The (Drum Circle) Beat Goes On at Vista Del Monte

People of all ages benefit from music therapy, with especially positive changes for people with autism; visual, motor, emotional, hearing, or cognitive disabilities; or high stress levels. With these benefits in mind, the residents and staff at Summer House —which is the memory-care unit at Vista del Monte retirement care community (vistadelmonte.org)
— regularly participate in drum circles.

“The sound waves and the sound of the drums and the feel of the drums are very
powerful for those who have cognitive issues,” said Helene Hellstern, the life
enrichment director for Vista del Monte, where residents gather in a common area called The Alcove every Tuesday and Thursday. “When we tell people we are doing a drum circle, they are very willing to come to that activity, and we typically have at least a dozen
people if not more.”

First are exercises to warm up their hands and get energized. Then Hellstern uses a 70-inch computer screen to broadcast images of nature or from a particular country or culture that’s especially stimulating. “Then we start the drumming,” she said, explaining that groups are typically led by Karen Rojas. “We’ll just do different rhythms, and we’ll have the residents repeat those. And we always incorporate having the residents do their own little rhythm, and so it’s just one person doing their rhythm, and we all repeat it.”

The music, the exposure to community, and the physical activity are all beneficial. “A lot of our residents have mobility issues or are non-ambulatory, so we tend to just use hand movements — although if people want to tap their feet, that’s definitely encouraged,” said Hellstern. “The movement of the arms or the drumming itself is a really good movement. It energizes the whole body and the sound waves, because the drum is on their body—they really feel it as well as hear it.”

And there’s science as to how this helps people with memory issues. “They have
determined that music in particular sets off most areas of the brain,” she said. “And not just drumming, but other music often triggers their long-term memory.”

The drums have become a therapy tool beyond the circles as well. “Sometimes, we will just get the drums out if whatever we have planned isn’t quite working — everyone responds really well to that,” she said. “A truly holistic healing approach, group drumming breaks down social barriers, promotes freedom of expression, nonverbal communication,
unity, and cooperation.”

See vistadelmonte.org.

Originally published in The Santa Barbara Independent on August 12, 2021. Cover photo by Erick Madrid. To read this special section as it originally appeared in print, click here.

UCSB Arts & Lectures Patron Spotlight: Audrey & Timothy O. Fisher

Event sponsors and A&L Council member Tim & Audrey Fisher with Joe Biden. Photo: UCSB Arts & Lectures.

For a town of its size, the cultural life of Santa Barbara is impressively full, say patrons Tim and Audrey Fisher. The couple have been involved with UCSB Arts & Lectures (A&L) since they bought a home in Montecito in 2000, and attended their first performance at Campbell Hall shortly afterward.

Miller McCune Executive Director Celesta Billeci and her team introduced themselves at intermission and the rest, as they say, is history. “We’ve been great friends ever since – we just love them,” says Audrey, a fashion designer and the retired president of a custom couture clothing business.

Tim was part of the creation of the Arts & Lectures Council in 2013. “We raised 25 million over three years and that really financially created a much better environment for A&L,” said the longtime businessman and philanthropist, who recently retired after more than 45 years of leadership in The Hillman Company. As a Council member, Tim guided the establishment of A&L’s legacy giving program and advocated enthusiastically for planned giving.

Audrey is a big fan of A&L’s expansive dance programs, as well as “the variety and the fact that they bring in just about every student, all ages. I like the educational aspect of it and exposing these kids to absolutely world-renowned performers and having it be a part of their everyday lives. … The cultural life is so enriched here.”

As for Tim’s favorite A&L memories, he says, “There have been so many over the years, but I would say most recently Joe Biden was really outstanding. He was very generous with his time and he did a Q&A and interacted with the students. I think it was really special.”

The Fishers recently made a generous donation to the endowment fund, which is important for arts funding, as Tim explains. “The reason nonprofits are called nonprofits is they don’t make money. What an endowment does is it creates a strong capital base. For instance, during this shutdown period A&L would really be struggling financially without the resources of the endowment. Endowments provide financial stability and they are also important because you don’t want the executive directors of nonprofits spending all their time raising money.”

Adds Audrey, “One reason that my foundation decided to support the endowment is because it’s the least appealing gift option for many contributors. It’s the hardest money to raise because people traditionally want to see what they are paying for. While we enjoy sponsoring performances, which we do every year, I think the endowments are kind of a lonely lost child in the family (laughs) and they really need support. I think when people become educated about their merits they do support endowments because there is a security factor.”

Supporting A&L is a family affair for the Fishers. As chair and a trustee of the Audrey Hillman Fisher Foundation, Audrey has given generously to A&L. Their son Matthew has sponsored musical performances and Tim and Audrey have supported a variety of events over the years, ranging from Joe Biden to the Vienna Philharmonic.

The Fisher family also sponsored the Forces of Nature environmental series in 2019-2020, in memory of their son Brooks, who was very good friends with filmmaker and environmentalist James Balog. “They used to go on these incredible exploits together,” says Audrey. Tim adds, “He was a friend of our son, who was an ardent conservationist. I think that for A&L cleaning up the environment is such a strong theme as it is in this country and globally. It’s a very worthy cause to support.”

The Fishers split their time between Santa Barbara and their hometown of Pittsburgh, and the cultural offerings of A&L make it easier for them to go from a bigger place to a smaller place. “In the early ’70s Jack Heinz created the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust which is a really big arts organization. Their budget is over 50 million and they have five theaters and they own a lot of downtown real estate. It’s a big operation, but I would say that we probably attend more events per year in Santa Barbara,” says Tim. “The cultural life here is every bit as full, in large part thanks to A&L.”

This story was originally published by UCSB Arts & Lectures. To see it as it originally appeared, please click here.

Streaming Culture

Originally published in the November 2020 issue of 805 Living Magazine.

Necessity is certainly the mother of invention these days, and performing arts organizations are pivoting in creative ways to bring entertainment directly to home audiences.

“Music is the common denominator that brings humans together, no matter the time or the place in history,” says New West Symphony (newwestsymphony.org/2020-
21-virtual-season) CEO Natalia Staneva.

With that in mind, Staneva and the symphony’s artistic and music director, Michael Christie, have developed Global Sounds, eight mini music concerts and festivals inspired by cultures from around the world and presented virtually through June 2021.

“We discovered that our community contains a variety of cultures with vibrant musical traditions that have inspired and influenced classical music composers for generations,” says Christie. “And thus was born the concept of turning each concert experience into a mini cultural festival.”

Along with the orchestra performing symphonic works, each concert week will feature in-depth interviews with cultural experts and solo and ensemble performances of orchestra members and guest artists. Visit the website for tickets and more details.

UCSB Arts & Lectures (artsandlectures.ucsb.edu) brings cultural events home with House Calls, an interactive, online series of concerts, conversations, and question-and-answer sessions with musicians like Danish String Quartet and Rhiannon Giddens and authors such as Anne Lamott and Cheryl Strayed.

“House Calls is one way that Arts & Lectures is serving our community during a time when people are craving connection,” says Celesta M. Billeci, UCSB Arts & Lectures Miller McCune executive director, “to each other as well as to the major issues our nation and our world is facing right now.” For more information about individual events or to purchase tickets, visit the website or call 805-893-3535.

Cover of 805 Living Magazine, November 2020. This story originally appeared in 805 Living Magazine, November 2020. Click here to see the section as it originally appeared in print.

2020 Best of Santa Barbara

From Santa Barbara Independent, Best Of Issue cover, October 15, 2020.

From Santa Barbara Independent, Best Of Issue cover, October 15, 2020.

I had the honor of writing the Santa Barbara Independent‘s Best of Santa Barbara winners once again this year. It was a huge, fun project, and a little easier the second time around.  Even (or maybe especially) in this weird year, people were so happy to hear from me and so excited to have won! You can read the whole thing by clicking here, or on the PDFs below.

Introduction + Eating 770 10-15-20_Part1

Eating 770 10-15-20_Part2

Eating, Drink, Out & About + Romance 770 10-15-20_Part3

Romance 770 10-15-20_Part4

Romance, Looking Good, Living Well, Sporting Life, Little Creatures, Housing + Driving 770 10-15-20_Part5

Driving + Media 770 10-15-20_Part6

Faces in the Crowd: Michael Christie

Faces In the Crowd: Michael Christie, photo by Gary Moss. This story appeared in 805 Living, December 2019.

Faces In the Crowd: Michael Christie, photo by Gary Moss. This story appeared in 805 Living, December 2019.

THE NEW MUSIC DIRECTOR OF NEW WEST SYMPHONY BRINGS HIS GRAMMY AWARD–WINNING TALENT TO THE VENTURA COUNTY ENSEMBLE’S 25TH SEASON.

After winning the 2019 Best Opera Recording Grammy Award for The (R)evolution of Steve JobsNew West Symphony’s (newwestsymphony.org) new music director Michael Christie is bringing his own kind of (r)evolution to the West Coast.

“We threw a lot at the audience,” Christie says of his first concerts in his new role with the Thousand Oaks–based symphony this past October. “Our concert format is slightly tweaked,” he says, “and we had our new venue [Rancho Campana Performing Arts Center in Camarillo], so people had a fair amount to take in.”

Patrons were treated to a Gershwin concerto, Corigliano’s “Salute” with kazoos, and a “Scheherazade” performance that Los Angeles Times critic Mark Swed praised as, “supplying far and away the most spectacular playing from what should no longer be considered a regional symphony.”

“The biggest difference,” says Christie, “is that we are using intermission as an opportunity for people to experience some new things if they choose.” This includes a question-and-answer session with the guest artist and an entr’acte. Up next is the global celebration of Beethoven’s 250th birthday on January 25 and 26, featuring the Eroica Trio, whom Christie calls, “three very vibrant, genius women who are just amazing [with] the energy that they bring.”

Christie has led top orchestras all over the world and served as music director for Minnesota Opera, The Phoenix Symphony, and the Brooklyn Philharmonic (now defunct). He now lives part-time in Ventura County, while his wife, Alexis, who is a physician, and their two children are in Minneapolis.

Much of the life of a musician-conductor is spent on the road, says Christie, a trumpeter, who first conducted when his middle school band director let him give it a try back in Buffalo, New York. “I was never sure how one became a conductor,” he says. “I just knew I wanted to know more about it. People were very generous with their time and always willing to answer questions.”

In February he’ll pay it forward with a one-month teaching and conducting stint at Indiana University. Christie is eager to communicate with students about the duties of an American music director, which he says, “are very specific to our particular situation of creating artistic vision and raising lots of money. It’s very particular to our country. I feel a great sense of responsibility for helping to convey that information, having lived it for the last 25 years. It’s fun to be asked to help the next generation start to figure that out.

“We [music directors] are the face of the organization in many ways,” Christie says. “We should be viewed by our audience as open, friendly, fun, and adventurous but also sensible, engaging, and concerned for our community, what it’s going through, and what it’s aspiring to be. And none of those words really say Mozart or Gershwin,” he says, laughing. “It’s all kind of wrapped together.”

Leslie Dinaberg

805 Living cover Dec. 2019Click here to read this story as it appeared in 805 Living magazine, December 2019 805 Living Faces in the Crowd Dec 2019

Bells Will Be Ringing

Performance by university carillonist Wesley Arai celebrates the 50th anniversary of Storke Tower

By Leslie Dinaberg

Tuesday, August 20, 2019 – 12:00, Santa Barbara, CA

University Carillonist Wesley Arai, courtesy photo.

University Carillonist Wesley Arai, courtesy photo.

From a small space atop Storke Tower, the music Wesley Arai creates on a 61-bell carillon rings out across the UC Santa Barbara campus.

Audiences will be treated to a special program Sunday, Aug. 25, when Arai, the university carillonist, gives a recital as part of series celebrating the 50th anniversary of Storke Tower. Free and open to the public, the concert begins at 2 p.m. Listeners are encouraged to bring blankets or lawn chairs to sit on the grass beneath the tower.

“I realize that most people aren’t familiar with the carillon, so I try to make my recitals accessible and varied,” said Arai, who also oversees the maintenance of the instrument and organizes guest carillon recitals as part of his duties. The summer concert will include well-known classical music, popular songs and some music written specifically for the carillon. As a tribute to the 50th anniversary, Arai said, “I’ve been trying to also include music that is significant to the university and its carillon. Going with that theme, the concert will likely include some music written for the campus carillon, music written by past university carillonists and school songs.”

Arai, also a lecturer in the Department of Music, has performed extensively across the United States and abroad. He has recently performed in Australia, at the Eighth Berkeley Carillon Festival, at the Springfield International Carillon Festival and at the Congress of the Guild of Carillonneurs in North America, which this year took place in Lake Wales, Florida. In addition, he gave the dedicatory recital for the carillon at the University of Washington. Arai also performs annually at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Spokane, Washington.

In addition to the carillon, Arai has studied piano, trombone and voice, and has performed in a variety of concert bands, marching bands, jazz bands, orchestras and choral groups. He also enjoys arranging music and occasionally performs some of his own arrangements on the carillon.

An alumnus of UC Berkeley, where he received bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and in statistics, Arai discovered the carillon as an undergraduate student. “I would hear the bells all the time while walking to class,” he said, “and I heard there was a class to learn how to play — so I signed up and have been playing ever since.”

Enthusiastic to share his passion and skill, Arai invites UC Santa Barbara students interested in learning to play the Storke Tower carillon to email him at warai at gmail dot com to schedule a piano audition. Enrollment is limited to three students per quarter.

Storke Tower and its carillon were a gift from Thomas More Storke, former publisher of the Santa Barbara News-Press. The instrument consists of 61 bells cast by Petit & Fritsen of the Netherlands, with the bells weighing from 18 pounds to 2.5 tons and spanning five octaves. The carillon at UC Santa Barbara is a much larger modern copy of historical instruments that were invented approximately 500 years ago in the Low Countries of Europe. Then, tower bells were used to signal time, much like a clock chime, and as a means of additional notifications (e.g. an enemy is approaching) and directives, such as to close the city gates or go to church.

Eventually, the number of bells was increased and they were connected to a keyboard to facilitate the performance of music. A melody was often played to attract the attention of the townspeople before the hour bell tolled the time throughout the day. A carillon is played with the fists and feet, and the action is completely mechanical. To vary the dynamics of the music, the performer must strike the key harder or use a lighter touch, much like a piano.

Originally published in The Current (UCSB) on August 20, 2019.

New York Polyphony

New York Polyphony, photo by Chris Owyoung.

New York Polyphony, photo by Chris Owyoung.

The New Yorker calls them, “Singers of superb musicianship and vocal allure.” National Public Radio praises New York Polyphony for a “rich, natural sound that’s larger and more complex than the sum of its parts.”

Hear them for yourself when UCSB Arts & Lectures presents the two-time Grammy Award-nominated vocal chamber ensemble New York Polyphony in its Santa Barbara debut on Wednesday, February 20 at 7 p.m. at Music Academy of the West’s Hahn Hall (1070 Fairway Rd., Santa Barbara).

The provocative program Faith and Reason includes Thomas Tallis’ Mass for Four Voices and Gregory Brown’s Missa Charles Darwin—the inspiration behind his brother Dan Brown’s latest Da Vinci Code novel—which honors the conventions of its musical antecedents but replaces sacred texts with excerpts from Darwin’s writings. Of special note, this performance marks the return of Music Academy of the West alumnus Christopher Dylan Herbert, the group’s baritone, to his alma mater.

For tickets or more information, call UCSB Arts & Lectures at 805/893-3535 or purchase online at ArtsAndLectures.UCSB.edu

Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on February 19, 2019.

Danish String Quartet

Danish String Quartet, photo by Caroline Bittencourt.

Danish String Quartet, photo by Caroline Bittencourt.

The Danish String Quartet returns to Santa Barbara this week for two beautiful nights of music presented by UCSB Arts & Lectures.

First up, a salon-style program of Nordic folk on Tuesday, Feb. 12 at 7 p.m. at Rockwood. Then on Wednesday, Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. they will perform a classical program of Haydn, Abrahamsen and Nielsen at UCSB Campbell Hall.

Nominated for a 2019 Grammy Award, the Danish String Quartet—Frederik Øland (Violin); Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen (Violin); Asbjørn Nørgaard (Viola); Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin (Cello)—is an internationally acclaimed chamber music group. As the Boston Globe reports, “Do not lose track of this group. Even by today’s high standards, it offers something very special.” 

Danish String Quartet, photo by Caroline Bittencourt.

Danish String Quartet, photo by Caroline Bittencourt.

“The quartet’s crystalline sound conjures a magical atmosphere and nods to the strident tone of Nordic fiddle playing,” writes The Strad (U.K.).  

These four Nordic lads have played together since childhood and possess “warmth, wit, a beautiful tone and technical prowess second to none” (NPR).

Violinists Frederik Øland and Rune Tonsgaard Sørenson and Viola player Asbjorn Norgaard met as children at a music summer camp where they played soccer and made music together. As teenagers, they began the study of classical chamber music and were mentored by Tim Frederiksen of Copenhagen’s Royal Danish Academy of Music. In 2008, the three Danes were joined by Norwegian cellist Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin.

For tickets or more information, call UCSB Arts & Lectures at 805/893-3535 or purchase online at ArtsAndLectures.UCSB.edu

Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on February 11, 2019.

Cocktail Corner: Constellation Pop-Up at Hotel Californian

A spirited toast to all things alcoholic! by Leslie Dinaberg

Looking for something fun to do to chase those winter blues away. Why not check out the first-ever foodie, wine, mixology & indie music weekend at Hotel Californian (36 State St., Santa Barbara) from January 25-27.

“This is the first of a new quarterly weekend series that will bring inspiring culinary, musical and cultural experiences to Santa Barbara’s hip Funk Zone neighborhood,” says Niki Jenson, who represents Hotel Californian.  

Featuring chefs, indie musicians, vibey DJ beats and community vintners, this sounds like something that shouldn’t be missed. Highlights include Friday night’s “meet the makers” opening night reception with a vibey beats from Boom Forest, along with Bittercube Cocktails, Potek Wine and light bites.

There will be a Bittercube mixology class—the Seven Pillars of Classic Cocktails—on Saturday in Hotel Californian’s sexy new Djinn lobby bar. Bittercube is a Wisconsin-based line of densely flavored cocktail bitters that are created by hand with real botanicals, taking as long as 25 days to complete the process. 

As part of Hotel Californian's Constellation Pop Up Weekend, Bittercube co-founder Ira Koplowitz will host a mixology class, complete with cocktail tasting and curated snacks. Courtesy photo.

As part of Hotel Californian’s Constellation Pop Up Weekend, Bittercube co-founder Ira Koplowitz will host a mixology class, complete with cocktail tasting and curated snacks. Courtesy photo.

Saturday evening features a chef & winemaker reception and six-course dinner from Guest Chefs Justin Carlisle & Chris Mangless, featuring wines by Russel From of Herman Story (Paso Robles), Vailia Esh of Desparada (Paso Robles), and Dave Potter (who we just featured in the winter issue of Santa Barbara Seasons) of Municipal Winemakers (22 Anacapa St., Santa Barbara).

 

Later that night (Jan. 26) is an indie pop-up concert with Langhorne Slim, Stelth Ulvang of The Lumineers and Chris Porterfield of Field Report.

Stelth Ulvang – Clocktower (live at Scandinavia) from The Sights Of Sounds on Vimeo.

And if that’s not enough excitement, Sunday features a winemaker brunch featuring wines from Dave Potter of Municipal Winemakers.

Tickets are still available, click here to access them (choose among individual event tickets or two VIP Packages). This should be a really fun weekend. I hope to see some of you there.

Cheers! Click here for more Cocktail Corner columns.

Leslie Dinaberg

When she’s not busy working as the editor of Santa Barbara SEASONS, Cocktail Corner author Leslie Dinaberg writes magazine articles, newspaper columns and grocery lists. When it comes to cocktails, Leslie believes variety is the spice of life. Send your suggestions to Leslie@sbseasons.com.

 

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on January 21, 2019.

 

 

Jon Batiste

Jon Batiste, photo by Ambo Elliot.

Jon Batiste, photo by Ambo Elliot.

Jazz musician Jon Batiste, bandleader on The Late Show with Steven Colbert, makes his Santa Barbara debut on Friday, January 11 at 8 p.m. at UCSB Campbell Hall, in a UCSB Arts & Lectures presentation.

Wynton Marsalis describes him as “an elegant and electric performer with an unbelievably rich palette of techniques and styles rooted in New Orleans soul.”

Batiste is seen by millions on television five nights a week on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. “The energy and the excitement, the love of the audience, the humanism that he brings to his music is everything that I want,” says Colbert.

With his soulful brand of high-energy pop mixed with New Orleans funk and American jazz standards, his 2013 album Social Music with his band Stay Human topped the charts as the No. 1 jazz album in the world. His new album was recorded in a church in native city of New Orleans and produced by T Bone Burnett. Batiste’s major label debut, Hollywood Africans, is a stunning showcase of the brilliant pianist and vocalist. Primarily just Batiste and his piano, it includes standards, unexpected covers and original songs. This release displays Batiste’s dynamic talents and highlights his musicality and virtuosity on his instrument.

The Forbes 30 under 30 honoree balances a demanding performance schedule—which often includes his signature, impromptu ‘love riot’ street parades—with his role as bandleader on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Artistic Director At Large of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, public speaking engagements, master classes and occasional acting gigs. He played himself on the HBO series Treme and most recently appeared in director Spike Lee‘s Red Hook Summer.

Batiste is also a coveted artist brand ambassador– currently featured in ad campaigns for Chase Bank, the Apple Watch, Lincoln Continental and numerous fashion brands including Polo Ralph Lauren Black Label, Frye, Kate Spade, Jack Spade Barneys, Nordstrom and H&M.

For tickets or more information, call UCSB Arts & Lectures at 805/893-3535 or purchase online at www.ArtsAndLectures.UCSB.edu.

Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on January 9, 2019.