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12/1/2012
Ensembles prepare Christmas concerts
Roy McPherson conducts the Windjammers during rehearsal at McPherson Music Tuesday. From left, Dave Kiffer, Kathleen Light, Geralyn Lovell and Leslie Snodderly. Staff photo by Hall Anderson


By DANELLE LANDIS

Daily News Staff Writer

Ketchikan will be filled with music this coming week as it is treated to performances by the Soundwaves and Windjammers bands, the Ketchikan High School Jazz Band, the Ketchikan Community Concert Band, the Ketchikan Community Chorus and the Ketchikan Community Children’s Choir

The community chorus and children’s chorus have teamed up with directors Steve Kinney and Clare Bennett for a musical event never before performed in Ketchikan, "King Island Christmas," sponsored by Saxman ANB/ANS Camp 15.

About 20 adults and eight children rehearsed at the Saxman Tribal House Monday evening for a rousing run-through of the King Island story, told in song. Kinney said he has long dreamed of directing the production, which was based on a children’s book written by Juneau’s Jean Rogers, and illustrated by Juneau artist Rie Munoz, based on Munoz’ experiences.

The musical adaptation of the book was written by previous Alaska resident Deborah Brevoort and David Friedman. It won the 1997 Frederick Loewe Award and has had 30 productions around the United States and Australia, according to information at kingislandchristmas.com.

"It’s so ‘Alaska,’" Kinney said.

According to Munoz’ biography at riemunoz.com, she and her husband taught school in 1951 at the Inupiat village on King Island, which lies about 85 miles northwest of Nome. Photos from their life there can be found at Munoz’ website.

Kinney said the Munoz Gallery in Juneau is planning to supply photos from their adventures on King Island that he will display in the tribal house during performances.

King Island is little more than a giant rock about one-mile wide in the Bering Sea which used to be a winter hunting location for locals.

The story opened at the tribal house with the trio of Cathy Tillotson, Judy Knecht and Sheila Zastrow singing, "We'll tell you a story, a Christmas story; it's our Christmas present to you; we've wrapped it in music, instead of paper; and we're here to sing it through; it's called King Island Christmas, and every word is true; it's a story of people who stick together, and what those people can do."

The plot unfolded after Kinney announced to the performers that, for the first time, they were going to run through the entire production start to finish.

"We can feel the wholeness of what this is about," he said. He then advised chorus members to focus on the consonants in each word, and to make beginning vowels in words hard, so each word is clear.

"Words are so critical when we’re telling a story," he said to them.

The story of King Island Christmas is an inspirational tale told with songs ranging from darker tunes evoking the threat from the sea and harsh winter climate in the Arctic location to rollicking songs as the villagers celebrate.

The music rolled off of the timbers of the tribal house with surprising clarity and volume Monday evening.

The story opens on Christmas Eve, as villagers realize that there is so much sea ice, the ship North Star, which they have been expecting, will not be able to be reached by their large hunting kayak, or oomiak, as usual. The people look forward to welcoming priest Father Carroll, played by Michael Fitzgerald, to lead their holiday celebration, as well as to loading up on winter provisions. They come up with a daring plan.

They decide to carry the oomiak over the 700-foot high rocky center of the island to meet the ship at the calmer, less frozen, lee side of the island.

Cruising the stage in his motorized wheelchair, Mike Fitzgerald plays the part of the oomiak. Other cast members, playing the parts of King Island villagers, work together to push and tug Fitzgerald up and down a series of ramps on and off of the stage, to simulate the epic journey.

They sing and tells stories on the way, and the children come forward for parts of the story to act out songs.

The performance has a jubilant climax, as the villagers successfully reach the ship, welcome their priest and celebrate. They share a "traditional Alaskan Christmas meal" including salmon, seal meat and whale blubber while enjoying each other’s conversation, ideas and joy.

Besides several members of the Ketchikan Community Children’s Choir playing parts in King Island Christmas, the children’s chorus also will hold its own holiday concert under the direction of Tanya Antonsen.

Antonsen created the children’s choir in 2011, and she said the group has doubled in number since then, with about 20 members now.

She said that, in addition to the singing, music reading and performing practice, she plans to get the children involved in broader community projects.

"I would like to be service-oriented as well as musically oriented," she said, adding, "it gives you this greater purpose."

She said that although music is "wonderful and brings you together," connecting with the community in other ways is important for her students.

Choir members range from fourth- to eighth-graders, she said, and current performers come from nearly every school in the district, including home-schooled students.

The children’s choir will perform on Dec. 19.

Another musical event, the Sam Pitcher Memorial Concert, "An Evening of Jazz, Rock & Blues," which has been held since 2004, will be performed on Tuesday evening. That annual event was established to honor the memory of Seming "Sam" Pitcher, a Ketchikan musician who played the trumpet, flugelhorn, and electric guitar with the McPherson jazz ensembles, the rock group The Rubber Band and Ketchikan High School bands.

Pitcher died suddenly from myocarditis at 16 years old in 2003, and the concert was set up to provide scholarships to local young musicians. There have been 44 scholarships awarded since 2004, according to Sam Pitcher Memorial Fund information.

The Sam Pitcher concert will feature the Kayhi jazz band, directed by Deidra Nuss. They will perform jazz, blues, latin and rock pieces, Roy McPherson of McPherson music said.

Also performing at the Sam Pitcher concert will be the Soundwaves and Windjammers bands, directed by McPherson.

The finale of the concert will feature all three bands, comprising about 43 people, playing "Birdland," and "Blue Flame." McPherson said "Birdland" will be especially interesting.

"It’s pretty challenging, but it’s a great piece," he said.

On Sunday, Dec. 9, the Ketchikan Community Concert Band will perform a Festive Holiday Concert, offering "a little bit of everything," according to director McPherson.

Pieces the concert band will perform include "Carolina Seasons," which McPherson says has "a very pretty ballad section;" "Let the Amen Sound," a song based on the 17th-century chorale "Praise the Lord;" "Yuletide Tapestry," which is a collection of Christmas songs; "Stardance," which McPherson called a "very interesting and very unique piece" which opens with band members placed in the audience and around the auditorium performing sounds.

McPherson said the audience also will hear a classical symphony piece by Serge Prokofieff that McPherson transcribed for the band.

"It’s just a delightful symphony," he said, adding that the concert will be the first time the band has performed it for the communty.

A composition, "Russian Christmas Music," is an encore performance, McPherson said, and will serve as the finale for the event.

"It’s going to be a really entertaining program — really varied," McPherson said.

The King Island Christmas performances will be held Saturday, Dec. 1, at 7 p.m., and 3 p.m. Sunday, at the Saxman Tribal House. Tickets are available at the Ketchikan Area Arts and Humanities Council or McPherson Music.

The Sam Pitcher concert will be held at 7 p.m., Tuesday, at the Ketchikan High School auditorium. Tickets are available at the door for donation only, McPherson said.

The holiday concert, free for attendees under the age of 18, will be held at 3 p.m., Dec. 9, at the Kayhi auditorium. Tickets are available at McPherson Music, Parnassus, Ketchikan Area Arts and Humanities Council and at the door.

The children’s choir’s free performance will be held at 7 p.m., Dec. 19, in the Main Street Gallery.