Musicians play tribute to doyenne of the arts

Concert to celebrate life of Jane Stewart

Posted: Thursday, October 17, 2002

Jane Stewart put singers, actors, dancers and musicians on Juneau's stages for more than 40 years.

"She was involved in practically everything musical in this town," said Mary Watson, a lifelong Juneau musician and a piano teacher who took her first lessons from Stewart in the late 1950s.

Stewart died Aug. 9 at the Juneau Pioneers' Home at the age of 82. Her contribution to the arts in Juneau is being celebrated at 7:30 p.m. on Alaska Day, Friday, Oct. 18, at Centennial Hall. The Juneau Symphony, Juneau Lyric Opera and other guests will perform.

Watson remembers as a child walking into the Stewart family's big house on Calhoun Avenue for her lessons. The music there was almost overwhelming.

"When I used to go in there I'd hear music from all over the house. All the kids were playing music," Watson said. "She made piano exciting, yet a challenge. She was a wonderful teacher. She had a real sense of humor - she loved to tease, she was full of energy and enthusiasm. She was a very special person."

Watson will perform Tchaikovsky's short piece, "The Lark," and talk a little about her time as a young girl with Stewart. She'll also accompany tenor Stan Watson, who coincidentally shares the same last name. Stan sang in a number of Juneau Lyric Opera productions in the 1990s. He has moved to New Mexico but will be in Juneau for the memorial.

Stewart moved to Juneau in 1945. In the decades that followed she created a profound and lasting legacy in the arts in Alaska.

The mother of seven children, Steward's talents were diverse. She administered state Sen. Chancy Croft's staff when he was Senate president in the mid-1970s. She and her husband, Tom Stewart, started the Unitarian Fellowship in Juneau. She helped found the Juneau-Douglas Little Theatre in the 1950s, Juneau Lyric Opera in the 1970s, and Juneau Jazz and Classics in the 1980s.

In the early 1960s the family moved to Anchorage for five years and Jane Stewart threw her energy into the arts there as wholeheartedly as she had in Juneau, playing cello with the symphony, teaching, accompanying on piano and directing productions.

Stewart founded a community chorus, the Juneau Singers, and served on the state arts council and the Juneau arts council in its early years. She and Connie Boochever successfully lobbied to create the One Percent for the Arts program, which funded the installation of public art throughout Alaska.

Linda and Paul Rosenthal will offer their perspectives on Stewart's contributions to music in Juneau and statewide. The two Juneau violinists are touring, but have recorded a video that will be screened.

Linda Rosenthal lived in Jane Stewart's cabin near Auke Bay for about three years when she first moved to Juneau in the mid-1970s. Paul was working in Anchorage and commuting to Juneau. Linda and Stewart played music together, and Stewart backed up Rosenthal's violin students.

"She was so generous with her music making, her time, her advice, everything," Rosenthal said. "She was a tremendous pianist, a beautiful musician. She always brought out the best in me, in my students, and in all of us I think."

The program Friday will include a dance performance by the Jane Stewart Tap Brigade - Sally Smith, Susan Condon and Susan Burke.

"We used to dance with Jane," said Smith, a musician as well as Juneau's mayor. "Jane had a great sense of humor. When people left appointed or elected office, she liked to tap dance them out, make it a celebration. I think the first one she did was Fran Ulmer, when she left the mayor's office."

Smith was part of the tap brigade that gave a tap dancing exit "ceremony" for Gov. Bill Sheffield in the mid-1980s. Smith said most of her dancing with Stewart was recreational, at their homes after dinner.

Smith remembers meeting Stewart when the Juneau-Douglas Little Theatre produced "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown." Smith played Lucy and Stewart played drums in the band. Although Stewart was an accomplished cellist and pianist, Smith thinks it was probably her first attempt at that instrument.

"It was new for her, but she'd try anything," Smith said. "It was music, and it was part of her body and soul to be connected with music."

The celebration Friday will include a performance by Stroller White Pipes and Drums. The Juneau Symphony will perform "Washington Post March," the "Jupiter movement" from "The Planets," and "Stars and Stripes Forever."

Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer will sing the "Alaska Flag Song," and talk about some of the projects she and Stewart were involved in together.

Members of the Juneau Lyric Opera will sing the finale from the first act of "Iolanthe," "O Fortuna" from the opera "Carmina Burana," and "The Shepherd's Chorus" from "Ahmal and the Night Visitors." The lyric opera is presenting "Ahmal" this coming holiday season, a Christmas-themed opera Stewart produced in Juneau years ago.

The tribute will include the screening of a KTOO "Rain Country" program done on Stewart.

George and Jean Rogers, who moved to Juneau in 1945 and got to know Stewart when she first arrived in town, will talk about her early years in Juneau.

There is no admission charge. The Juneau Arts and Humanities Council has established a Jane Stewart memorial music scholarship fund, and people may make contributions.'

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