Music showcase

The cello section practices in the Green Room Tuesday. The Kodiak schools string orchestras perform today at 7 p.m. in the Gerald C. Wilson Auditorium. (Drew Herman photo)

“This has been such a great year with the kids,” Kodiak schools choral director Laura Blackwood said. “They have taken everything they learned this year and just run with it.”

District choral students perform Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Gerald C. Wilson Auditorium in the last of three days of concerts showcasing Kodiak’s young musical talents. School bands performed Tuesday, and today is the turn of the string players, also at 7 p.m. in the auditorium.

Kodiak school choral groups have 142 singers this year, with 50 from the elementary schools. All of the fifth grade students combine for the concert, which also includes the sixth grade choir, the seventh and eighth grade choir, and the high school all-male group Men Who Sing.

The singers chose many of the songs for Thursday’s pops program, and even added some movement.

“Much of the choreography was done by the students,” Blackwood said.

Now finishing her first year in Kodiak, Blackwood came here from Austin, Texas, a large city well known for its arts scene. But she said the transition to a small Alaska community was easy, despite the difference in climate.

“Kodiak’s kind of like a mini-artsy community,” said Blackwood, who is considering starting a show choir next year that would incorporate dance in its performances.

Now finishing his third year with the district, music teacher Michael Remy took over a new string program with a few dozen students. This year 132 Kodiak kids from fifth grade up are learning to play violin, viola, cello or bass — and most stick with it.

“If growth continues we estimate the high school orchestra will be between 80 and 100 in three years,” Remy said.

Tonight’s concert features pure string ensembles, including highlighted soloists with the high school orchestra. Remy hopes next year will see the first combination of wind and string students for the full symphonic sound.

“I think it’s important to start that,” he said. “It’s definitely a dream.”

Remy also leads the KHS jazz band, which took part in Tuesday’s concert. They played challenging professional arrangements by Quincy Jones. Saxophonist Mitchell Davis, who sang a solo vocal recital earlier in the evening, also sang the lead on a few Frank Sinatra classics.

The concert also included beginning band, sixth grade band, concert band, and the seventh and eighth grade bands led by Angie Chervenak.

KHS music director Dale Lhotka is happy with how far the district’s program has come since reinstating instrumental music in the elementary schools four years ago. As of last year, all fifth grade students in Kodiak choose between band, choir and orchestra.

The Tuesday concert also included nine musicians from rural schools — seven from Port Lions and one each from Akhiok and Larsen Bay — who sat in with the town students for a rare chance to play in a large group.

At Port Lions School, music students get together once or twice per week for sessions via video teleconference (VTC) with Lhotka. Senior Peter Squartsoff, a percussionist, helps keep things organized.

“My mom used to play guitar,” Squartsoff said. “I also play guitar and violin.”

His private lessons are also weekly by VTC — percussion with Lhotka and guitar and violin with Catherine Tolino. A slight delay in the video transmission means teachers and students have a timing challenge when playing together, but they learn to manage it.

“It’s really something,” Squartsoff said. “Everything works out.”

Seventh grader Joe Kewan of Port Lions also takes lessons by VTC. His grandmother encouraged him to take up her old instrument, the clarinet.

“I practice at least every day,” he said.

Mirror writer Drew Herman can be reached via email at

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