Sixty years ago, Gus Noland played trombone and sang in the high school glee club. Peggy Daly (Noland) played the bass viol in her High School Orchestra. For many years Gus sang in Barbershop Quartets. As parents they embraced & encouraged music in their home & had their own family band, with all 5 children participating. Their oldest son, Michael, played the cello in the orchestra and sang in Ruth Phillips elite madrigal choir at Bella Vista High School. He also conducted the first youth choir at Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church. He obtained a B.A. & Masters in Music and eventually became a choral director for Christ Community Church, Folsom Lake College, and sang with the renowned San Francisco based group, "Chanticleer".
After they retired - Gus, B.A. Pomona College, L.L.D from U.C.L.A. and M. Div. from San Anselmo, and Peggy (20 years as a Head Start Preschool Teacher), made a spiritual commitment to organize a summertime choral camp. From the beginning Gus's dream had been to inspire young men and women to sing. With orchestras and choirs often disappearing from the public schools, the inclusion of music in children's education was becoming more rare, and the need for supplemental music program offerings was becoming greater.
Camp began at the Community of the Great Commission at Foresthill. The first camp enrolled 78 campers and staff. The first 2 years of camp offered three choirs. After 2 years of homemade flyers, they formulated a professional brochure & renamed the camp Sierra Mountain Choral Camp. From the very beginning, campers returned to camp year after year--many logging as many as 10+ years of attendance. We are proud of our alumni that have gone on to teaching careers in music.
In our 3rd summer the addition of a fourth choir, one for junior boys with treble or "unchanged" voices increased interest in camp. Camp activities expanded to accommodate the varied interests of the campers. The capacity of the campground was stretched by adding 2 large tents for housing the senior boys, and became the birthplace of our own in-camp rock band, "IN-TENTS" (aka "Amadeus").
June, 1998 was a time of great loss for camp with the deaths of Michael Noland, founders' son and a camp music staff member, and of Christi Cavillari, a popular girl's counselor and member of the Senior Girls choir. Parents and staff rallied around to help hold camp together at such a sad time. By 1999 the camp was bursting at the seams with 120 staff and campers. In 2000, 140 campers registered along with 20 staff, and camp moved to a new location at Sierra Pines Camp at Twin Bridges, CA on highway 50.
In 2000, Sierra Mountain Choral camp became Sierra Mountain Music camp with the addition of an orchestra for all ages. After one year, we added a second orchestra for advanced students.
The year 2003 brought a mixture of worry, excitement and grief. Gus had some serious health issues prior to camp and it was the first year he was unable attended. A contract with Mondavi for the 2004 10th anniversary concert came in fall 2003 and camp lost a treasured camper & counselor, alumnus of 6 years, Jeremiah Kregger in December 2003. Our 10th anniversary concert in June 2004 at the Robert and Margrett Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts was spectacular and the pinnacle of our camp's history. Gus was very, very proud of what had been accomplished.
Sadly, 2005 was also a time to say goodbye. Camp founder Augustus "Gus" Noland passed away in March and left a great hole in the hearts of family, staff and alumni. While camp went on as usual, Gus was greatly missed, and the campers and staff paid tribute to him during our 11th annual concert. More goodbyes were said at the end of camp 2005 to our host campsite, Sierra Pines, as we realized we had outgrown their capacity and ability to keep up with our program's growth rate.
We moved to a new facility, Diamond Arrow Christian Conference Center near Nevada City with a capacity of 468 campers and staff. Our new facilities, with 350+ acres, offered new resources to explore, including a climbing wall, a zip-fly line, swimming pool and beautiful hiking trails near the Yuba River.
We have been fortunate to have loyal staff return year after year. Bill Zinn, our Music Program Director, Rick Croom, our Board President, and Julie Westbrook, our Administrative Director, have all been with SMMC since 1996. Nichole Harshbarger, our current Program Director, has added incredible energy and organization since 2007. Many, many of our music directors, Leo Gravin, Travis Rogers, Cherry Hayes, to name but a few, have returned with their incredible teaching talents year after year.
And of course, there is the Board of Directors our Parent organization, Rancho De Los Amigos. They have been especially supportive, Superior Court Judge Talmadge Jones, Attorney Ron Leachman, Casey Noland, John Henderson, Jim Failor, Peggy Noland and Jerry Shantz. We are forever grateful for their encouragement and loyalty.
In 2005, a new board was created to allow better efficiency in the operation of camp's daily needs. Carol Hoge, Cliff Connelly, Julie Ueltzen, Rick Croom, Bob Kruse and Peggy Noland formed the core of the new board with the help of Executive Director, Michelle Parker. All had been part of camp for years. We were lucky to have them on board! The current Board of Directors continues to work at expanding the opportunities for young musicians to gather together each summer.
Throughout our history campers have come from all over the Northern California Region. There have been campers from out of state as well, spanning from Alaska to Texas, even including musicians from Agentina and France. All were seeking excellence in music. With a strong and loyal staff, alumni and friends, Gus and Peggy's early visions come true summer after summer. In Our hearts rings the theme song dedicated to Gus, ‘I Believe in Music'.