Biologist fills retirement with music

Dan Hopson plays classical guitar in the Gold Room

Posted: Monday, June 18, 2007

On Sundays at the Baranof Hotel, Dan Hopson plays classical guitar for the guests as they dine.

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They could request Bach or Brahms, or insights into the reproductive habits of Dolly Varden char. It's all within the repertoire of the 61-year-old musician and retired biologist.

Hopson has been a mainstay in the Gold Room since Valentine's Day in 2006. But his time in Juneau stretches back much farther than that.

Hopson arrived here in 1970, driving out to meet a friend who had been hired at the state museum. Born and raised in central New York, Hopson had attained a bachelor's degree in biology from Cornell University a few years earlier. He didn't plan to stay in Alaska for long.

"I hadn't any intention of anything other than looking around," he said.

But on his first day in town, he landed a job with the state Department of Fish and Game. On his second day, he found himself on a float plane to Admiralty Island to work on an experimental fish weir. He studied Dolly Varden with local biologist and author Robert Armstrong.

A musician since his youth, Hopson played a lot of guitar folk music at the time. But his focus abruptly shifted back a few centuries while he was on a tour of Alaska with a local violinist in the late 1970s.

Hopson was traveling around the state with Linda Rosenthal, who had a connection with a state arts program called Shows to Go. She relied on a light classical repertoire that included Bartok and Schubert - but she couldn't rely on distant pianos being in tune.

"She was tired of the unreliability of pianos in the bush," he said. "She asked if I could work up some duets with her on the guitar ... That was kind of a defining moment right there."

A few years later, in 1980, his love for the instrument took him to Montana State University. He studied with renowned guitar player Christopher Parkening, and Hopson described his time at the school as a "watershed moment."

He returned to Juneau, where he lives with his wife, Martha Hopson. He has two daughters, 21-year-old Morgan and 17-year-old Lauren.

Hopson ended up working for three state resource agencies and the National Marine Fisheries Service before retiring in 2005. Since then, he's been a musician and a trail guide and naturalist for Gastineau Guiding - keeping his interests at the forefront during his retirement.

• Contact Ken Lewis at 523-2263 or

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