Gordon Wright Portrait, Barry McWayne photo

Gordon Wright Portrait, Barry McWayne photo

Courtesy of Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra

Courtesy of Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra

Bringing classical music to the Bush

In 1970, living in Bush Alaska and listening to live classical music didn't usually go together.

With that in mind, the newly formed Arctic Chamber Orchestra and its conductor, Gordon Wright, developed a bold but simple idea. They decided to tour villages throughout the state, giving rural Alaskans a rare opportunity to witness a performance of Bach, Britten or Boccherini.

"We take them the best of our music in the spirit of sharing, not to preach the gospel," said Wright, then a UAF assistant professor of music. The musicians, many of them UAF students and faculty, donated their time and talents.

The ACO, which is the touring ensemble of the Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra, traveled more than 20,000 miles to 30 communities from 1970-1974. The New York Times later summarized the effort in Wright's 2007 obituary, calling it a "tour to musically bereft towns throughout the state, traveling on school buses, boats, seaplanes and even dog sleds. Concert dress sometimes included parkas."

The quirky and ambitious tour didn't only provide Alaska communities with live music. It also acquainted the public with UAF offerings and worked to stimulate young people to pursue an interest in serious music.

Alaska newspapers described the tour as "a rural hit" and "a dream come true." At the conclusion of the tour, the Alaska Legislature commended Wright and the ACO "for their community spirit and their dedication to the arts in Alaska."

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