The Music of the Tall Trees
Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) is the largest species of Spruce and takes its name from our community; Sitka, Alaska. Sitka spruce is prized worldwide for a high strength‐to‐weight ratio and unique characteristics. Its uses have ranged from seagoing canoes to ceremonial masks to housing structures for the Native communities of Southeast Alaska. In the more recent past it was used to manufacture a multitude of items such as ladders, building frames, paddles and windmill slats. Its light weight, combined with strength, that makes it so versatile have also made it the gold standard in the construction of instruments and wooden airplanes. Its resiliency and feathery weight led to its use in wing structures and the fuselage of early airplanes. Sitka spruce also possesses a highly uniform fiber structure, leading to high quality sound resonance. This means it is sought out for use as sound boards in high-end pianos and guitars and other instruments.
The rich and diverse history of the Sitka spruce is so important to remember: it wasn’t long ago that vast stands were liquidated and entire watersheds became massive clear‐cut wastelands. The trees were ground into industrial dissolving pulp and exported to foreign markets as a commodity product. That is past.
Earlier this month, USDA Secretary Vilsack outlined the future: he reaffirmed his commitment to conserving the remaining old growth temperate rain forests on the Tongass National Forest. He stated that this will be accomplished with a transition out of old growth and to the harvesting of second growth timber. Old growth will only be used for small scale, specialty value-added uses, as in the construcution of musical instruments. With a renewed focus on creating a sustainable forest industry, and providing jobs and opportunities in Southeast Alaska, the plight of the Sitka spruce may well be coming full-circle.
Enter the Sitka Summer Music Festival, currently in its 42nd year.
The Festival now supports events in Anchorage and Fairbanks, but Sitka is where it began and is the home of the festival. World-renowned classical musicians trek to Sitka every summer for the festival with their cellos and violins, adding to the forest’s own beautiful repertoire of sounds. The festival’s location in Sitka, in the heart of the Tongass National Forest, also allows musicians to connect with the original source of their craft and instruments.
One of this summer’s featured musicians is pianist Natasha Paremski who plays in Sitka on Steinway pianos that feature a Sitka Spruce soundboard. Natasha took time out of her trip to visit with SCS media intern Gleb Mikhalev and describe her connections to Sitka and the forest.
A Walk in the Tongass National Forest with Natasha Paremski from Sitka Conservation Society on Vimeo.