I came to Alaska to search for gold. A colleague convinced me it was there. He prospected the area last spring and was excited for the potential. He said, “It’s just waiting to be mined. We gotta go!”
I was uncertain at first. Could I leave my home and family for the chance of striking it rich?
The first claim was a bust, but we hit it big when the trumpet player walked into the room.
Well ok, it was really a recruiting trip for the University of Utah School of Music, but I couldn’t help going a bit “Jack London” there. Returning from Alaska will do that. After the trumpet player, promising talent on violin, horn, alto sax, string bass and others would follow. We had hit a promising vein.
The trip also had some great interactions with student ensembles and teachers. While I conducted the school orchestras, my colleague Brian Sproul worked his magic with the bands. Just like everywhere, some were better than others, but we met some of the most dedicated, genuine music teachers and students I’ve seen anywhere. Life is hard in Alaska, and teaching music anywhere can have a flavor of wilderness survival. But this Alaskan reality show is a success, both on and off the stage.
Why would we come hundreds of miles from home to “prospect” for talent? Because, quite honestly, it is there. Anchorage, Alaska is a mid-sized city with orchestra, choir and band programs in the schools, and with students and teachers excited for interactions. While there is just as much good work and talent happening closer to home, as artists and teachers we must be able to look beyond borders, whether political or imagined. Essentially, we are engaged in the same acts of making music and perpetuating our art. Similar challenges and triumphs face us all, and sharing validates what we do.
I’ve no idea whether these students will come as far as Utah to go to school. I hope they do. We told them why Utah is a good place to study, live and perform. It would be of mutual benefit for these kids to enroll in our program. But if they don’t, the world won’t end. Of more value perhaps, is the encouragement in their musical activities. Our interactions make it more likely for them to continue playing, listening and appreciating great music. That is the real value working together as musicians. Sometimes what keeps us going is the understanding that the blood, sweat and tears are worth it–someone has noticed that we are all in this together.
So thanks, Brian, for inviting me on the northern expedition. By the way, I know the location of the Lost Dutchman mine (er, I mean, a great viola player). Care to accompany me to the Arizona desert this spring?
Copyright 2013. Robert Baldwin, Before the Downbeat