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Retirees to gather for concert band performance
A tuba player rides the escalator Monday during a Community Concert Band rehearsal at The Plaza mall. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

Daily News Staff Writer

It’s not likely that many towns of Ketchikan’s size could say they have nine former music teachers living in the area — but that’s just the case in the First City.

Those musicians and many others will be reuniting at 7 p.m. on Friday in the auditorium at Ketchikan High School for the “Return of the Retirees” performance presented by the Ketchikan Community Concert Band.

Conducting pieces in the show will be Jerry Hughes, Roy McPherson, Deidra Nuss, Dale Curtis, Rob Holston, Ralph Beardsworth, Sam Soderstrom, Tanya Antonsen, Mary Kurth and Randy Bjur.

“There’s a lot of people that have been touched by the many, many years of directors you’re going to see there. There’s so many different stories,” Curtis said.

One of those people was a show band musician for a year on a Princess Cruise ship. Another was the director of the pep band for the first collegiate basketball game ever played above the Arctic Circle. One man might still be in trouble for promising his wife they’d only stay in Ketchikan for a year — and ended up being the Kayhi band director from 1982 until 2003.

They’ve been educated throughout the country, receiving their bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees in music education in places such as North Dakota, Michigan, Idaho, Oregon and many others.

But, they all have at least one thing in common: They’ve taught music for years upon end in Alaska and around the country. All together, the conductors have more than 200 years of experience in teaching music — and they’re ready to combine their talents for the Ketchikan community.

“I think, among other things, it’s a real tribute to the city that these people stay here rather than going to Florida or some other retirement place,” said Roy McPherson, director of the KCCB.

An example of that is Curtis, who began his teaching career when he was 39 years old. He came to Ketchikan and began teaching elementary and general music at Houghtaling Elementary School, and then taught at White Cliff Elementary School. However, he knew teaching band was his passion.

Curtis went back to college at the University of Idaho with the idea that he wanted to teach high school band. He took the job at Houghtaling thinking: “I can be in Ketchikan until a high school opens up somewhere in Alaska.”

“But I just fell in love with Ketchikan and ended up teaching elementary music for 15 years before Randy Bjur retired and then I moved into the high school and taught there for five years,” Curtis said.

Bjur was the Kayhi band director for 21 years, from 1982 until 2003. While attending a band music reading clinic at Eastern Washington State College, Bjur met Holston, who was then teaching at Schoenbar Middle School. Holston told Bjur about a band instructor opening at Ketchikan High School.

Many pleadings with his wife and three phone interviews later, Bjur was on his way to teach at Kayhi. Bjur, who now lives out of state, remembers the “great students” of Kayhi, and their willingness to work hard and put in the rehearsal time that was required.

On top of that, Bjur complimented the arts community in Ketchikan, saying such a vibrant, all-encompassing arts community for a city of this size is really special and unusual. He added it contributes to the overall feeling Ketchikan has — that of a family and community.

“The family like feel of being in a school like Kayhi was just really special. I’ve taught in larger schools up to 1,800 students, and just the family like feel at Kayhi set it apart in my mind,” Bjur said.

If it wasn’t for Holston, who knows where Bjur would have ended up. Holston taught in Ketchikan for 16 years after accepting a job at Schoenbar in 1981, following a “grueling” telephone interview with McPherson.

Holston has fond memories of directing the Schoenbar jazz band, playing for several dinner dances around the community with the group. He directed the band and choir at Schoenbar, and taught at Valley Park Elementary — which was housed in the current Ketchikan Charter School and Tongass School of Arts and Sciences building.

Holston is a multi-instrumentalist, and believes “one of the best ways to teach kids is through demonstration,” which is why he learned to play a variety of different instruments. However, his memories don’t just lie within the school district.

“I was hired a couple of summers in a row to direct a community-wide marching band for the Fourth of July,” Holston said. “… I was playing both drums and baritone, as we were short on drummers. We had maybe 35 people in the band. Marching through the tunnel, we played as we came through the tunnel. Just the awesome sound of that and the memory of that is special for Ketchikan.”

Although that holiday band is only a memory now, Holston and this group of retirees and teachers will be making a new memory in a few days. He said he’s excited to see former students and friends in the community band.

“For a lot of people, it’ll be tugging at the heart strings of their memories because we have so many retirees that have spent so many, many hours here,” Holston said.

He added when he taught at Schoenbar, he “literally felt like” he knew almost every family in town, because “almost every student who grew up here in Ketchikan went through the junior high.”

“The impact that these music teachers have had on members of the community and their families and extended families is a web that is community-wide,” Holston noted, adding that it’s going to be a “colossal affair musically.”

The idea for the “colossal affair” had been going through McPherson’s mind on and off for a long time. He wanted to bring the retirees out of the “woodwork,” have them pick a piece of music and conduct the community band.

In addition to being the community band conductor, McPherson taught music for 10 years at Kayhi. Currently, he’s also the conductor of the Windjammers Jazz Big Band and the Scattered Sunshine Trombone Choir here in Ketchikan.

McPherson said it’s going to be great to have the chance to watch his former students and friends perform in the band, and to watch his former student, Tanya Antonsen, conduct. After all, McPherson gave Antonsen her first conducting opportunity in 1974 when she conducted the Kayhi choir.

Antonsen taught in Ketchikan for eight years, and said it doesn’t matter what age or kind of ensemble she’s directing — it’s just the joy of working through a piece with the group.

She said she’s excited to work with the Ketchikan Community Concert Band because she found the right piece that she really enjoys. Antonsen said a conductor really has to love a piece to do their best conducting it.

Even though it’s a difficult piece, she had “great expectations” that the KCCB would rise to the occasion, because “that’s what they do.”

“It’s just so awesome, there’s lots of conductors that would never feel comfortable handing off their ensemble to somebody else, and here (McPherson) is handing them off to tons of people and celebrating the fact that there’s so many talented conductors,” Antonsen said.

At the concert, the KCCB will also be dedicating a song to “two outstanding educators” who were not able to be in the concert: Greg Morelli and Christa Bruce. They each spent more than 30 years “inspiring young musicians” in the school district, according to the KCCB.

Before the concert, there will be a no-host luncheon to welcome Bjur back to town, from 11:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. on Friday at The Landing. The lunch is meant for people to catch up and share memories with Bjur, but there will also be a chance to do that with him and other conductors after the concert during a reception in the Kayhi commons.

After all, there are more than 200 years of memories to reminisce upon.