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Juneau String Ensembles counting on community support for China trip

Organizers willing to consider stopping by sister city in 2013

Posted: July 21, 2012 - 11:09pm

Sending some 23 student musicians and two adults to the People’s Republic of China for two weeks is quite the undertaking.

Juneau String Ensembles hopes to raise $75,000 by March 2013 to help cover the costs of next summer’s trip. But despite that lofty goal, parents involved in planning it said Friday that the group is right on track, thanks in large part to the work of the students themselves.

“We really wanted the young people to be involved in part of the earned income, raising the money,” said Merry Ellefson, whose 11-year-old son Arne Ellefson-Carnes plays in JSE.

Students have been busking in downtown Juneau nearly every day this summer, according to Ellefson.

“The kids have made right around $10,000 with donations, which is very exciting,” Ellefson said. “We had a goal, I think, hoping the kids would raise about, what, eight, ten thousand bucks, and we’re already there and we still have some time left.”

While the young musicians have raised an impressive sum on the streets, JSE is looking beyond busking for its fundraising purposes.

Diane Antaya, whose son Elias is in JSE, said donations have been coming in from businesses like Wells Fargo and Domino’s Pizza, as well as from individual members of the community. She said the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, which helps fund JSE with a grant, has also been supportive. A JSE concert in February at Northern Light United Church brought in about $3,500, she said.

“We’ve got … funding coming in from a variety of sources,” Antaya said.

The decision to go to China was not made in a vacuum, Ellefson and Antaya said.

The musical director of JSE, Guo Hua Xia, is from Shanghai, China’s largest city. He received his violin training at the elite Shanghai Conservatory of Music.

Shanghai is among the cities on JSE’s trip itinerary, and Antaya said students are excited to see where their musical director is from.

“They are really looking forward to coming to the place that he is from and having a chance to experience his home,” Antaya said.

The current draft of the itinerary includes time in four cities – Shanghai, Hangzhou, Xian and Beijing — but Antaya said she has discussed the possibility of working in a visit to Mishan City, Juneau’s sister city in the far northeastern Heilongjiang Province, with Sue Baxter, vice chairwoman of the Juneau Sister Cities Committee.

“From my conversation with Sue, it sounds as if the committee has not had … a personal contact in Mishan City, and that’s what they’re hoping to do first before we go too far along the road of traveling to that sister city,” Antaya said. “At this point, we don’t have it on our itinerary, but we are hoping that they’re going to make those contacts.”

The Juneau Empire reported last Monday that the Sister Cities Committee discussed the idea of helping JSE raise money for the trip at its meeting July 13, as well as making a concerted effort to reach out to Mishan City within the sister city relationship.

“It is very exciting to think about having that committee behind us and supporting us, and we are certainly interested in hearing what the opportunities are with connecting with our sister city in China,” said Antaya.

Xia agreed.

“If we can go there to play some, I think it would be very special,” said Xia, who will be one of the two adults on the trip. The other adult is his wife, pianist Mei Xue.

This would be Xia’s third time taking student musicians to China, he said. He made the trip with JSE students before in 2004 and 2007.

“Even today, I meet some students, (and) they still remember everything they did in China,” said Xia of those who traveled to China with him in the past.

One of those former students is Ren DeCherney, who was on the JSE’s 2004 trip to China.

“I’d never studied Chinese history or art or anything, so it was interesting to go there and have no frame of reference — nothing,” said DeCherney, who described the experience as “completely unlike anything I had ever done at that point.”

DeCherney and several other former China trip participants are reuniting Sunday at 1 p.m. to play music for the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council’s Sunday market. Proceeds from the reunion performance will go toward the 2013 trip.

“I say good for them,” DeCherney said of the students going to China next year. “They’ll have an experience that will be informative and important in their lives.”

The group of students readying for the China trip range between the ages of 9 and 17 and come from a diverse array of Juneau schools and programs, Antaya said.

While the students might have difficulty conversing with their Chinese counterparts at the schools and venues they visit next summer, Ellefson said they will share something important.

“I think another huge thing … is just an awareness of how important it is to put ourselves out there, for a lack of a better word, as Americans, and learn about other people and how much we are the same,” said Ellefson. “And sometimes language is a barrier, and it’s a bit scary that way, but music sort of moves through that barrier in a way that’s really comfortable, quite lovely and, I think, can connect us. I believe it will connect us in ways that we can’t even imagine right now.”

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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