In 2020, composer Joel Schnaper launched a new virtual concert series called Amplify Alaska, in which performers team up with community organizers. Here he shares the story in his own words:
The summer of 2020 was a weird one for everybody. The general uncertainty and ennui seemed to be accompanied by the sense that a celestial pause button had been hit, and we’d all been unceremoniously dumped into a kind of boring purgatory with little else to do but reflect on our lives and the world around us.
While this time of reflection was uncomfortable, it also seems to have honed people’s focus on issues facing our country; topics such as police reform and environmental justice became a ubiquitous part of the national conversation like never before. I was personally inspired to see many people in my generation (and younger) get involved for the first time with petitioning and raising funds to create positive change in their communities.
It was in this spirit of inspiration that I applied for and received a $500 grant from the Spenard Jazz Fest with the goal of organizing a small outdoor fundraiser, featuring a live performance by my quintet, and maybe some guest speakers.
Not only was I completely out of my element trying to organize a fundraiser of any kind, but my plans coincided with a marked and well-publicized uptick in Anchorage Covid cases, rendering my little outdoor fundraiser an utter impossibility. Discouraged, I spoke about my options with my lifelong friend (and prominent Alaska Native activist) Ruth Miller. Should I have donated the money directly and called it a day? Kept the money and used it to pay my band for rehearsal and recording? Ruth encouraged me to think bigger.
She reminded me that not only was I blessed with unprecedented free time, but a network of friends and colleagues that includes some of Alaska’s foremost musicians and activists. Observing the ways that these people had already come together to create change during the Covid-19 pandemic planted the seed that grew into Amplify Alaska.
The Amplify Alaska concert series is based on the premise that performers and activists ultimately share a common interest, which is to enrich the lives of those around them. Whether you sing a song in front of a thousand people or give the city’s homeless population a hot meal and a place to sleep, you’re building a community around your work that uplifts everyone in its orbit.
The intersection of these two experiences makes for compelling conversation, and galvanizes both communities, pointing them towards further collaboration. Amplify Alaska gives this conversation a place to live, in the form of a monthly, high-production, live broadcast from Frostline Studios. We pair a musician and an activist for a night of musical performance and unfiltered, lightly-structured discussion, during which the audience is invited to donate to the activist’s organization. During our first 5-episode season, Amplify Alaska has raised almost $50,000 for Anchorage-based charitable organizations.
As we come out of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Amplify Alaska team is working on a way that our concert and conversation series can better serve the people of Alaska moving forward. We’re not quite ready to announce what that’ll look like, but we’re very excited about it. Thanks so much for supporting our series thus far! If you haven’t had a chance to catch an Amplify Alaska episode live, you can watch them all on our Youtube channel, and subscribe for what's to come. Keep an eye out for our next season!
Joel Schnaper is a jazz composer, arranger, performer, and teacher from Anchorage, AK.