Even in the face of a freeze on live music, Santa Barbara’s cultural life has been down, but not out. While we were all mostly quarantined at home, we still heard many notable workaround projects, including those presented by UCSB Arts & Lectures, the Santa Barbara Symphony, the Music Academy of the West, Opera Santa Barbara (those great Ventura drive-ins!), and streaming concerts from the Lobero and the Marjorie Luke theaters.
To that distinguished list, the UCSB Music Department must be added for putting its considerable energy and resources into presenting multiple virtual concerts, often with performers syncing from far-flung locales. Challenges have been plentiful, but the music — and curriculum — must out.
The department’s semester-end concerts reached an impressive pitch this month with a slate of shows that, thanks to a positive twist in the online music realm, will remain available indefinitely on the Music Department’s YouTube channel. Online viewers can now soak in such options as the Gospel Choir, Chamber Orchestra, and Young Artists String Quartet, along with pianist Natasha Kislenko’s delightful program of rarely heard music by “Les Six” composers.
Two of these recent online concerts, one by the Chamber Choir led by Nicole Lamartine and the other by UCSB Jazz Ensemble led by Jon Nathan, utilized pioneering technology with thanks to a faculty member at another Santa Barbara institution. Starting last fall, Santa Barbara City College music professor and jazz band director Jim Mooy became the first adopter of the interacted interactive Jamulus software in the United States. Jamulus allows internet-connected musicians to perform together live, minus the inherent latency problem of such programs as Zoom.
Mooy has championed Jamulus all over town, first by using it to present SBCC Jazz Ensemble concerts, and then by sharing it with other educators, including everyone from Stephen Hughes at La Colina Junior High to the students and faculty of the UCSB Music Department. In the case of these two UCSB performances, Mooy also participated as the live mixer. In Voila, the Chamber Choir used the technology to create an impressive choral weave. The Jazz Ensemble concert demonstrated how the Jamulus platform can even accommodate the tricky jazz-centric attributes of swing and improvisation.
One of the Music Department’s most valuable long-standing traditions has been its Ensemble for Contemporary Music (ECM) concerts, and this one represented a significant juncture for the program, which was founded by composer William Kraft in the early 1990s and led by composer Jeremy Haladyna until just last year. The ECM is now in good hands with a talented new director, Dr. Sarah Gibson.
Gibson offered a hint of her agenda and predilections with a program featuring two young, living composers—Aidan Gold, was born in 1997, and Nicole Chamberlain, whose Crosswalk was a ripe solo showcase for graduating UCSB flutist Jordana Schaeffer. The program’s centerpiece came from the late, great Pauline Oliveros, a philosophical advocate of “deep listening,” whose entrancing new music ideals were highly individualistic.
Oliveros’s Thirteen Changes for Malcolm Goldstein (1986) involves lines of text upon which musicians interpret and pass forward materials to others. The ensemble for Thirteen Changes included Stewart Engart on accordion, which was Oliveros’s instrument of choice. After the opening, “Standing naked in the moonlight — Music washing the body,” other sections, including “Songs of ancient mothers among awesome rocks” and “Rollicking monkeys landing on Mars,” were accompanied by lyrical abstract visual components courtesy of the UCSB Art Department.
During the jazz ensemble concert, leader Nathan thanked Mooy for his technical help, adding, with a laugh, “I hope we never have to do this again.” Yes, but thankfully, resourceful retooling such as this gave us something to listen to and think about from our bunkers.