Story last updated at 4/29/2009 - 11:18 am
Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from a Juneau Student Symphony 2008-2009 retrospective by Rick Trostel. Read the entire document online at www.juneausymphony.org/studentsymphony.
Every spring for the past six years, the Juneau Student Symphony has taken its music on tour. Since towns in this part of the world are connected by water, not roads, the orchestra charters a 78 foot Allen Marine catamaran to get from village to village. As of this tour the orchestra has visited Petersburg, Wrangell, Sitka, Hoonah, Gustavus, Haines, Skagway and Whitehorse (Canada) at least once.
Outside of Juneau, there are no school orchestra programs in Southeast Alaska, an area about the size of Indiana. Sitka is the only town besides Juneau with a community orchestra. The Juneau Student Symphony's goal on tour is to promote orchestra music. Conductor Rick Trostel, is a self-proclaimed "orchestral evangelist." Rick sends scores and parts of the symphony's repertoire to a musical representative who distributes the music among local musicians for practice and rehearsals. When the Student Symphony arrives in the the host community, local and visiting musicians participate in a rehearsal, then play a concert for the community. The program is always arranged so that more and more local musicians are able to join the orchestra as the concert progresses.
This year's tour was a homecoming for the Alaska Sinfonietta. The orchestra visited Gustavus, a fishing and national park village of 400 at the mouth of Glacier Bay, and Hoonah, a mostly-Tlingit native village of 800 with ancestral roots in Glacier Bay. The text of the final movement refers to the hope-inspiring mountains and waters of Glacier Bay.
Casting off early from Juneau, the orchestra's charter boat picked up dancers, singers and instrumentalists in Hoonah then headed to Glacier Bay National Park. A significant portion of the vehicles of Gustavus were at the dock to meet the orchestra and shuttle them and their instruments to the town's gymnasium, 10 miles away. The orchestra, choir and dancers bulging with the addition of Gustavus instrumentalists and singers, rehearsed the program for the afternoon concert as soon as chairs, percussion and risers were in place.
The early afternoon concert was hugely successful but the audience had little time to share their praise because the orchestra had to dash back to the boat and cross Icy Strait back to Hoonah for its next concert. The combination Hoonah and Juneau orchestra, choir and dancers repeated their performance in the late afternoon in Hoonah and then were treated to a fabulous fresh halibut meal cooked by the regionally famous Mildred and Ray. The Juneau musicians headed to their trusty boat arriving home well after dark, safely transported through the waters of the inside passage by radar and GPS.
The significance of this venture was not lost on the performers and the audiences. The Juneau Student Symphony had provided an already-constituted orchestra for locals to join in. The orchestra had brought a work about its hosts' homeland to their homeland. It was obvious by the excitement and enthusiasm of the musicians and the audiences that the performance had made a healthy impact. If the past is any indication of the future, some of the host musicians will be traveling to Juneau to play with the Juneau Student Symphony or the parent orchestra, the Juneau
Symphony in Juneau concerts.
The Juneau Student Symphony has birthed a sonic self-representation - a musical icon. A portion of the Alaska Sinfonietta will be played at the end of every concert that the orchestra performs now and in perpetuity. It will connect the orchestra to past, present and future concerts as well as to the land and cultures of Southeast Alaska.
The piece is very personal to the orchestra but it also has universal appeal. There is the obvious cultural appeal for orchestras and audiences around the world to know about a
Native American art form and the native process of creating performance art. The emotional arc of the work is a universal experience of growing up: innocence of youth, to lament for the mistakes and losses of life, to the hope that we may grow from our experiences. None of this would make any impact if the music itself was not beautiful. Five performances with five standing ovations is some evidence that the orchestra is the proud parent of a piece of art that has universal meaning.
To put words to the significance of the tour and Juneau Student Symphony experience, the performers and creators (and one audience member) have weighed in on what it meant to them. These are their words and have only been edited for grammar and brevity.
Linda Belarde, audience member who flew from Juneau to Hoonah to see the concert:
I was there and thoroughly enjoyed the concert and the boat trip back. I should have introduced myself-you were very busy. I especially loved the new piece-wow-and the choir was excellent. I'm sorry I missed the Juneau concerts but I am very happy to have seen the performance in Hoonah. I also enjoyed talking with some of the adult students over dinner. And that meal was delicious! Mildred and Ray are known for their excellent cooking. Thank you again.
Stuart Thurston, trumpet:
I think this tour was a great trip, both in playing and in meeting new people. It was definitely worth all the practicing because the music was wonderful:) I really enjoyed having the players from Hoonah and Gustavus playing with us because they could play really well and they fit right in. At first I was hesitant about the Alaska Sinfonietta, but after we fully learned it and played it many times at was amazing. This trip was very fun, and sounded great.
Ellie Sharman, Gustavus K, 1, 2, and music teacher and violinist:
The whole thing was amazing. Our town is still reeling from the excitement! It's about time something like this happened in Gustavus! Why was it worth it to me? Children who have never before seen symphonic instruments or heard an orchestra play got to see, hear, and experience the music first hand. Everybody showed up...older folks who hadn't been out much at all this winter, young pre-schoolers, school-aged children, and their parents. This was truly a community event. The community made it happen driving 100 musicians, dancers, and their equipment 10 miles to and from Bartlett Cove to the Gustavus School Gym. Seeing the Hoonah dancers and hearing a symphonic response to their song here IN their homeland of Glacier Bay was nothing short of powerful. Connections were made, friendships renewed - Thank you Rick, Juneau Student Symphony, ACC, and everyone from Hoonah!
Richard Dauenhauer, linguist and poet, contributer of text for the last movement of the Alaska Sinfonietta: Nora (Marks Dauenhauer) is all aglow and is raving about the warm reception in Hoonah. One never knows how things like this will go over, and she reports that people loved it and were congratulating her. Thanks again for the imagination and creativity in conceiving the whole idea.
Paula Recchia, flute and piccolo player:
When I look at the audiences that come to our concerts in the communities, I wonder who might be moved to play, from the youngest member to the oldest. I hope they see in our performances a gift carefully crafted with dedication and shared to improve all of our lives. Thanks, Rick for being our inspiration!
Julie Nielsen, 'cellist:
As I was looking out over the mountains of Admiralty today on my way to Seattle, with "history is now" (words from the final movement of the Alaska Sinfonietta) floating around in my head, I was thinking I should write to say how pleased I was to be a part of that performance, and grateful for all of the effort into it. So I am glad that you asked me to play.
For me, the trip to Hoonah and Gustavus was important for making connections. First, with David Austin, who was very generous in answering some of the many questions I have about cello technique; second, with the other members of the Student Symphony - I was pleased to overhear some of the kids talking about politics and debating statistical significance of things (they are smart kids who are engaged with the world; I was impressed), and also I had some great conversations with the adult members and chaperones; and finally, that 5 year old boy in Hoonah who solemnly asked to play my cello, then did so without any hesitation or timidity completely stole my heart. I would like to make sure he has access to an instrument and lessons, if he wants them. I just need to figure out how to do that...
And the music itself was gorgeous; it was a pleasure to become immersed in it for the past few months. I am pleased that my debut with the Student Symphony coincided with the debut of this piece! It was a nice way to learn how to play the cello as part of a group.
Dave Austin, 'cellist from Hoonah:
I like the joining together of young and old in music making. Somehow a lot of barriers are dropped and it makes you seem younger (if you are older), and it makes you seem older, perhaps more mature (if you are younger).
Emme Shea MacDonald, violinist and youngest musician in the orchestra:
I learned a lot and it was fun!
Bob Hutton, Hoonah band director and percussionist: I wanted first and foremost to thank you and everyone who helped put this thing together for making it possible. I think that there must not be a whole lot of symphonies in the U.S. or even worldwide who welcome members of all ages to participate. In that the Student Symphony is certainly unique. It is a credit to you as a conductor that you have the wherewithall to work with such an incredible age range successfully, and to the parents of the younger students and to the
members of the Juneau community that they support the organization.
If peoples' schedules weren't so hectic (and I include musicians of all ages in that caveat), it would be a blast to do a bit more rehearsal as a group that brings folks from all over SE AK and then go on a week-long tour of most of the communities in SE. (OK, OK, it's not like I know THAT'S ever going to happen..)
I know that everyone in the Hoonah musician contingent joins me in thanking you again for a rare and wonderful opportunity.
Judy O. Neary, clarinetist:
Our concerts are the result of your motivational leadership and the emphasis to do our best. I've been inspired to practice and respond to your expressive cues during rehearsal and live concerts.
The journey to Hoonah and Gustavus were examples of communities pulling together; from the party of volunteer drivers to the incredible halibut dinner spread and the audiences who brought out the best in each of us.
Thank you also for suggesting we branch out and meet new people which is sometimes difficult for shy folks. I'm grateful for the conversations with new friends and the companionship of longtime SE individuals. Alaska is indeed a small place when music and community bind us together.
Margaret Ross, piano soloist:
One unfortunate thing about playing piano is that it isn't an orchestral instrument, so opportunities to play with a group are rare. Being able to play with JSS was a wonderful opportunity for me. I was able to hear and play the piece as Beethoven wrote it, and it was magical. Going on the tour was also great fun. I got to meet new people and see other people I haven't seen for years, all through the music. Thanks to Rick, JSS, and the people of Hoonah and Gustavus for making it happen.
Joe Ross, father of the pianist and audience member:
Before the world and time goes by much further and we, I anyway, get caught up in the trivia, I'd like to say thanks. Thanks to you for a few days we all lived on a different plane, at a higher pitch, more alive in a way. The music was great. The orchestra was the best I can remember, I listened to music. Thanks for Maggie, for working so well with her, for navigating around her schedule, for making it all happen. Thanks for the new piece. Wow! That's got to be one of the hardest jobs-to come up with something new, a big piece and then make it go, get the money (selling the score great!) get the music, fix the music. If that is anything like commissioning and putting on a brand new play.... Anyhow the music you brought out of the composer, the poets, the players and singers was... It was good, so good I stood up, not the ritual stand up for the composer, but before that, for you mostly, and your gang.
Thomas Reiner, composer:
Put in a single sentence: this was one of the most wholesome and meaningful projects I have had the privilege to be part of. In particular, I am truly amazed at the multitude of dimensions that characterize this collaboration: local history and tradition, community engagement, cross- cultural dialogue, integration of music and words, learning opportunities for so many musicians including myself, exploring the depth of emotions
that music can evoke, and of course the sheer joy of working with so many genuine and enthusiastic artists of all ages. I am deeply thankful to everyone involved and to the various organizations that supported my residence. Above all, however, I like to thank my dear friend Rick who's artistic vision made all of this possible. Finally, one of the big personal delights was the warm welcome given to my daughter Celeste when she joined the Alaska Youth Choir for the premier. Her time in Alaska will be a thoroughly
joyful memory for the rest of her life.