Web posted Thursday, November 16, 2006

There’s music afoot!
‘World of Folk’ is peninsula in song

For the Peninsula Clarion

Liana Keller performs a Russian folk dance May 12 at St. Patrick's Church in Anchorage.
Photo by Fyodor Soloview

At its heart, the term “folk art” refers to music, dance, crafts, stories and other arts passed down from generation to generation within a particular cultural tradition. The culture of Alaska has a unique blend of folk traditions embedded within its history. On Saturday at 7:30 p.m., residents of the Kenai Peninsula will have the opportunity to participate in an event that showcases one cultural aspect of Alaska’s singular artistic heritage.

The Russian American Colony Singers, conducted by Pavel Sharomov of Novosibirsk, Russia, and accompanied by Alaska pianist Janet Carr-Campbell, will perform at the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium at Kenai Central High School. Their concert, “The World of Folk,” will include Russian and international folk music, theater and dance.

Here on the peninsula, the history of Russian influence is apparent. The Russian Orthodox churches in Old Town Kenai and Ninilchik draw visitors every year. Near Homer, the community of Nikolaevsk was settled by Russian Old Believers fleeing the former Soviet Union.

Natalia Girard and Zlata Lund sing during the spring program of Russian folk and classical music May 16 and 18, 2003, at the University of Alaska Anchorage Arts Building Recital Hall.
Photo by Fyodor Soloview

“A lot of people, I know, up and down the peninsula, spoke Russian when they grew up. And they still speak Russian some in their homes. And they know the songs, they’ll sing the songs in their homes. So I think it’ll be fun for them to do that,” said Marion Yapuncich, adding that there will be a chance to sing along at the concert.

Yapuncich is the organizer of the event and a new assistant professor at Kenai Peninsula College. She saw an opportunity to highlight Russian culture on the Kenai as part of the community involvement requirement of her faculty position. Yapuncich’s own background is Yugoslavian American, so she has a personal interest in Slavic culture. She spent part of her summer as a tour guide at the Transfiguration of Our Lord Russian Orthodox church in Ninilchik.

Mezzo-soprano Lioudmila Tioukhaeva performs May 20, 2005, at the UAA Arts Building Recital Hall.
Photo by Fyodor Soloview

The concert will include the 20 singers of the Russian American Colony Singers and feature guest artists from the Sharamov Vocal Ensemble of Novosibirsk, Russia —conductor and baritone Pavel Sharomov and soprano Elena Zabarskaya. The program also will include Russian folk music, formal Russian concert music and a few surprises from other cultural traditions.

“A lot of times when you think of folk music you think of people — perhaps not real polished concert singers — singing folk music. These people are concert singers. The Americans that sing with them, each one seemed to have their own expertise. One fellow who sings with them sang for the pope, for example,” Yapuncich said of the artists.

“You get that concert level artistry, plus you get these wonderful folk songs that have a rich heritage, and a lot of them have a lesson for life in them, they’re not just entertainment.”

It took quite a bit of organizing for Yapuncich’s vision to be realized with this concert.

“I suggested at my interview (at KPC) that I give lectures, maybe scientific lectures, and that was a good idea. So I knew these singers (the Russian American Colony Singers) and I started off by asking them if they wanted to come down for a particular lecture, say on Russian music or the history of Russian music and they said, ‘Well, we could give a whole concert.’ And that got the whole ball rolling,” Yapuncich said.

She continued the conversation with the KPC administration, Dave Atcheson, who coordinates the KPC Sunday Showcase program, and Diane Taylor of the KPC Multi-Cultural Consortium. Then the question came up—where will 22 concert singers stay while they’re in Kenai?

“We started talking to the Rotary Club,” Yapuncich said. “Rotary has been just great. And it’s a good connection, too, because this whole thing is Rotary based. Rotary Club in Eagle River and Anchorage wanted a reindeer. And you can’t own a reindeer, except Natives in Alaska. So they wanted it for a Christmas program they were doing and they thought, ‘We’ll go get one,’ and they went to Russia to get a reindeer. So they went to Magadan, and in Magadan they started meeting these singers and actually two of them are married to Rotary members.”

The Kenai, Soldotna, and Kenai River Rotary clubs are major sponsors of the concert. According to their Web site, “Members of a Rotary club are part of a diverse group of professional leaders working to address various community and international service needs and to promote peace and understanding throughout the world.”

On Saturday, they will strive to fulfill that mission as the community on the peninsula glimpses one part of its cultural history.