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Elementary schoolers join Kenai Peninsula Orchestra on stage for weekend concerts

Courtesy of Laura Norton

Students from Nikiski to Homer are joining musicians from the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra this weekend for two separate shows on the central and southern peninsula — the first Link Up shows since the pandemic hit three years ago.

The Link Up program is a collaboration between students from local elementary schools, the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra and the Carnegie Hall Weill Music Institute, in New York.

It started almost a decade ago, when orchestra members Sue Biggs and her husband Jack Will visited Carnegie. The institute there works with over 100 music programs around the world, according to the Link Up website. In Alaska, there’s also a program with the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra.

The program sends music and books to participant schools and orchestras, and they cycle through different themes every year. This year’s theme is “The Orchestra Swings,” showcasing jazz music. Biggs said the kindergarteners through sixth graders have been spending the last two months learning the curriculum and, this weekend, will sing and play recorder on stage with the adult orchestra.

Biggs is a former music teacher. She said it makes a difference for kids to be part of the music, rather than just to listen to it or learning about it from their desks.

“As a teacher, in the music room, I would talk about different instruments, like bassoons and oboes and horns and trombones and things," she said. "But they never saw them — except maybe we’d watch a video, or maybe we'd have a special guest come in and play something.”

She said seeing the instruments in action, and joining in, is a whole different world.

That meant a lot to her when she was a high school student, and played the violin with her local college orchestra.

“To play with people who actually were community members, who did this as a living — that was very meaningful, for me," she said.

She said it’s fun for the members of the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra, as well.

These concerts will be the first the orchestra has played together since the pandemic started. Their last concert before the pandemic was the Link Up concert in February 2020, Biggs said.

The orchestra rehearses at the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds, in Ninilchik — halfway between the members on the central and southern peninsula.

“It’s just been like coming home, to come to the fairgrounds and see all of our music friends. So for us, it’s a treat too,” she said.

She said that’s all heightened by the excitement of the kids.

“It’s just all fun,” she said.

There’s a Link Up concert at Kenai Central High School for students from Kenai, Soldotna, Nikiski and Sterling at 7 p.m. Friday.

The next day, there will be a concert for Homer-area students at the Homer High School Mariner Theater. Both concerts are free and open to the public. Biggs said about 300 students are participating this year.

Sabine Poux is a producer and reporter for the Brave Little State podcast of Vermont Public. She was formerly news director and evening news host at KDLL in Kenai.

Originally from New York, Sabine has lived and reported in Argentina and Vermont and Kenai.