PUBLISHED: 5:21 PM on Wednesday, September 3, 2008
CrossSound's 'Maroon Settings' presents cross-cultural views of Alaskan history
International musicians will perform new works featuring the words of Alaskan poets
JUNEAU - The words of Alaskan poets will be set to music by Uzbek, Danish, Canadian and Korean composers in CrossSound's "Maroon Setting" program this weekend. The productions, in Juneau Sept. 3-5 and in Sitka on Sept. 6, commemorate the convergence of the 40th anniversary of Alaskan statehood, CrossSound's 10th season, the International Polar Year and the 30th anniversary of Perseverance Theatre.

Katie Spielberger photo
  Nora Dauenhauer (second from left) and Richard Dauenhauer (third from left) provide language coaching for musicians from around the world who will perform in "Rejoice" by Uzbek composer Polina Medyulyanova, one of the five pieces in CrossSound's new program, "Maroon Settings."
"We came up with different ways to look at Alaskan history from different points of view," said Jocelyn Clark, director of CrossSound. "Some of it's from the inside looking out, and some of it's from the outside looking in."

The production, two years in the making, incorporates poetry, music and theatre to explore the history and future of Alaska from a variety of perspectives. CrossSound endeavors to attract composers and musicians of all ages, genders and nationalities.

"We always try to get people from each generation and (both) women and men," Clark said.

Each of the five pieces in the program presents a different take on Alaskan history. beginning with Danish composer Bo Holton's dramatization of Vitus Bering's dying moments in the piece, "And Here One Lies Like Some Other Idiot."

"It's a humanistic piece that takes place after he 'discovered' Alaska," Clark said. "He's a big hero in Denmark, but we know him as a Russian in Alaska."

The ensuing "Russian period" in Alaskan history is reflected in the choral piece "Rejoice" by Uzbek composer Polina Medyulyanova. The piece is based on a Russian Orthodox hymn and is sung in Tlingit, Yup'ik, Slavonic and English. Juneau writers and scholars Richard and Nora Marks Dauenhauer advised on the piece, as did Fr. Michael Oleksa of Anchorage.

"I keep going back, I keep trying to see myself against all this history," writes Sitka poet Robert Davis Hoffman, whose Tlingit name is Xaashuch'eet. His writings, which explore the connections between his ancestor's past and the modern world, are set to music by Dr. Martin Brody, director of arts at the American Academy in Rome.

The final two pieces use the poetry of former Alaska State Writer Laureates. "Aleutian Madrigals" by Owen Underhill of Vancouver, incorporates four poems by Jerah Chadwick of Unalaksa. Geon-Yong Lee's "A Sketch of Dark River" is based on "Notes on the Capitalist Persuasion," a political piece by John Haines.

Haines' piece, a look at Alaska today, is paired with an ancient Korean poem from Koryô period. At the time, poems were passed orally and only 21 poems survived from the period. Clark feels this poem is political today, in the context of linguistic and cultural loss due to imperialism.

"I find it to be longing for a time before all the imperialism of the world," Clark said. "It somehow matches well with the other pieces."

The process of selecting the words for the settings was "very organic," Clark said. Current Alaska State Writer Laureate John Straley presented one composer at a time with a selection of works by Alaskan writers. After one composer chose a piece to work with, Straley changed the selection of writings for the next composer to select from, and so on.

The resulting program incorporates numerous settings and languages, a fitting tribute to a state with as much linguistic and geographic diversity as Alaska.


• Thursday, Sept. 3, 7 p.m.: the Alaska State Museum in Juneau will host "Muse, Music, Museum," an evening of poetry and music at the Alaska State Museum with Alaskan poets laureate John Haines, Richard Dauenhauer, and Nora Marks Dauenhauer, and Robert Davis Hoffman with Iranian soprano Haleh Abghari and New York Cellist Greg Hesselink.

• Friday, Sept 4, 7 p.m.: There will be a pay-as-you-can preview of "Maroon Settings" at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center.

• Saturday, Sept. 5, 8 p.m.: "Maroon Settings" will be performed at JACC at 8 p.m., with a pre-concert talk with composers and poets at 7:15pm. Tickets will be available at JACC for $20 adults/$15 students at the door and $18/$12 in advance.

• Sunday, Sept. 6, 8 p.m.: "Maroon Settings" will be performed in Sitka Sept. 6 at at Harrigan Centennial Hall, with a pre-concert talk with composers and poets at 7:15 p.m. There may be a matinee poetry event that day as well, so Sitkans are encouraged to tune in to local media for more information.