Biographies of the Mont Alto Musicians

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. After encountering a large archive of "photoplay music" at the university’s music archives, in 1994 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 given lectures and workshops on "compilation scoring" from photoplay music at Oberlin College, the University of Arkansas, the Cleveland Conservatory, Case Western University, and the University of Colorado. As a guest artist at the University of Colorado Boulder he co-taught a course on silent film scoring in the spring of 2023, in which students compiled and performed scores for three silent films using music from the Grauman Theatre Music archive. His Photoplay Music Starter Kit has been used by several musicians to create film scores for community orchestra performances.

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, the Cleveland Silent Film Festival, the Kansas Silent Film Festival, and many others. In 2023, Sauer was awarded the David Shepard Career Achievement Award by the Denver Silent Film Festival.

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.

Brian Collins

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

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.

Britt Swenson

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, Ms Swenson is on the faculty at Parlando School for the Arts in Boulder and has been a teaching fellow at Harvard University.

David Short

David Short, cellist, has been the newest member of the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra since 2007 and has greatly enjoyed his tenure with the wonderful group. In addition to Mont Alto, David is an active performer, arranger, and educator based in Denver, Colorado.

David is the cellist for the Playground Ensemble, a contemporary music ensemble serving underrepresented voices in classical music. He is a section member of Opera Colorado, and a freelancer who plays shows, sessions, and whatever unusual project that comes his way. David is a founding member of Sphere Ensemble, a 13-piece string orchestra, and formerly served as their artistic director. He remains one of Sphere’s principal arrangers, and his arrangements are featured on their album ‘Divergence’ selected as top album of 2016 by Colorado Public Radio.

As an educator, David is a private teacher, coach and, clinician. He is a master mentor for the Denver School of the Arts, who have been invited to perform at the Midwest Clinic in Chicago, and are currently a finalist for the 2023 American Prize for Orchestral Performance. As part of the Playground Ensemble he is active in their Sound-painting and Young Composer programs, giving young people the opportunity to create music without the strictures of formal training. In 2023 David was selected as Private Teacher of the Year by the Front Range Youth Symphony.

When not performing, David is a dabbler in board games and game design, one who enjoys both the cooking and eating of food, and the petting of cats.

About the "Mont Alto" Name

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