A map of Alaska with the Statewide region highlighted.
Initiative: Harper Touring
Organization: Alaska State Council on the Arts
City: Anchorage
Region: Statewide
Program Area: Arts, Culture, Humanities
Grants Received:
2013: $1,520,000  2008: $143,000
2012: $220,000  2007: $157,820
2011: $215,000  2006: $6,000
2010: $142,857
2009: $140,000

"It was like listening to ice skating on Chilkoot Lake in December"

Mission Statement
Alaska State Council on the Arts

To enhance cultural development in the state by ensuring that art of the highest quality is accessible to all Alaskans.

The purpose of the Harper Performing Arts Touring Fund to stimulate access to high quality arts and to encourage tours of Alaska's performing arts to underserved communities in the state. The fund provides travel grants to arts and community organizations that present the performing arts.

My friend Rob and his neighbor were in the sauna with the Russians, members of the Moscow Chamber Orchestra that visited Haines through a miracle of coincidences and special grants, on their tour of Alaska, when the two Americans and two Russians looked at each other and promised, in mixed Russian (Rob speaks a little) and English, that they would be friends for life. "We melted what was left of the cold war" Rob declared.

When the orchestra announced they would accept our invitation to play here, the local arts council sought housing. I volunteered, which is why Alexei, Stanislav and Irina were all having lunch on my porch.

I made smoked salmon sandwiches and sweet tea. Russian food, or at least I hoped so, and we ate watching sea lions cruise back and forth in the Chilkat Inlet. Irina pointed to the scene and kept repeating "beautiful." The guys said "happy," but it sounded like "heppy." They were all smiles, so I smiled back.
Afterward, Irina helped with the dishes "you good live" she said and it was my turn to feel "heppy."

A photo of an artist working as part of a Harper Touring Fund residency.Spacer Image Everyone else in town gave the Russians rave reviews before they played a note too. The Haines Arts Council sold out all 270 seats at the Chilkat Center for the Arts, a barn of a hall that began life as a cannery building over 100 years ago. The orchestra agreed to a second show, and it promptly sold out, so they opened both rehearsals, filling the little theater again. Most of Haines heard the orchestra.

When the head of the Arts Council reminded us before the first concert that the group had just come from Prague and was on their way Carnegie Hall, he couldn't keep a straight face.

There was a gasp when the sixty or so musicians came out on stage, and people whispered "tuxes, they're wearing tuxes." They played so well that we forgot ourselves and clapped after the first movement of Luigi Boccherini's symphony in D minor. The Maestro, who looked a lot like Pavarotti, shushed us with a raised hand, and we got a little embarrassed. We should know to wait between movements. But it was so good that the reflexive response was applause.

Everybody in town, their kids, and next door neighbors, were here. The high school basketball coach was even swaying to tunes most of us had never heard before.

An artist performs as part of a Harper Touring Fund presentation.Spacer Image The music, especially all those strings in unison, or harmony, or whatever they do in an orchestra so that you can't hear the individual players, made my feet tingle and expanded my sinuses.

When a beautiful brown skinned soloist in a white satin gown played Gypsy Airs or "Zigeunerweisen" her hair fell out of the bun, light shimmered off the dress, and it was, well- sexy.

Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings Op.48 in C major, was so lush that we forgot ourselves and clapped between the first and second movements--- again.

By the third movement, the waltz, I felt as if I was dancing like Audrey Hepburn in Cinderella. It was like listening to ice skating on Chilkoot Lake in December. By now I was thinking and feeling at the same time. The music moved me like a rubber raft floating down the Chilkat River below the Cathedral Peaks on a day with golden leaves and snow on tops of the mountains and the sky all blue, just spinning and drifting in the current.

This must be what virtuoso means.

When it was over, the musicians, including my three, that I waved to like a proud relative, bowed and smiled at the standing ovations, the hoots and hollers, and then came back out for an encore.

It was a lonely Russian folk tune. It made me suddenly so sad that I grew up believing that Russians were the bad guys. How could that ever, ever have happened?

Heather Lende serves on the Haines Borough Public Library Board of Trustees, is a columnist for the Anchorage Daily News, a commentator for NPR's Morning Edition and her first book about life in Haines "If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name" will be published in spring 2005 by Algonquin Books.