This week at Thunder Mountain High School, local artist Sarah Conarro and Sitka-born musician Ed Littlefield have been participating in a joint Artist in the Schools residency that has touched on a wide array of artistic disciplines including theater, music and visual art. The project, organized by TMHS teacher Kristin Garot, has involved the preparation of a musical performance art piece inspired by a Tlingit children’s lullaby, “Haandéi Ax Choonéitk’i.” Littlefield has been working on the music with the choir and jazz band classes, led by Tyree Pini and Brian Van Kirk, while Conarro has been working in Heather Ridgway’s art classes to design the set for the performance. Both artists have also been in and out of Garot’s acting class.
The performance piece will be presented at the TMHS commons on Friday, April 27, at 4 p.m. and again during the school’s spring music department concert on May 8 at 7 p.m. The piece is about 20 minutes long.
The music for the project is based on “Haandéi ax choonéitk’i,” a traditional Tlingit lullaby. This version of the song is credited to Charlie Joseph, a Tlingit elder from Sitka, who taught the song to Littlefield’s mother, Roby Littlefield. She sang it to her son, Ed, when he was a baby.
Last year, Ed LIttlefield released an album, “Walking Between Worlds,” that features Tlingit songs from his childhood, such as “Haandéi ax choonéitk’i,” set to jazz, incorporating two of his musical passions. On the CD, and during the tour that accompanied its release, Littlefield kept the original Tlingit melodies intact, adding jazz rhythms and harmony around that base. Other musicians on the CD and last year’s tour were Christian Fabian, Jason Marsallis and Reuel Lubag.
Littlefield and Fabian are currently working to expand the reach of this Native Jazz project through outreach efforts such as this residency. The pair will lead a Native Jazz workshop at the Sitka Fine Arts Camp this summer, the first time the program has been offered. In addition to welcoming traditional Native Alaskan songs, Fabian and Littlefield will open the door to other indigenous styles, particularly those that represent students’ personal ethnic backgrounds. The pair will help students arrange and compose new work in the jazz idiom based on that source material. The Native Jazz Workshop will be held August 13-19, at the Sheldon Jackson Campus, new home of the Sitka Fine Arts Camp. For more on the camp, visit www.fineartscamp.org.
If you missed seeing Littlefield and Fabian perform last night at the Gold Town Nickelodeon as part of the KRNN Concert Series, you have another chance: the pair will play Friday at the Rookery at 7 p.m. with local musicians Kari Groven and Jason Caputo. The evening is likely to include some jamming (see box at right for details).
Another way to support the Native Jazz project: Littlefield and Fabian initiated a a Kickstarter campaign as of April 23. The campaign, which will help raise funds for their Native Jazz outreach, will last for 30 days. For more information, or to donate to Native Jazz projects, visit www.kickstarter.com.
Juneau’s Artists In The Schools program, which made Conarro and Littlefield’s TMHS Native jazz project possible, is facilitated through partnerships between the Alaska State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts, with additional support from the Rasmuson Foundation, Juneau School District and the Juneau Arts & Humanitites Council.
For more on Native Jazz, visit Ed Littlefield’s website at edlittlefield.com.