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I feel very lucky to live in Juneau, with its lively arts and culture. When I was growing up here in the 1950s and 1960s, we had the Alaska Music Trail, which brought many famous and wonderful performers to our little town and made me want to be a musician. When I returned to Juneau in 1976 after attending the University of Southern California School of Performing Arts and then living in London, the Alaska Music Trail no longer existed. However the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council was being formed, the Juneau Douglas Concert Association still put on concerts, and the University of Alaska Southeast offered piano master classes with UAA professor Jean-Paul Billaud.
I loved those classes with Dr. Billaud. He was a dynamic and inspiring teacher. In fact many of his students became teachers themselves. Billaud pushed us, polished our playing and made music very exciting.
The next two professors to teach as masters were Alberto Rafols and Neal O'Doan. Both were excellent teachers and offered many wonderful insights into music performance and history. Rafols was very interested in the inter-dependence of the arts, once giving a lecture on art with slides and the music of the same period. His knowledge of Spanish and Latin music was direct from his Spanish and Cuban background. O'Doan worked with his students to correct problems and to pay attention to details, sometimes spending half a lesson on the first four bars of a piece. He had a real instinct for choosing music for his students. I am grateful to him for cleaning up my playing.
The master class program was again offered at the University of Alaska Southeast five years ago with Dr. Alexander Tutunov, who travels from Southern Oregon University. He was a first-prize winner of the Belarusian National Piano Competition, winner of the Russian National Piano Competition, received his magna cum laude degree from the Central Music School at the Moscow Conservatory, completed his studies at the University of North Texas and his doctorate from the Belarusian Conservatory. He, like the previous professors, has helped many young students receive scholarships, financial aid and entry into music schools. He has been a great mentor to many of his students here.
Despite his credentials, he is very gentle with those who perform in class and adjusts his expectations for each. His classes are a mixture of funny stories of the music world, piano technique, repertoire, and music history. Some in the class never play, just content to enjoy the action on stage. Others play once or twice and some of us play as much as possible to get maximum benefit from him.
Tutunov helps his students see the larger picture in music - dynamically and harmonically. He often talks about images and imagination in the music and students are able, with his help, to play at a much higher level. Students, whether performers or not, learn tips on practice and technique. For all of us the class provides a forum and support group for Juneau pianists.
Do we realize how fortunate we are to have a teacher of this caliber come to Juneau to teach anyone who takes his class? In a larger city, only the very talented would be allowed this opportunity. For the price of one UAS credit, we get 12+ hours of music, history and stories. We are very lucky that UAS is providing musicians this wonderful opportunity.
Like many others before him, Tutunov loves Juneau. As a demonstration of this great affection for our city, he has offered to perform a concert without fee to help raise money to replace the hammers on our historic Baldwin 9-foot concert grand piano, which is in the Northern Light United Church.
The concert will be held at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 18. Come hear a concert of incredibly beautiful music and support the piano restoration - and think about signing up for his piano master class.