University of Alaska Anchorage musicians took the stage on Saturday night with an audible air of protest. Like many UA programs statewide, the UAA Department of Music has found itself on the chopping block more than once in the last few years.
A June 2015 memo released by the Provost Samuel Gingerich outlined the deletion of the department’s Music Minor program and called for the “transformation” of both the Bachelor of Music and Bachelor of Music Performance degrees. This, of course, came after the demise of UAF’s Bachelor of Arts Music degree.
Despite surviving the painful process of UA’s academic euthanization, UAA’s Music Department is finding itself in all-too-familiar territory. This time, the department has opted out of trying to prove its worth to a hardened Board of Regents and is doing what they do best—making a statement with music.
“The shock of the governor's proposed budget cuts for the University of Alaska system prompted [Saturday’s] performance being called the Budget Cut Symphony,” explains UAA Sinfonia conductor Dr. Oleg Proskurnya. “Immediately after I learned about the proposal, I felt the importance of sending a musical message to the community.”
With 18th century German composer Joseph Haydn’s “Farewell Symphony” as a backdrop, Proskurnya’s message rang clear.
“I first thought of Haydn's ‘Farewell Symphony,’ which concludes with members of the orchestra gradually leaving the stage and turning off their stand lights until only two players finish the piece on a dark stage, only two spotlights remaining over their stands. As soon as they finish, they turn their lights off and the empty stage is dark. I thought this visualization of the gradual dying off of music would symbolize potential loss and encourage people to ensure continued support for the arts in Alaska,” says Proskurnya.
UAA College of Arts and Sciences Senior Associate Dean and Music Professor Timothy Smith was succinct when asked about the concert’s symbolism.
“The message here to ponder is, ‘what would our lives be like without music,” Smith says.
According to Smith and Proskurnya, the answer is simple. It would be incomplete.
“We believe that the arts are integrative in many aspects, and it is important for the health of Alaskan citizens and our society to have the arts present and alive. They enrich all aspects of our lives, whether we are performing together or taking the skills we learn as musicians into our places of business or our homes,” explains Proskurnya.
While a musical protest involving over 40 musicians packed into UAA’s Recital Hall is a valuable message, Proskurnya and Smith recognize that it won’t be what saves the music program.
“Everyone can help by attending departmental events such as this, by supporting our scholarship and fundraising activities such as our annual Symphony of Sounds event that showcases our department, and by actively engaging with other arts organizations within the university and in the Southcentral area, which contributes greatly to the cultural life, and to the quality of life, in our great state,” Smith explains. “Recognizing and vocally supporting the mission of K-12 arts education is also important because an arts education at a young age has lasting and lifelong positive effects.”