ArtBeat: Muir biographer, astronaut giving talks

Mike Dunham

Books about Sierra Club founder John Muir, who made trips to Alaska in the 1800s, are sort of a cottage industry nowadays. One of the latest contributions to Muiriana is by Glacier Bay author Kim Heacox. "John Muir and the Ice That Started a Fire: How a Visionary and the Glaciers of Alaska Changed America" (Lyons Press) connects several dots involving Muir's Alaska travels and observations on ice fields, his prolific writing in the national press, his advocacy for nature preservation and his impact on how many see the great outdoors. Heacox will speak at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 3, at the Denali Visitor Center, Mile 1.2 of the Denali Park Road, and at 4 p.m. on Friday, June 6, at Fireside Books, 720 S. Alaska St., Palmer. No Anchorage events were planned at press time.

As a writer, Muir was not only prolific but poetic. I'm not sure whether all the John Muir books put together amount to as many words as he wrote himself but suspect that more good words were written by him than by all of his analysts. To its credit, the Heacox book quotes him at length, letting St. John preach his own gospel whenever possible. For those wanting more, I recommend "The Wisdom of John Muir" (Wilderness Press), which consists of quotes from his letters, journals and essays with minimum scene-setting commentary by compiler Anne Rowthorn. Rowthorn, who tells me she looked at every single scrap of paper Muir ever wrote that she could find, has boiled her research down to about 200 eloquent pages.

ACC winners perform

The Anchorage Concert Chorus' 24th Annual Vocal Scholarship Competition took place on May 17 with 27 contestants vying for $3,100 in scholarships. When the music stopped, the winners were as follows:

High School Division: Luke Honeck, 1st; Braydon Perrupato, 2nd; Evelyn "Rosie" Rush, 3rd.

College Division: Anna Polum, 1st; Jenna Chronister, 2nd; Elijah Graham, 3rd.

Polum and Graham are students of Jaunelle Celaire in Fairbanks. The other winners were all listed as students of Kate Egan of Anchorage.

As customary, the winners then gave a free public performance in the UAA Arts Building Recital Hall in which they were joined by several winners of other local musical competitions. There was much to enjoy in what is one of my favorite concerts each year. Polum's rendition of Micaella's aria from "Carmen" and Honeck's clear "Ev'ry valley" from "Messiah" were among the standouts, as one expects from first-place finishers. But there was much more. Like grade-schooler Cody Konop's spirited singing of "Man of La Mancha" (Alaska National Association of Teachers of Singing, 1st Place, Elementary School); Christine Keene's animated and amusing "The Serpent," by Lee Hoiby (Winner, National Association of Teachers of Singing District Competition); Naomi Endres' recapitulation of the unusual Druschetzky Concerto for Six Timpani (Co-winner of Anchorage Civic Orchestra Concerto Competition); Mary Bustamante's spot-on delivery of Faure's song "Au bord de l'eau" (AKNATS, 1st Place, Classical Avocation Division).

I won't list all 22 performers here, but can only reiterate that this program is one of the most rewarding I attend each year. Alaska music lovers should make a point to keep the last half of May free next year when they do it again.

More winners

The three winners of Bel Canto Alaska's 4th Anniversary Singing Competition will be featured when the all-woman group presents its next big show at 7 p.m. on Saturday, June 7, again in the UAA Arts Building Recital Hall. Those who enjoyed Bel Canto's cafe-themed program earlier this year will want to note that this concert will feature favorite songs from Hollywood movies. Tickets are $20. Get 'em in advance by calling 240-1730. More information is online at

Homer salutes Mary Epperson

Mary Epperson has been a beacon for the arts in the lower Kenai Peninsula for longer than Alaska's been a state, as a piano teacher, concert organizer and enthusiastic booster of all things cultural. With her late husband, Jack, she homesteaded near Anchor Point and drove the corduroy roads to give lessons to local students. Later, she opened the Etude Studio in Homer, a handy post from which she could help take care of business at the next-door Homer Council on the Arts. She helped establish that group and served as board president. She was the subject of a chapter in Daniel Coyle's book about master teachers around the world, "The Talent Code."

Epperson will be celebrated as "Queen Volunteer" by HCOA on Friday, June 6. Her old studio, scheduled for demolition, will become a canvas on which people can draw or write expressions of gratitude (supplies provided). Expect food, music and memories. The painting party will start at 10 a.m. with the cake cutting at 7:30 at HCOA offices, 355 W. Pioneer Ave. in Homer.

Young cellist seeks help with debut CD

Cellist Jari Piper, last year's Anchorage Festival of Music Young Alaskan Artist of the Year, has now graduated and is on a national tour that should bring him back to Alaska later this summer. He's also in the process of making a new CD of solo cello music (so he'll have something to sell at his shows) and is hoping to help cover the costs by pre-selling some of them in a crowd-sourcing effort. Boosters can do that at You can also keep track of his progress at

Dharma's dad performs for Cyrano's

Alan Rachins, who played hippie dad Larry Finkelstein on "Dharma and Greg," will be featured in a cabaret concert unveiling Cyrano's upcoming season. Rachins met the late Jerry Harper of Anchorage when the two were in "MacBird" back in the day. In the intervening years, Harper came home to start Cyrano's and Rachins picked up a part in "L.A. Law" (recently released on DVD), for which he won Golden Globe and Emmy nominations. He also performed in musicals, including the controversial "Oh! Calcutta."

Rachins will be joined by pianist Shelly Markham, a notable theater composer ("Alexander and the No Good Horrible Day," commissioned by the Kennedy Center). In addition to the performance, the theater company's upcoming season and new board will be announced. Tickets for the show, which will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, June 6, in the Sydney Laurence Theatre, are $35, available at VIP tickets, $45, will get you into a special post-show reception at Cyrano's.

Writers at UAA

The UAA Campus Bookstore is hosting three events in the next 10 days. Astronaut Bill Oefelein, former space shuttle pilot, space walker and crew member on the International Space Station, will speak about his new line of work, a web design company called Adventure Write at 1 p.m. on Monday, June 2. Attorney and commercial fisherman Lee Goodman will present his new thriller about birdwatchers and bodies, "Indefensible," at 4 p.m. on Friday, June 6. And J. Mike Holloway will present his memoir about life in the Arctic titled "Dreaming Bears: A Gwich'in Indian Storyteller, a Southern Doctor, a Wild Corner of Alaska" at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, June 11. These events are free.

Reach Mike Dunham at or 257-4332.