ArtBeat: After 30 years, Mat-Su band gets home stage

Mike Dunham

WASILLA -- In its 30 years of music making, the Mat-Su Concert Band (originally a marching band) has rattled around from venue to venue. Friday night's program was played in the cafeteria/multipurpose room of Teeland Middle School.

The era of such ad hoc accommodations should come to a close in 2015, however. Conductor Gleo Huyck announced that the band hopes to present concerts in the new auditorium at the Mat-Su Campus of UAA when it is completed next winter.

The 60-or-so-piece ensemble certainly deserves quarters amenable to music making. I made it to the May 9 program that included several difficult pieces, including a Symphonic Concert March by the mysterious G. Bonelli and Brahms' Academic Festival Overture. Both required a lot of the players, who came through well. The flying fingers of the winds playing the violin part in the finale of the overture was particularly impressive.

A suite drawn from the music for the miniseries "Band of Brothers" received a stirring performance and the percussion section had a field day with a taiko-inspired showpiece, "Summon the Spirits" by Keven Tuck.

The softer side of the band's sound was heard in Samuel Hazo's "Fantasy on a Japanese Folk Song," with fine and careful playing from the flutes, and Kevin Memley's "Ave Maria," conducted by Shawn Campbell, on loan from the trombone section.

Pop music was represented by two American masters. Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies" was delivered by a choir of trombones and Leroy Anderson's buoyant "Belle of the Ball" concluded the concert.

Karl Jenkins' "Palladio," usually played by strings, felt slow and stodgy; perhaps there are limits to what even a good band can imitate. Otherwise, Huyck obtained a well-blended and tight sound from the ensemble.

The band, which produces four varied full programs each year and puts in several appearances at community events (look for them during Colony Days), will have only two more concerts in the old gym/caferia/whatever venues before moving to the college. It should be interesting to hear how they sound in that facility.

We're told that the Mat-Su hall will resemble the auditorium at Bartlett High School in size and design. That means the stage won't be big enough for the largest ensembles, but I hope Anchorage groups will make it a point to play at least a few dates at the college. The Fairbanks Symphony has long made it a point to travel to Delta, Healy and Denali on a fairly regular basis. It would be nice if, perhaps in smaller configurations, the Anchorage Symphony, Youth Symphony, Concert Chorus, Chamber Singers, etc., could make the much closer trip from Anchorage to Trunk Road.

If not, the Mat-Su band is in a position to supply some pretty good music to the Valley. And where else but Alaska can the program notes of a music group boast that their conductor is one of the founders of the Iditarod sled dog race?

Museum's Dena'ina exhibit opens in Homer

A traveling edition of the Anchorage Museum's big exhibit "Dena'inaq' Huch'ulyeshi: The Dena'ina Way of Living" will be the main attraction at the Pratt Museum in Homer this summer. The show opened on May 16 and will remain on view through Sept. 1.

Billed as the first major museum exhibit about the Dena'ina Athabascan people, "The Dena'ina Way of Living" debuted in Anchorage last year. Many of the elements from the original displays are included in this on-the-road version, including video, life-size recreations, archival images, hands-on activities, a "storytelling house" with audio recordings of traditional tales and more than 40 artifacts.

Aleutian confusion

With regard to the main article in today's edition, anytime one writes about World War II in Alaska, there is some debate over terminology, geography and dates.

For instance, the American reports were dated for the West Coast and Hawaii, but Japanese reports of the same incident were dated from Tokyo, on the other side of the international date line, one day later. So while Americans recall the bombing of Pearl Harbor as Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese records may show it taking place on Dec. 8.

We avoid saying Attu was the site of the only land battle on American soil because, in 1941, Alaska was still a territory and, though clearly on a separate political trajectory from the Philippines, no more or less a part of America than those lovely islands, where massive land battles took place and thousands of civilians died during the course of the war.

Attu itself may be said to occupy both the Eastern and Western hemispheres. Geographically, it lies west of 180 degrees longitude (172.9 degrees east of Greenwich, England, to be exact), placing it in the "eastern" half of the globe. Geopolitically, however, as defined by the Associated Press Stylebook and Webster's Dictionary, it lies in the Western Hemisphere in that it is considered part of the North American continent. (Similarly, though portions of Africa and Europe extend west of 0 degrees latitude, they are nonetheless said to be in the Eastern Hemisphere.) This is the distinction made when we remember Attu as the only World War II land battle in the Western Hemisphere.

Charles Foster Jones' unique status may also need some clarification. Some of the casualties in the Battle of Dutch Harbor were civilians, but they were directly contracted with the military and were in the field of fire only as a result of their employment for military purposes. While Jones' job included sending weather reports to the Navy, his main reason for being on Attu was to provide maintenance for the school and training in mechanical arts.

The other American residents of Attu when the Japanese invaded were taken to internment facilities in Japan. A significant percentage of them died from medical and nutritional issues; one survivor, the late Nick Golodoff, told me he received one small bowl of watery rice and, with other Aleut boys, sneaked out of the compound to steal food from time to time. But those deaths took place in Japan, not America.

There's another important distinction. Among American civilian casualties in North America and Hawaii, Jones was the only such killed by the Japanese Army rather than by aerial bombing. (In addition to the Pearl Harbor raid, civilians were killed by balloon bombs in Oregon.) That makes him the last American civilian to die in North America at the hands of an invading army in time of war and the only one since the War of 1812.

Alaska Piano Competition winners announced

Congratulations to the winners of the 2014 Alaska Piano Competition, held at UAA May 3-4.

Senior Division: Alexandra Flint, 1st; Sakura Likar, 2nd; Yu-Jin Choi, 3rd; Isabel Huang, Marie Nielson and Johanna Eun Hae Yun, honorable mentions.

Junior Division: Maya Suzuki, 1st; Jimmy Gao and Yule Zhang, 2nd (tie); Michelle Evans, Mary Flint and Esther Seo, honorable mentions.

Intermediate I: Jessica Yang, 1st; Theodore Jong, 2nd; Sofiya Akulina, 3rd; Joseph Jablonski, Sonja Selhay and Misha Turchaninov, honorable mentions.

Intermediate II: Siobhán Whittle, 1st; Sierra Panting, 2nd; Sophia Thompson, 3rd; Marion Kalina-Heinrich, honorable mention.

Reach Mike Dunham at or 257-4332.