By Karl Klooster • Staff Writer • 

Ivories and icicles

When Lynda Lybeck-Robinson says she’s in “Dutch,” she means it quite literally. The former McMinnville resident and Linfield College graduate is talking about the Alaskan community called Unalaska, widely known as Dutch Harbor, or Dutch for short.

Unalaska takes its name from “Ounalashka,” meaning “near the peninsula” in Aleut.

Both the incorporated community of 4,800 and one of the two islands it occupies take the name Unalaska, even though they could hardly be more quintessentially Alaskan. The other island is Amaknak, home of the fishing port of Dutch Harbor.

More fish is caught and processed in Amaknak that any other port in the United States, even big Gulf Coast ports like Houston and New Orleans and major Pacific Coast ports like San Francisco and Seattle. Yes, Amaknak.

Unalaska’s native population is a mix of several ethnic identities, OnagAleut prominent among them.

When cruise ships dock, passengers in town for the day don’t have to contend with native souvenir peddlers or inflated tourist prices. The locals go about their business, paying the visitors no mind.

What you see is what you get. It is, unapologetically, itself.

Lybeck first laid eyes on Unalaska back in 1996. She had a contract in hand that guaranteed her a 10-week stint as a pianist at the Grand Aleutian Hotel.

Two years later, she was still in town teaching piano to locals. She’s pretty sure she pressed into service every piano that could be found in the area.

Her passionate love of music flourished, despite the sub-zero temperatures and hurricane-force winds that sweep across the Aleutian Peninsula. But she had one more thing on her lower 48 to-do list.

She attended Linfield College off and on between 1982 and 1992, absorbing most of what the school had to impart in the way of music education. She supplemented that with business and international studies.

In the interim, she toured internationally with Up With People, an organization that promotes better understanding among people around the globe through musical performance and cultural immersion.

But she did not yet have her degree in hand. A few stray credits and, most dauntingly, a math proficiency test, still stood in her way.

She returned to Oregon and at last earned her bachelor of arts in music. It was the culmination of a music education that included membership in the Twilighters, the much heralded, award-winning choral group at McMinnville High School, before she headed north.

“Doug Anderson was, without a doubt, my favorite teacher ,” she said, speaking of the group’s longtime director. “And I’ll always cherish the friendships I had with other Twilighters, especially Cami Nyquist. I always visit her when I’m back in Mac.”

Lybeck could now add educational achievement to accomplished pianist, vocalist, teacher, composer and arranger. CDs of her work, Looking Glass in 1993, and Behind the Mask in 1996, brought another dimension to the list.

Her travels as a solo artist, performing jazz, standards and originals, took her to Canada, Colombia, France, Japan, Norway, Peru, Turkey and throughout the western United States.

But in 2002, the call of the North beckoned once again. At the invitation of the Aleutian Arts Council, she returned to Unalaska to perform in concert.

That proved a turning point in her life.

Attending the concert was a charming fellow by the name of Dennis Robinson. The two met and before you knew it, Lynda Lybeck was adding Robinson to her last name.

The couple took their wedding vows atop 1,634-foot Mount Ballyhoo on Amaknak Island, then settled into their home in a town situated 800 miles from anywhere else.

They promptly started a family. Liam was born in 2003, Tristan in 2004 and Ashley in 2007.

As a descendant of Aleut (Unangan) royalty, Dennis made it a point to study the history of his people. Lynda shared that interest, and it has had a profound influence on her music.

Of Lynda’s seven CDs to date, two feature the Aleut culture, with two songs each in the native Unangan tongue. Local elders were consulted for proper translation and young descendants perform the songs in tribute to their cultural heritage.

Lybeck-Robinson is now a Hal Leonard client, which puts her in the company of all the greats in regard to published music.

Her most recent song, Willawaw, had its debut performance during the Hal Leonard Showcase at the Music Teachers National Association annual conference in New York City in March 2012.

Piano solos are arguably the most demanding of all, but they’re her bread and butter.

Willawaw was written specifically for piano students. It employs keying sequences that are semingly complex, but not too difficult, and reward the player with a rich, impressive sounding piece.

Since returning “home,” Lybeck-Robinson has worked with the city of Unalaska on an 8,000 square foot remodel of the community center, which now boasts a well-equipped music room and two sound-proofed practice rooms.

She also founded, and serves as CEO, of the Hearts and Hands non-profit. Its mission is to give annual music mentor scholarships to graduating Unalaska music students and host annual visiting musicians workshop clinicians.

Though the residents of Unalaska are most often the grateful recipients of her talents these days, Lybeck-Robinson regularly attends and leads workshops in the lower 48 as an MTNA member.

What she admits to liking most, however, is composing music for her piano students.

“I have about 40 students of all ages right now,” she said. “There’s nothing more gratifying than to see them improve.”

Karl Klooster can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at 503-687-1227.

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