Elder was born to American parents in India, where they were
teaching for two years. Her parents chose a common Sanskrit
name for her which means peace. Her family moved a lot as she
was growing up, and she grew up listening to a large variety
of music, including classical, folk and Broadway songs.
From second to sixth grade, her father gave her piano lessons.
Then in seventh grade she began playing the violin with a wonderful
older Swiss violin teacher, Mrs. Beatrice Hagen. In high school
Shonti taught herself to play guitar.
After being in the Oberlin College orchestra, and moving to
Boston for graduate school, she and a friend discovered bluegrass
music at a festival in Union Grove, North Carolina. Right away,
they came back to Boston, bought some bluegrass tune books and
some records and dove into the bluegrass scene. Despite weekly
“band” practices, they never performed anywhere,
but they really had fun.
When Shonti moved to Minnesota for a Television Production job,
she met a dynamic family, the Stiers, and was invited to join
their band as fiddler. For two years she played with Welcome
Home, and made a self-titled album. Then she and some friends
went to Alaska for a vacation in 1977.
The plan was to stay for six weeks, but she’s still here.
Everywhere the group went, calling themselves the Open Road
String Band, they were hired to play. They filled all the empty
spots at the State Fair in Palmer Alaska, and toured all over
the road system. Later, with the Finally Tuned String Band,
Shonti toured the Alaska Peninsula and the Yukon-Koyukuk School
Districts. Later bands included the Bering Sea Ramblers, The
Lunch Bunch, and Jubilee.
Some of the musicians that Shonti’s bands opened for were
Newgrass Revival, Tony Rice, and Claudia Schmidt.
She became a folk music program host on KSKA Anchorage Public
Radio (FM 91.1) in 1978, and has had a program ever since. Her
current show is Traveling Music, every other Sunday from noon
to 2 PM. She especially enjoys playing the music of Alaskan
and visiting musicians.
In 1986, she married Alaskan born Bill Frey and they have two
musical children; daughter Kluonie and son Devin. They live
in the Matanuska Valley, about 45 miles from Anchorage.
For thirteen years, Shonti was a staff member at KSKA Public
Radio as Volunteer Coordinator, and additionally Operations
Director for the last five years of her work there. In 1994
she went back to school and switched careers to become a public
school music teacher. For the last ten years, she’s taught
choir and orchestra in the Eagle River area.
She has made two recordings of original songs with her Fairbanks
friend Will Putman; Northwords and Homefires. She is also on
the Jubilee instrumental recording: A Welcome Sound. Shonti
has added vocals and / or fiddle on the recordings of Robin
Hopper, Susan Grace, Maggie Grady, LaMoyne, Marrianne Zak and
She’s currently still a member of Jubilee, a lively dance
band, and Wings to Fly, a trio featuring contemporary songwriters.
Shonti’s newest recording of original songs, "BowDrawn"
was released in March, 2010.
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Elder - fiddler, singer, teacher, and recording artist from Wasilla,