Community editor and columnist Kris Capps is a longtime resident of Fairbanks and Denali Park. Contact her at kcapps@newsminer.com, in the office at 459-7546 or by cell at 322-6334. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMKris.

Mike Stevens

Where is Mike Stevens? He is sitting with students celebrating their new harmonicas. Photo courtesy Karen Lord.

Everyone gets a harmonica when Mike Stevens comes to town.

MIke Stevens

Harmonica virtuoso Mike Stevens is always happy to demonstrate how to use the harmonicas he passes out to students. Photo courtesy Karen Lord.

This was his third annual visit to Nenana School students. But it was the first time they were joined by students from Anderson School. They all sprawled on a classroom floor and learned how to use a looper to create their own musical stories. A looper is a device that repeats over and over whatever is recorded. New sounds can be layered on top of each recording.

Luke Titus

Luke Titus of Minto, first chief of Denakkanaaga, shares drumming with students. Photo courtesy Karen Lord.

Tilly Jones

Anderson School first-grader Tilly Jones tries on one of Luke Titus's necklaces and peeks out from behind his back. Photo courtesy Terese Kaptur

Chloe Wood

Anderson student Chloe Wood tries on one of Luke Titus's gloves as teacher Mary McCall looks on. Photo courtesy Terese Kaptur.

A second special visitor was Luke Titus, first chief of Denakkanaaga. The elder from Minto did some drumming, told stories about his childhood, shared some of his personal Native regalia and offered words of advice to students.

Luke Titus

Minto Elder Luke Titus shares some of his regalia with Anderson students Cooper Taylor, Isaiah Turley, Chloe Wood and Tilly Jones. Photo courtesy Terese Kaptur

“Once you learn something, the world opens for you,” he told a classroom filled with students. “My advice is that you try your best, whatever it is, whenever you go out. Be motivated to go with what you have.”

Meanwhile, in another room, Mike Stevens continued sharing his love of music. He starts with the harmonica, a tool for self-expression. Anyone can make music with a harmonica, even if they can’t read music. Stevens doesn’t read music himself; he sees music in colors.

Mike Stevens and students from Anderson and Nenana

Mike Stevens shows Anderson and Nenana students how to use a looper to create their own stories, through sound. Kris Capps/News-Miner

Then he shows teens how to use the looper and, before long, students are working together, creating their own compositions, using the harmonica, their voices and other man-made sounds. Twenty years of dedicated work with students in Canadian villages earned Stevens Canada’s Medal of Honor. He also works with rural communities in Alaska, thanks to the Bethel Community Services Foundation and many other supporters.

Stevens helps students express their feelings in healthy ways — through music, drumming, song, dance, beat-boxing and composing. The day in Nenana was included in a tour of Interior Alaska communities. Accompanying him on a tour of schools in Western Alaska was Yupik drummer/singer Panuk Agimuk.

Mike Stevens

Mike Stevens shows students how to play the harmonica, breathing in and out. Kris Capps/News-Miner

Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at kcapps@newsminer.com. Call her at the office 459-7546. Follow her on Twitter @FDNMKris.