Molly Sturges leading a Sitka Symposium session. (Photo by Christine Davenport)

Molly Sturges leading a Sitka Symposium session. (Photo by Christine Davenport)

The Sitka Symposium has taken over the Sheldon Jackson campus this week, after a hiatus of five years. The symposium, which first started three decades ago this year, brings together artists, writers and activists from around the country.

Composer and artistic director Molly Sturges is one of this year’s faculty. Her work often combines music and storytelling.

One of her specialities is what she calls “sound poetry events.” She’ll be presenting one of those events on July 23 in Sitka, weaving together performances from local storytellers with an improv choral performance.

In an interview with KCAW, Sturges sang an example from one of her ongoing projects, called Lifesongs.

(Sturges singing)…what caused the fall, I don’t remember, help me get out of here, help me get out of here..Lord. Lord I’m talking you…help me…what I want is what I had before, what I want is what I had before…what caused the fall, I don’t remember….

Sturges wrote that song with an elderly woman suffering from advanced dementia. Lifesongs began seven years ago as a collaboration between Sturges’ non-profit, Littleglobe, and the Sante Fe Opera.

“This is a project where we write music with people at the end of their lives, so in hospice. Then the songs are sung by young people and young choirs,” said Sturges. “So there is something very profound that happens when writing a song or expression at the end of somebody’s life goes then into the body of a young person and then that’s shared.”

One offshoot of the project is a choir that sings the songs at community events.

Sturges’ most recent project is the Ecological Creative Storytelling Project Alliance, a partnership with the Institute of American Indian Arts. The project seeks to humanize big ecological subjects, like climate change. Sturges says that storytelling allows people to face issues that otherwise can be too overwhelming. And that when the arts draw communities together, solutions are created.

“What I know is that we will often revert to fear if we don’t have a story or construct of meaning or sense of belonging that helps us choose something else…if we push things like, with Lifesongs, death and dying and aging to the side, it scares us,” Sturges said. “We kind of stay to the side of it for a long time. It doesn’t help us to to create a different way of being or more dignified or healthier way of being. We’re trying to use the arts as a way to provide some stepping stones and a venue for that…and it’s working.

Sturges will perform on July 23 at the Yaw Chapel on the Sheldon Jackson Campus. She will be joined by local storytellers Jerry Deppa, Kristina Cranston, Hank Moore and Lori Adams.