Composing in the Wilderness: Alaska Geographic

By Janine Doyle posted 12-17-2019 01:44 PM


Alaska Geographic

Alaska Geographic
(AG) has been creating deeper connections to Alaska's wild lands for over 60 years as the nonprofit education partner of the state's spectacular national parks, forests and refuges.

In partnership with the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival, the National Park Service (NPS) and the U.S. Forest Service (USDAFS), AG supports Composing in the Wilderness, a shared wilderness experience for adventurous composers at all levels.

Below is our interview with AG executive director Andy Hall about this program.

When did the Composing in the Wilderness program begin, and what was the motivation behind starting the program?

Hall: The Composing in the Wilderness course began in 2012 as the brainchild of Stephen Lias. Lias, a professor of Music Composition at Stephen F. Austin University, has become world-renowned as an adventurer-composer, having done artist residencies in six national parks. He pioneered the idea that musicians, just like painters, can provide meaningful and profound interpretations of our national treasures. Along with AG and our partners, Lias has created a multi-week course that fills quickly and attracts students from around the world.

Alaska Geographic

What makes Alaska's public lands such a compelling environment for composers?

Hall: The allure of Alaska’s vast untrammeled wildlands attracts people from around the world to visit the 49th state. Experiencing the pristineness of Alaska conjures deep emotional reactions, especially for people that have never encountered a landscape so wild and dominating. Though it resides on most people’s bucket lists, Alaska remains out of reach for many. Yet park rangers, educators and filmmakers help bring Alaska into homes and classrooms around the world via their media. Now, with more than 80 accomplished music composer alumni of this program, the beauty, mystery and wildness of Alaska is being shared in concert halls around the world.

Alaska Geographic

What other programs are you excited to tell our community about?

Hall: We’ve got a unique retail operation in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve where well over 90 percent of visitor contact happens on the deck of a cruise ship at a “floating visitor center.” In order to assist the park in delivering its interpretive message to those visitors, we’ve joined a unique partnership that includes NPS and the cruise lines that visit Glacier Bay each summer. Two ships per day enter the marine park during the summer season, and as they do they are met by park rangers and AG sales staff on a small boat operated by NPS. While the rangers give presentations and interact with passengers, AG sets up a portable store and sells interpretive products as the ship tours the bay. 

With AG wrapping up its 60th year, what recent accomplishments are you most proud of, and what are you most looking forward to in your 61st year?

Hall: This past June, NPS and AG extended our education partnership in Denali National Park and Preserve for another ten years. Building on the successes of the past decade, we're eager to continue that success for another 10 years. Utilizing fee-based education the partnership is able to creatively subsidize youth and teacher outreach in Denali and in other parks around the state. This year we began building staff housing in Denali in partnership with the building trades program at the Tri-valley School District in Healy Alaska.

While we have great educational programs in Anchorage, Denali, Fairbanks and many sites around the state, I’m equally excited about the upcoming retail season. We have a new retail team here and they’re collaborating with our agency site managers to find and create some really incredible products. 

How do you work with your agency partners to figure out the best ways for you to support each other and most efficiently benefit your public lands sites?

Hall: We have been partnering with NPS since 1959, just a few weeks after Alaska became a state. Since then, USFWS, BLM and USDAFS have joined, and we are proud of these long and mutually beneficial relationships. Maintaining relationships with four federal agencies administering 24 National Park Units, 16 National Wildlife Refuges, one National Forest and more than 70 million acres of BLM lands can be complicated. But with attention to transparency, open lines of communication and mutual trust we have built a strong rapport. We don’t surprise our partners, we listen when they have concerns, and we work together to find solutions.