[Noozhawk’s note: Third in a series sponsored by the Hutton Parker Foundation. Click here for the first story, and click here for the second.]
Classical music inspires rock stars, provides the soundtrack for blockbuster movies, lends cachet to classy restaurants and adds a spark to product advertisement. With its five-prong approach to education, the Santa Barbara Symphony is molding a new generation of builders, performers, scientists and leaders influenced by classic works of musical art.
“Researchers have told us time and time again how music influences us, influences success in classes, improves skills in so many aspects of our lives, which turns us into more successful people and a more successful community,” said Nir Kabaretti, the symphony’s music and artistic director.
As a lifelong enthusiast of classical music, Kabaretti perhaps is biased, but he’s not wrong.
Studies have shown the direct impact that background music has on shoppers’ decisions, temporary improvements in focus among students who listen to Wolfgang Mozart before attacking spatial reasoning problems, and stress reduction in a number of settings.
“The symphony has a responsibility to create the next generation of musicians and audience members,” executive director Kevin Marvin told Noozhawk. “With our programs that cover a five-step continuum from third grade through college and about 10,000 kids each year, we’re filling the gaps where maybe schools or others can’t because of budget constraints.”
While it may seem illogical, the primary goal of the Santa Barbara Symphony Music Education Center isn’t to groom the next concertmaster or raise a new section of strings.
“It’s about keeping music relevant, about educating a new generation of people who understand music, who promote it, who perform it, who listen,” Marvin said. “It’s about making classical music cool.”
The symphony spends about $500,000 each year on school-age education programs. The earliest outreach involves dozens of volunteers who travel with the symphony’s award-winning Music Van program to elementary schools throughout Santa Barbara County. The docents introduce third-grade students to woodwind, brass, string and percussion instruments that they encourage students to see, hear, touch and play.
“Everything we do is about education, making it a fun experience, an emotional experience,” Marvin said. “If you think about it, 400 years ago, the people who wrote this music were the rock stars of their time.
“We’re constantly looking at ways, through programming and marketing, to make this music not only relevant but exciting, something you don’t want to miss.”
The symphony’s BRAVO! program takes youth music literacy to the next level by providing student opportunities to view live performances. It also provides free music instruction at elementary schools in the Goleta, Hope and Santa Barbara school districts.
“People have stories remembering when they first saw a performance in The Granada, or when they performed there when they were in Youth Symphony,” said Kate Kurlas, the Santa Barbara Symphony’s vice president of marketing and strategic revenue initiatives.
“Once their kids are out of the house, they come back and enjoy the music again. It’s powerful stuff.”
A grant from the Santa Barbara Bowl Foundation provides student instruments for the programs.
“It’s important to be educated about this kind of music, just like it’s important to learn about classic literature,” Kabaretti noted. “These are humanity’s treasures. We should never take them for granted. We should protect them, be exposed to them, be familiar with them.”
For more serious musicians ages 9 to 14, the Junior Ensembles provide an experience for string, woodwind, brass and percussion players who commit to meeting throughout the school year. The program includes transportation, access to instruments and instruction.
“When you look at demographics in that program, the majority are coming from schools where, economically and culturally, they would not necessarily have had this option if it weren’t for the symphony, our volunteers and supporters,” Marvin said. “It’s really a huge deal.”
As young musicians improve their skills, so, too, the symphony steps up its game. Musicians ages 12 to 18 are invited to audition for the opportunity to join the Santa Barbara Youth Symphony, which offers increasingly prestigious performance opportunities.
“It’s important for the kids to connect with other kids, to develop the ability to play and work in ensembles, to sit together with other people making music,” Kabaretti said. “It’s important, especially in times of national problems, to be able to listen to each other. In music, we have to do it every day.”
Loribeth Gregory-Beck, the symphony’s director of education and community engagement, added: “Art is a form of human expression, a way of connecting. It’s a very social act. There’s something inherently communal about it.”
Chamber orchestra opportunities also may arise from this group, and they may be the students who choose to study music in college or otherwise take training to the next level with mentorships, pre-professional development, or engage in intensive programs such as Idyllwild, Interlochen or concerto competitions.
“We really want to look at the whole child, the experience, what we can provide that others can’t,” Marvin said. “It’s not only instruction, but nurturing to help that student achieve what they want to achieve, either by providing instruments, providing instruction and opportunity to perform, providing them the life lessons that performing in an ensemble affords.”
The symphony caps off its youth education program with Musical Mentors, which matches guest artists performing with the Santa Barbara Symphony to local schools, community groups and nonprofit organizations.
“People don’t need to master an instrument or become professional to appreciate music,” Kabaretti explained. “We are happy to support them if they want to move on, but we want to help them become familiar with the music so when they hear an orchestra, they recognize the sound, they have that vocabulary that helps develop our minds in other areas as well.”
The Santa Barbara Symphony’s education programs, however, don’t stop when students move on to college. Instead, they are offered through every performance, from the pre-performance lectures to the musical interludes themselves.
“There are people who didn’t grow up hearing Beethoven or Brahms,” Kabaretti said. “It’s never too late to learn.
“Not every performance requires the patience of sitting through a two-hour concert. That’s why we bring in pops — symphonic arrangements of The Beatles, Broadway, music people love, music they know how to get up and dance to.”
In March, the symphony will screen the classic film Amadeus while providing a live performance of the entire soundtrack.
“Today, among the most important composers is John Williams,” Kabaretti said. “He composes gorgeous music for film, but instead of hearing a recording through a P.A., we’ll let our audience experience that music live.
“It’s really cool because you have to be perfectly synchronized with the film. It’s fascinating.”
Most important, Kabaretti and Marvin want people to step through those doors to experience the symphony, whether it’s for the first time or the thousandth.
“For people who don’t know us, don’t be afraid,” Kabaretti said. “Don’t think that because you grew up in an environment where classical music wasn’t played, that you’re excluded.
“This is an experience that’s not similar to any other experience. It really is for everyone.”
Marvin said he has seen the changes a single performance can make for a patron.
“I stand at the front when people come in and when they leave,” he said. “I notice a difference. They’re happy. The performance has brought back a memory. They’ve gotten respite.”
Click here for more information about the Santa Barbara Symphony. Click here to make an online donation.
— Noozhawk contributing writer Jennifer Best can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.