Passing Music on to Alaska's Youth

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Happy New Year!           January 2012

  I'm remembering what someone from the Indigenous Theological Institute told me five years ago when we were just getting Dancing with the Spirit started. "It won't be anything like you imagine - but it will be even more wonderful." And so as I travel far from home - with some incredible friends new and old - friendships much deeper and closer than I would have ever believed have developed - that bring so much joy to all of us. Music is going from one village to another on its way around the globe! Mahsi' and baasee and gogedinh and quyanna (thanks) for all your prayers and support that encourage us and keep us going!

         In December, our staff traveled to seven villages - five in one week! Athabascan fiddler Bill Stevens and Pete Peter went to Beaver, an hour flight north of Fairbanks on the Yukon River. Pete reports, "We had huge community traditional fiddle dances at the school gym, which included the famous 'Indian Pete Moose Stew' and cover dishes from the community. Everyone had so much fun dancing that there was no time to drink water or take a break! The students also made a Christmas video for Heartbeat Alaska, a popular Alaska Native TV show. The students performed 'We Wish You a Merry Christmas' in Gwich'in and English."

         Check out the video: 

         That same week Jim Kerr and his daughter Amanda were in Anvik on the lower Yukon River. The Kerr family is from Anvik, so it was a great homecoming. In addition to music, Jim taught all the kids juggling tricks - and explained the Indiginous Peoples and Languages Map which he had helped develop. Amanda and Jim set up 8 guitars and 5 fiddles, bought by the Anvik Tribal Council. The kids made Peace on Earth and Joy to the World posters for the end of the week concert and potlatch!

           See them in action at:

          Matt Johnson, Collen Waldrup and Willie Fields taught guitar, fiddle and mandolin in Circle. The students played Jingle Bells, Eagle Island Blues, and Silent Night for the whole community during the Christmas recital.

          Mike Mickelson and Rion Schmidt flew into Chenega in Prince William Sound. I called Camille Parry of Chugachmiut to hear how the week went. She said she "was so impressed with how this music bridged the gap between adults and teens. One elder told me the evening jam sessions really helped heal the soul. Other elders cried tears of just joy - just hearing the beautiful Christmas music."

         Camille said community members were so inspired that they held several adult and teen jams in the people's homes over the Christmas break. "There's even talk of forming a band. Music is such a wonderful language that is helping to bring the whole community together. We really hope Mike and Rion can come back and help us keep this program going."

         Fred Weiss and I went to Arctic Village in early December and taught with local residents the Rev. Trimble Gilbert, Wilbert Kendi, Galen and Albert Gilbert, Jr. Lillian Garnett and Trimble helped us learn Silent Night, Hark the Herald Angels Sing and four others in Gwich'in. The kids' favorite song was Gwich'in Princess written by Wilbert Kendi...

         Listen to them play:

          In Tanana, Patty Elias taught with us as we all learned Eagle Island Blues in Koyukon. The Rev. Helen Peters told the children stories of the old days. People came into town for church and the Christmas fiddle dances, arriving in dog teams decorated with colored pompoms and jingling bells. Everyone mad homemade presents - ones from the heart...

         This year's Tanana Christmas play was quite controversial - a thin and trim Santa came in an orange snow machine suit - riding a fancy new snow machine! The reindeer had to talk to him to get everything back to normal!

         Fred and I went on to Beaver to lead Christmas Sunday services... The church music was the best ever with youth musicians Keisha Joseph and Shelby, Julia, Allison, and Shani Fisher Salmon playing admirably!

         Then on to Stevens Village for Christmas Week Church with Christmas carols and a mini-camp at the school... We could see the sun trying to come up behind the hills along the Yukon River...

         I thought back to all the wonderful times we had this year seeing old friends in many villages and also traveling on to new places including Manley Hot Springs, Graying, McGrath, Huslia, and Allakaket. We got to see the Yukon Quest dog race in Eagle.

         The story is on Alaska Public Radio:          

         And there were two weekend Gospel Guitar Workshops in Venetie: one for adults and one for teens that featured church and Gwich'in singing and dancing. Our staff were at the Yukon Flats Volleyball Tournament - providing musical instruction and playing for the dance. The Rev. Trimble Gilbert must have played fiddle for 40 minutes straight during the Virginia Reel!

         Our dream is to train staff to go to all areas of the state and nation bringing music, culture, and dancing as a way to prevent suicide, drug, and alcohol abuse. Send your tax-deductible contributions today that keep us going and buy instruments that change kids lives--to:

Dancing with the Spirit 
Episcopal Diocese of Alaska
1205 Denali Way
Fairbanks, Alaska  99701

Or call the Diocese Office to use your credit card:

800-478-3040 or 907-452-3040
Love and blessings,

Rev. Belle Michelson
Dancing with the Spirit Director

View previous news letters:

November 1, 2011 
February 11, 2009
November 25, 2008
August 14, 2008
May 25, 2008

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