Karen Shepard and I have now been home for 10 days with plenty of time to reflect on our successful recital and teaching trek and visit to Dutch Harbor, Unalaska, courtesy of the Aleutian Arts Council.
In Dutch Harbor we were surrounded by imposing, snow covered, barren mountains. There are only about a half dozen dwarf pines (apparently planted by Captain James Cook). Eagles are everywhere and content to let you get close. A large, lone fox took his morning promenade along the pebble beach outside my hotel window. He/she was huge compared to the the British foxes (small and orange) which I was used to seeing in the suburbs of London. Margaret’s Bay seemed to be relentlessly battered by wind with a loud accompanying howl next to The Grand Aleutian Hotel.
There are two schools in Dutch Harbor: Elementary and Middle/High school. We gave five seminars, including sessions with pre-schoolers. I was impressed and delighted by the intelligence and personality of these wonderful children. Some of the most imaginative questions about music and the cello came from the mouths of the 3 and 4 year olds. There is a wonderful mixture of ethnicity and cultural inheritance.These schools work hard to include everyone. Many of the children have never left the island, however (approximately $1,000 to fly to Anchorage and back) This creates some challenges for kids who have just passed their driver’s licence test: The maximum speed on the island is 30 mph, there are 17 miles of road and no traffic signals. When these young drivers eventually attempt to drive on the mainland they are sometimes overwhelmed by city signs, congestion, traffic lights and highways.
We were told that going to college on the mainland is also challenging for many of the brightest students: Dutch Harbor has under 4,000 permanent residents. Attending a big university and living in a large dormitory at college is sometimes just too much.
The hospitality we received during our stay was outstanding. The Grand Aleutian Hotel also has some of the best food I have ever eaten anywhere, especially on Wednesday evenings when they offer a grand seafood buffet! The hotel also graciously provided a conference room for me to use for cello practice.
On the Saturday evening, the day before we were supposed to depart Dutch Harbor, we gave our recital. Although small, the audience was incredibly enthusiastic and appreciative. We received a standing ovation and our audience truly seemed to love the concert.
Getting off the island turned out to be our greatest challenge! I would not wish to argue with Mother Nature, nor the highly qualified pilots who are at HER mercy.( By the way, a hard shell cello travel case barely does fit into its purchased passenger seat. However, there is no chance of reclining the chair by the human being sitting in front! It also needs a seat belt extension to be safely anchored.) It took us an extra two days before a plane could depart Dutch Harbor for Anchorage. These two days were dominated by multiple expeditions (fully laden) back and forth from hotel to airport. The airport is very small, apparently with no loud speaker system. We apparently weren’t tuned into the local methods of announcing weather delays and cancellations, so we spent more time at the airport than we needed to have done, waiting for any announcement that our plane might be departing.
When we were finally able to depart, the take off was breathtaking, skirting through all these mountains above dramatic and turbulent seas. It is certainly one of the most awe-inspiring flights I have ever experienced!
So Spring is now officially coming to town here in Bend, Oregon with the accompanying outdoor pleasantries. My adult students are all busy preparing for the big recital on June 3rd.
I am happy that Karen and I did this Alaskan adventure and grateful to her for her support, both musical and social. She now has first hand experience of what it is like to travel with a CELLO and may possibly wish to work with a flutist or singer next time (?) ……………….