Local music director, teacher, and performer nurtures Homer’s music scene

With a belief that creating music together can help build stronger communities, violinist Daniel Perry has been nurturing Homer’s music scene since he moved to the community in 2012. A teacher, music director, and performer, Perry is a creative force dedicated to community education, most notably with local youth.

The original classroom teacher for the Preludes Violin music program at Paul Banks Elementary School, Perry worked collaboratively with other educators to create the in-school program. A founding instructor for the Sun Valley Music Conservatory in Idaho, he also taught at the Birchwood Music Camp in Alaska. Today, he teaches students in his private violin studio, Perry Studio. Former longtime music director of the Homer OPUS youth string programs, Perry remains involved as an active board member, committed to ensuring that the programs maintain the highest educational standards.

As a performer, Perry has collaborated in numerous local chamber music concerts, including locally for Homer Council of the Arts, Bunnell Street Arts Center, and the Pratt Museum & Park. He continues to perform in Alaska with the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra and the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra, and previously performed nationally with the Boise Philharmonic, Boise Baroque Orchestra, Aspen Festival Orchestra, Opera Idaho, Caritas Chorale, CastleRock and Birchwood String Quartets, Spokane Symphony Orchestra, as well as with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Kurt Bester, Melissa Manchester, Chuck Mangione, Pavarotti and Josh Ritter. He has performed in-state with the Juneau Symphony, Anchorage Opera Orchestra, Alaska Chamber Singers, Anchorage Concert Chorus, and Anchorage Festival of Music, and in 2015, he performed with the Devil’s Club Orchestra, opening for Pink Martini at the Mariner Theater.

“Music is a powerful tool that can bring us together where we communicate without words,” Perry said. “It’s a wonderful way to meet people and make connections.”

In 2022, Homer Council on the Arts awarded Perry the Mary Epperson Lifetime Achievement in the Arts award.

“Daniel was nominated for his musical achievements and great work in fostering Homer’s music scene,” said Mannfried Funk, HCOA board member. “It was our pleasure to present him with this award for being such a staple in our community’s musical education, for his key role in developing OPUS, and for his numerous accomplishments in the arts.”

Raised in Anchorage, Perry and his family hiked, camped, and explored the state, nurturing in Perry a passion for the outdoors that today equals his passion for music. Melding these two loves, he has worked as a park ranger with the National Park Service, as a park guide at Natural Bridges National Monument and as an interpretive park ranger at Yellowstone National Park, using his geology skills to share the natural history of the area and his music skills to paint a picture of people and place. While working in Yellowstone, he played Orange Blossom Special to guests to share how the railroad played a role in the park’s history.

“It was a bit scary for me early on, coming from orchestra where you read the music and do what the conductor asks you to do, to playing songs out in the open air about trapping and hunting,” he said.

Perry has also worked on ski patrol, as a ski instructor, and a kayak guide and naturalist, including 11 summers at Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge where he guided guests during the day and played the violin for them in the evenings.

“Today, I have years of professional experience both as a classical musician and in outdoor education,” he said. “Living and working in such diverse, stimulating environments keeps my enthusiasm for life bubbling away at an infectious level.”

Born in Iowa and raised in Anchorage since the age of 3, Perry’s passion for music began when he was 8 years old, after his father passed away and he and his mother and brother returned to Iowa to spend time with family. There, a grandmother on his father’s side gifted Perry’s family string instruments and lessons as a way to deal with the loss. His mom was given a bass, his brother received an uncle’s cello, and Perry received his Aunt Martha’s violin. At the time, Perry had been taking piano lessons at home, but he took to the violin immediately. While his family spent the summer at the lake, Perry took music lessons at a community college.

“I grew up with instruments in our house, but it took my grandmother’s idea of music as something to latch on to really make music a part of my life,” he said. “The violin seemed more intimate than the piano, like a friend I could have conversations with.”

When the family returned to Anchorage a few months later, Perry’s first orchestra class instructor was at Turnagain Elementary with Elizabeth Leffingwell who taught and played with the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra and with whom he studied through high school. During his freshman year, he began playing with the Anchorage Opera Orchestra. After graduating and while playing as principal violinist with the Anchorage Symphony, he got to perform with Leffingwell, his former teacher.

“She had a great influence on me musically and getting to play alongside her was really special,” he said.

In his twenties, Perry got a geology degree from Pomona College, not intending to make music a career. Years later, he received an undergraduate degree in music performance from the University of Washington where he studied with former Chicago Symphony Orchestra concertmaster, Steven Staryk, and then moved to Boise where he spent 14 years playing with the Boise Philharmonic and Opera, and working on ski patrol. Missing Alaska, he eventually returned to Alaska where he has been ever since, pursuing and sharing his enjoyment for the outdoors and music.

Eight years ago, when Perry collaborated with fellow educators Linda Reinhart and Lyn Maslow, among others, they created Homer OPUS as one way to introduce children to string instruments. While Homer Youth Orchestra has been providing after-school programs for students for years, Homer OPUS offers in-school programs.

“We wanted to open a door to music for those who might like to pursue it,” Perry said.

During the first year of the OPUS program, 60 first graders participated. The following year, those 60 stayed in the program as second graders and 60 new first graders joined in. Every year, around 120 students, kindergarten to grade 2 at Paul Banks, Little Fireweed, and Chapman schools participate in the Homer OPUS program.

“Studies have shown the positive impact that only string instrument music can have on early brain development,” Perry said. “Our goal is to use music to help with brain development and coordination, and with social skills that can help them succeed.”

Perry’s short-term professional goals include helping Homer OPUS continue to grow to include grades 3 to 12. His personal goals include exploring folk music, like Celtic and Bluegrass. In the meantime, he continues to share his passion for music with others, bringing his violin with him when he travels, be that across the Bay, up the road, or internationally.

Last year while traveling in Turkey, he practiced his violin in the apartment of a friend and later found out that the family upstairs enjoyed his music through the vented air system.

“The woman and her children stood next to one of the vents in their kitchen and listened,” he said.

During a previous trip to visit relatives in Spain, after three days of flights from Alaska, his aunt met him at the train station at 11 p.m. and rather than making their way to her house, drove half an hour to a party.

“When we got there it was almost midnight and the party was just starting,” he said. “I’m not a Spanish speaker, so I brought my violin out, started playing it and suddenly the music was the center of the party. People were looking up music on their phone and I followed along with sheet music. They were singing and I was playing. Those kinds of experiences are really special connections where music is the universal language. There are many ways we can live our lives and for me, it is through music.”

On April 28, Homer OPUS holds its Spring Concert, “A Sea of Strings: A Rising Tide of Music” at Homer’s Mariner Theater, beginning at 6:30 p.m. This free youth music concert will showcase more than 100 strings on stage with all of the kids from all of the programs that Perry and others have helped to build, all on stage performing at the same time.

Daniel Perry plays the violin on the steps outside Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge in the summer of 2021 in Homer, Alaska. Photo provided by Daniel Perry

Daniel Perry plays the violin on the steps outside Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge in the summer of 2021 in Homer, Alaska. Photo provided by Daniel Perry