her B.M. and M.M. degrees from the Juilliard School. She made her Carnegie Hall debut soloing with the New York Pops Orchestra. She has performed throughout the US, Europe and Asia with such artists as Jean Pierre Rampal, Mstislav Rostroprovich and Yehudi Menuhin. Britt has been featured on NPR's "Performance Today" and "Music from the Grand Teton Music Festival." She has recorded extensively as soloist in Vivaldi Four Seasons with the Bismarck Symphony, as a chamber musician, as violinist with Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra and in over 30 Hollywood movie soundtracks.
Awarded the prestigious Frank Huntington Beebe Fellowship, Britt spent a year studying at the Mozarteum Academy in Salzburg, Austria. Currently Britt is a member of Colorado Ballet Orchestra. A devoted teacher, Britt is on the faculty at Parlando School for the Arts in Boulder and has been a teaching fellow at Harvard University.
David Short, cellist, teaches and performs across Colorado. In addition to Mont Alto, he performs with the conductor-less Sphere Ensemble, Penumbra Quartet, Telling Stories, and the Fort Collins Symphony. With Mont Alto he has performed across the US, from Lincoln Center, NY to the Castro Theater in San Francisco. His performances with Sphere, Penumbra and Telling Stories have appeared on Colorado Public Radio's "KCFR Presents" and "Colorado Spotlight," both as soloist and collaborator.
Besides teaching his own private studio, David is cello instructor and assistant director of the Strings Attached program in Englewood, CO. Strings Attached was awarded a 2011 Creativity Grant from the Englewood Education Foundation for their efforts in providing lessons to children without access to string instrumental classes in their district. Recently David helped Rodney transcribe and expand Mont Alto's score of "Amarilly of Clothesline Alley" for the Fort Collins Symphony's collaboration with the Mary Pickford Institute.
Brian Collins is principal clarinetist with the Longmont Symphony Orchestra, and performs with the Colorado Mahler Festival. He has also performed with the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra, Boulder Philharmonic, Boulder Sinfonia, Louisvillle Symphony, Denver Symphony, Boulder Concert Band, and too many other orchestras to count.
Dawn Kramer is a freelance trumpet player in the Denver area. She is currently a member of the Boulder Brass, the Darren Kramer Organization, salsa band Conjunto Colores, as well as the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. She is second trumpet at the Buell Theatre. She has subbed with the Colorado Symphony, Colorado Music Festival, Denver Brass, and many regional orchestras and chamber ensembles.
As a Colorado native, Ms. Kramer attended the University of Colorado. She has toured as lead trumpet aboard several cruise lines, a Miami-based salsa band, as well as the internationally acclaimed rock band, Matchbox Twenty. These travels took her across the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, and Mexico. She has appeared on the Tonight Show, The Late Show with David Letterman, the Rosie O'Donnell show, and VH1 Storytellers.
She has recently performed at the International Trumpet Guild, the International Association of Jazz Educators, and the Colorado Music Educators Association conventions.
The Colorado and Northwestern, a narrow-gauge railroad that lead from Boulder to the mountain communities of Ward and Eldora, was running into difficulty as the gold mines began to play out. Retooling itself as a tourist route, and calling itself "The Switzerland Trail of America," the small railroad built a dance pavilion at Mont Alto park in 1898. On the day it opened, the city of Boulder closed for business so that all of the citizens could picnic, gather flowers, and dance the night away. In the spirit of adapting life to suit dancing, the Mont Alto Ragtime and Tango Orchestra was named in 1990.
The Mont Alto pavilion is no longer standing, but the park site is still accessible on the railway grade, and the foundations and chimney of the pavilion remain. The Mont Alto Ragtime and Tango Orchestra has occasionally played for "birthday parties" for the pavilion on the site, including on its centenary in 1998.
The Dance Pavilion at Mont Alto Park—notice the name spelled in quartz rocks