A mile above the California desert in the San Jacinto Mountains nestles a sleepy hamlet populated almost entirely with artists. It began in 1946, when choral conductor and dean of the University of Southern California’s music department, Max Krone, and his wife, Bee, purchased 250 acres in the San Bernardino backcountry with the idea of building a remote satellite arts campus. Believing that arts education enhances human development, within four years they opened their fledgling summer school with forty students and eight instructors and called it Idyllwild.
In the March heat, you can wind past Big Horn in Palm Desert or ride up the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to hike among Ponderosa pines on a silent trail. You can escape the jams of San Diego or L.A. in two hours by car. Idyllwild is 120 miles from the university’s main campus, independent since 1983. By way of a set of gnarly switchbacks and protected by the surrounding national forest, Idyllwild’s main village drag, stopped in time, is adorned with knotty pine cabins, gallery lodges, a pottery studio and a Boy Scout camp. The Idyllwild Arts Academy — now a full-time boarding school — morphs in summer into the Idyllwild Arts Summer Program where music, dance, theatre, painting, film, creative writing and Native American arts classes are offered to anyone over the age of four, and adult enrollment swells to 1800. Chamber, jazz, choral and woodwind music, including a film festival are held by season’s end, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships are prepared for the following year.
Until co-founder Bee Krone’s death in the summer of 2000, she devoted herself to attracting a broad scope of artists to teach at Idyllwild, including screenwriter Norman Corwin, photographers Ansel Adams and Minor White, conductor Herbert Zipper, choreographer Bella Lewitzky, painter Fritz Scholder, potters Maria Martinez and Lucy Lewis and composer Meredith Willson. Between scoring for Hollywood and Broadway, composing classical music and popular billboard hits like It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas, Willson wrote the Idyllwild school song in 1968. The students still perform it at graduation. “A community of people,” said artist Ross Bleckner, “that’s really what art school is.”
PS: “You must walk that tightrope between accident and discipline. Accident by itself … so what? Discipline by itself is boring. By walking that tightrope and putting down something on a canvas coming from your guts, you have a chance of making marks that will live longer than you.” (Fritz Scholder)
Esoterica: “A child taught to listen is a child building his defenses against the too-great speed, the too-great pressure which will bring physical and moral disaster if it is not stopped,” said Idyllwild co-founder Max Krone at a meeting of music educators in Los Angeles in 1941. “Medical experts are warning us what will happen to us physically if we do not learn to relax and slow down; psychologists are pointing out mental and spiritual inroads which are being made upon character.”
“The aim of education is the knowledge, not of facts, but of values.” (William S. Burroughs)
“I think music should be the basis of an education, not just something you do once a week.” (Joshua Bell)