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Bringing music to the Peninsula

Posted: October 13, 2011 - 8:49am

The first concert put on by the Performing Arts Society was paid out of pocket by two of its founding members.

Current volunteer and former board president Jean Brockel and producer Freddie Billingslea had been performing at Kenai Peninsula College's Sunday Showcase when the search for funds through the college became too much to bear.

"At the time, we were doing shows at the Sunday Showcase out at the college, and it was getting more and more difficult to find our way through the university labyrinth of how to get funding," Brockel said. "So we decided that we would just do it on our own."

PAS has brought classical and jazz concerts to the Kenai Peninsula since its creation in 1999. Four or five times each year, the all-volunteer, nonprofit organization presents world-class music and musicians.

The PAS Board consists of eight to ten volunteers drawn from local musicians, theater and arts aficionados, educators, and members of the business community.

Since its beginnings, the organization has produced a great number of concerts. The majority of their guest artists and ensembles have been professional Alaska musicians.

Violinist Linda Rosenthal and pianist Maria Allison were the performers of the first concert. Rosenthal is an internationally recognized musician who performs throughout North America, Europe and Asia in recitals as a soloist and as a chamber musician. She is also a professor of music at University of Alaska Southeast. Allison is a longtime Kenai resident and musician as well as a current PAS board member.

"We started out with that one concert; that was the season," Brockel said.

The following year, the organization brought two concerts to the Peninsula, and the board received the encouragement of the community to continue such efforts. Gradually over the years, a pattern of four concerts per season emerged.

Seasons expand into five concerts at times, because the board feels certain opportunities to bring musicians to the area cannot be passed up. The board takes turns contacting musicians and checking yearly concert schedules from throughout the state.

"It's always easier when you have someone with contacts throughout the state, and I have quite a few," Allison said.

Most years, PAS presents one nationally or internationally known artist. Such guests have included Turtle Island Quartet, Alexander Quartet, Riverrun Quintet, Zum, Chic Gamine and Axiom Brass.

Being equally dedicated to enriching the involvement of the music in young people's lives, PAS sponsors musicians for free in-school concerts. The board asks musicians to go to the local schools. Some musicians travel here for the specific purpose of doing school concerts, Allison said.

"We bring these concerts to the schools and that's free of charge to the schools," Brockel said. "All a school has to do is ask."

On Saturday evening PAS will be presenting "An Evening of Schubert," featuring an Alaska trio of Dr. Eduard Zilberkant, piano; Karl Knapp, cello; Kathleen Butler-Hopkins, violin; and guest artists Vince Gee, bass and Gail Johannsen. All are UAF professors.

The event is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday at the Soldotna United Methodist Church.

The visiting professors will be on the Peninsula this weekend performing multiple concerts and workshops.

Friday afternoon the musicians will perform at the Methodist Church in Soldotna, and in the evening they will perform at Soldotna Elementary.

Saturday morning Zilberkant will teach a piano master class. Attendance is open to the public.

A small number of students will perform prepared pieces while other students observe. Zilberkant will offer suggestions to the student on the piece. The class offers students different perspectives on the same piece and it also acts as a reinforcement technique.

"If a student hears something repeated from someone else that they may have heard from their teacher it will be remembered much better," he said.

There will also be an orchestra workshop with the Central Peninsula Community Orchestra and a Suzuki method string workshop; the details of which have not been determined.

The Suzuki method is a method of teaching music by ear before knowing how to read musical notes.

"It trains the ear first rather than reading, which is a great method for little kids," Allison said. "As a string player you have to be able to listen and hear your intonation, so them to be trained by ear is a real important ability as a string player."

Zilberkant stated he is excited to touch base with members of the community and local music teachers as well as having opportunity to work with talented young kids.

PAS is made possible through donations and grants. The donations come from individuals and local businesses. Just ordinary folks who want classical and jazz concerts in the area, Brockel said.

"We have a small but active and interested audience that we can count on," she said.

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