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Historic harp takes center stage at Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival

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Posted: Thursday, July 12, 2012 9:29 pm | Updated: 10:35 am, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

 Twenty years ago, harpist Marcia Dickstein came to the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival as a guest artist and played a new harp, purchased with funds donated by longtime festival supporter helenka Brice.

Dickstein returns for the 2012 festival and will play that same instrument, which the festival gave to the UAF music department. She is founder/artistic director of the Debussy Trio and has performed worldwide, on NPR radio and PBS TV. She will teach harp classes to all ages during the first week of festival, beginning Sunday.

Dickstein’s return as a guest artist, from a festival standpoint, is historic.

“helenka Brice was 20 years older than me,” recalled Jo Scott, who founded the festival 33 years ago. “I first heard of her in 1962 when I organized the first educational nursery school in Fairbanks at University Presbyterian Church.”

One of Brice’s granddaughters enrolled in Jo Scott’s musical nursery school. Over the years, other Brice grandchildren attended Scott’s Junior High Fine Arts Camp and even Scott’s class at Denali School.

The two women became friends and in the years that followed, Brice became one of Scott’s mentors. But Brice was in poor health throughout the years they were friends.

“One day, in January of 1992, helenka called and said, ‘I’m going to leave some money to the festival,’” recalled Scott, who pondered how to put that money to good use, although she did not know the amount that would be donated.

“I told her that I’d like to buy something special with that money,” Scott said. “Our community has never had a harp. I suggested that I would like to look into using her gift to purchase a harp. helenka liked the idea.”

Artists in Los Angeles recommended she invite Marcia Dickstein, a harpist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Dickstein agreed to come to Fairbanks.

“She happened to be giving a concert in Chicago that month, so she went directly to the Lyon & Healy Harp Co. and personally selected the harp for us,” said Scott.

The harp was delivered to the UAF Music Department in February 1992.

Scott took photos of the harp and sent them to Brice, who was by then at the Mayo Clinic. But Brice never got to see the harp. She died in May 1992.

Scott steadfastly worked on integrating harp into the festival and featuring harp in the Pioneer Concert that year.

“The pioneer’s program that summer spotlighted Marcia Dickstein performing on the Brice harp,” she said. “It was phenomenal.”

She invited the Brice family to the concert as special guests, since it was dedicated to the memory of helenka Brice.

“Before that concert opened, the Brice brothers were there. They surprised me by presenting me with a check to the festival for $15,000,” she said. “They had no idea that this gift covered the cost of the harp, including the transportation and the case.”

“It was so touching,” she said.

She had a brass plate made for the harp, recognizing helenka Brice’s contribution.

That harp is still in use today at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Music Department.

Because of Dickstein’s outreach to the community and later, when professional harpist Jaren Spor Peterlin moved to Fairbanks, more and more people began to study the harp locally.

The Brice family continues to support the festival’s program. This year, they donated airfare for Dickstein.

At Festival 2012, Dickstein will offer individual hour-long sessions for adults or for children. She will also teach a harp master class one hour/day for the first week.

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