‘Alaskan Voices’ blends new and old

By Jessica Hoffman
Sun Star Reporter

Traditional Alaska Native music will blend with contemporary music Wednesday night at the Davis Concert Hall. Alaskan Voices: A Confluence of Cultures will feature works composed by Anchorage’s Craig Coray and Fairbanks’ John Luther Adams as well as traditional Alaska Native music.

The College of Liberal Arts’ Center for the Arts is presenting the evening of music as part of an effort to encourage interdisciplinary ventures at UAF.

“New ideas, perspectives and possibilities are gained through collaboration and inter-disciplinary thinking,” explained associate professor William Post, “We become accustomed to limiting ourselves to what’s happening within our own departments and known environments, when in fact the nature of discovery and exploration is one of shared ideas, talents and resources.”

During the performance, Joel Ataat’ Forbes will sing and drum a traditional Alaska Native song, while Debra Naaqtuuq Dommek dances.

Then, Coray will make a guest appearance and “talk about how his piano piece is based upon traditional songs,” said Post.

Following Coray’s talk, pianist Paul Krejci will perform Coray’s composition, “Silam Inua.”

Additionally, Ensemble 64.8, a percussion group, will perform Adams’ “…and the dust rising.”

Coray, a UAA music instructor, has lived in Alaska since he was four years old. He said that, as a child, he lived in the bush villages around Lake Clark, Lake Iliamna, and the lower Kenai Peninsula with his parents who were teachers. The composer earned his bachelors degree in piano performance at UAF but does not consider himself a performer.

Coray said that he draws inspiration for his compositions from Alaska Native music, Igor Stravinsky, Bela Bartok and more recently, Kevin Volans. Coray said he first got the idea to fuse contemporary music with traditional Alaska Native music during graduate school at State University of New York at Buffalo. He explained that he was going through a sort of “crisis” about what he should create for his thesis.

Coray said he knew he wanted to incorporate Alaska into his thesis but wasn’t sure how. Ultimately, he decided to incorporate Alaska Native songs using a recording created by his father when he was living in Nondalton, a village on Six Mile Lake southwest of Anchorage.

“I adapt the songs to a concert setting using ‘western’ instrumentation, adding harmony and countermelodies and incorporating the rhythms of the percussion as well, while preserving the melodies intact,” said Coray.

The composer, now 62 years old, said he has been composing for 50 years but added that he is not a prolific composer.

Coray also teaches a course on Alaska Native music at UAA and is the author of “Dnaghelt’ana Qut’ana K’eli Ahdelyax: They Sing the Songs of Many People,” which includes his father’s recording.

‘Alaskan Voices’ will be held at the Davis Concert Hall on Wednesday at 8:15 p.m. For more info, visit www.uaf.edu/arts.

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