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Bird in the Wind


violinist Lena Lukina
Photo by Leif Ramos

At the age of nine, Elena Lukina left her home in the Siberian village of Pokrovsk to study the violin in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). Her move was part of a Soviet education system that tested and then tracked young Russians into particular fields depending on their capabilities and strengths. According to the Soviet government, Lukina’s greatest strength was the violin. Leaving Pokrovsk was not easy, but despite numerous difficulties, Lukina stayed in Leningrad for 15 years. Looking back at her experiences in the Leningrad program, Lukina says, “Nobody cares about your feelings. If you feel sick, or if you don’t have some part for your instrument, it’s your fault.”

Despite such rigid training, or perhaps in part because of it, Lukina grew into a free-spirited, experimental musician with a deeply rooted interest in the many facets of Alaska’s local music scene, whose personality is a far cry from the strict, regimented demeanor typically associated with classically trained violinists (Lukina substitutes on violin for both the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra and the Anchorage Opera.)

More than two decades ago, the Elena River, for which Lukina was named, brought her face to face with her future husband, and her path to Alaska. Fairbanks resident Bruce Shelt was in Pokrovsk on a cultural exchange, and met Lukina as they floated down the river in a large, white boat.  Smiling, and laughing, Lukina says it was love at first sight. “He started writing letters to me. He said, ‘Lena, y’know, I can’t forget your eyes...Then he just proposed to me, and I said okay, because I felt something about him immediately.”

Lukina moved to Alaska and soon began exploring different forms of musical expression. “I teach classical music and I play in the symphony, and in the opera, so my vision was really limited,” Lukina says. “But these few years when I started releasing my albums, I started going out from my box, and I started realizing that ‘Oh, my God, there is so much going on right here.’”

So far, Lukina has produced three albums, all of which are heavily influenced by her Russian heritage. However, her music also incorporates a number of American musical traditions. Many of Lukina’s tracks have been recorded on a synthesizer, a mark of her willingness to explore new means of expression through sound.

“Forget about ‘what if.’ I just do it. I would like to try this kind of hat, or that kind of hat.”

The decision to diverge from a strictly classical sound has led Lukina to seek out partnerships with other local musicians. “Alaska is an incredible stage for musicians like us to try to fight and reach, and find the people for collaboration.”

Lukina is eager to connect Alaska to Pokrovsk, seeing a deep connection between the native peoples of both regions. Near the end of our meeting together, Lukina pulled out a small instrument from Russia, meant to imitate the sound of the wind and birds. She asked me to close my eyes as she played. “I just want to show that we are free as a wind...You shouldn’t be afraid. You just need to do it, if you want to do something.”

With that attitude, and with the encouragement of friends, Lukina has moved even further outside her creative sphere of comfort, and compiled a collection of her own paintings to be showcased this March at Anchorage Community Works.

Lukina’s experiences in Anchorage have made her an avid advocate of local artistry “We are actually trying to tell people that it’s not just classical music, it’s not just performers from another state…you need to go to the local concerts, and support the local artists and musicians because we’re also good.”