Our summer is full of the joy of music festivals, the Sitka Summer Music Festival, the Winnipeg Folk Festival, and the Uncommon Music Festival, Sitka’s newest.
The Uncommon festival features music that is not usually heard but should be. This year we had music ranging from early composers like Orlande de Lassus, through Amy Beach, to 21st century Fairbanks composer John Luther Adams. There was a work commissioned for Alaska’ Sesquicentennial composed by Homer, Alaska composer Conrad Winslow and the winner of the festival’s composition competition Joelle Wallach, “When Lost in the Forest.”
What’s exciting, the festival is everywhere! It popped up in cafes, at the Sitka Fine Arts Campus, the Performing Arts Center, the Pioneers’ Home, churches and a radio studio.
One of my favorite events was an organ recital on the Ernst Kessler organ, built in Estonia in 1844 and shipped to the Sitka Lutheran Church. I first saw the organ in the Sheldon Jackson Museum. It was returned to the church in time for a fire to badly damage it. You can still see chars in the wooden pipes. The original metal pipes melted but the action and keyboard were pretty much intact. The organ case was badly charred and replaced with one built of the same Baltic Birch.
We waited outside the church to listen to the St. Michael’s Cathedral noontime change bell ringing. The Lutheran volunteer selling popcorn invited us in for the concert but we told him only after St. Michael’s had finished. I mentioned that they should start the concert at 12:05. He said he would go in and tell them, and he did. We heard the bells ring and Jacob made the organ sing in a way I have never heard it sing before. The festival took over St. Peter’s By the Sea Episcopal Church for a couple of concerts, one of church music composed by women.
The festival ended with a walk in the woods. Usually I like to take my walks alone. It is a good time for me to process things. But on the final day I walked with the Festival. We started with a good sized group and each time we we stopped for a song we attracted more people. By the end we had quite a caravan. Some of the songs imitated bird song. But my moment was when the musicians sang the competition winner, “When Lost in the Forest.” With the line “No two trees are the same to the raven,” Raven started calling, followed by Eagle. It was a wonder filled moment.