Creative Inspiration and Earl Scruggs

We’re gearing up for Earl Scruggs’ performance here in Royce Hall tomorrow night. The 88-year-old musical treasure only makes four tour stops a year and we’re incredibly proud to be one of them this year. It’s going to be a lively and inspiring evening from a true legend who has had a major influence on pretty much every bluegrass musician who’s picked up an instrument over the last 50 years.

That includes UCLA’s very own Bluegrass and Old Time String Band (yep, we’ve got one of those!). These talented students got into the spirit of Scruggs visit by making up new lyrics set to the Bill Monroe tune “Shady Grove.” (Scruggs was a member of Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys early in his career.)

Check out the original tune at this fun clip from “The Andy Griffith Show” and then take a look at the new original lyrics the UCLA students wrote.

Turnips in the wintertime
Tulips in the spring
When I get my money made
I’ll buy you a diamond ring

If I had a moonshine still
I’d fill it up with grain
Siphon off the hundred proof
And commence to kill my brain

I’ve spent my summer cutting veins
Not mine of course nor yours
I’ve spent my summer cutting veins
Of leaves I speak of course

I went down to Charlie’s store
To pick me up some bread T
here I saw that boogey-boo
Holdin’ Little Maggie’s hand

Goin to the mountain top
Getting a point of view
But a thirdway climbing I just stopped

Daddy drinks his whiskey
Momma drinks her wine
Grandma prays to the Lord
While Grandpa makes moonshine

All ye good folk gather round
And hear my tale of Shady
I left my dear grove long ago
I swear tis not my baby

There’s a woody spot in Oaklandtown
Ain’t never touched by light
Where the little green leaves of the redwood trees
Keep it dark as the starry night

Momma said “get you a wife”
and then you’ll be a man
But I still feel just like a child
When Mary takes my hand

Stuck here sitting on the bus,
With a stinky B.O man,
The boogey-boo’s after us,
We’re going as fast as we can

And here’s a peek at the UCLA group performing the Scruggs classic “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.”

‘A Strange Little Encore’

That’s what Pulitzer Prize winning composer David Lang affectionately calls Stuttered Chant, a short piece he wrote for Evelyn Glennie and Maya Beiser specifically to perform together as UCLA Live brings the eclectic percussionist and stunning cellist to the stage together for the first time November 11 in Royce Hall.

“I’ve worked with both of them very very closely for a very long time and I know them very well,” Lang said. “The idea to write something for them came out of me finding out they were sharing a concert but they had no music to play together. I thought, ‘that’s terrible, these two friends of mine should be able to play together.”

Lang’s inspiration for the work was incredibly visual, he said. He imagined Glennie and Beiser walking out on stage together, sitting as equals and playing exactly the same music, both performing on cellos, albeit each playing the music in her own inherent style and interpretation.

“They’re both so lively and so up for any challenge, I really wanted to make a piece where it wouldn’t be a melody and accompaniment,” Lang said. “They are very exciting players and really dramatic. When you think of them as performers, you imagine how fiery they look when they play. They are both really alive onstage. Just the idea of seeing them do that together, side-by-side, at exactly the same time in unison, it became a very powerful image for me.”

Lang, who grew up “across the street from Royce Hall,” seems delighted that his friends are appearing together and said he hopes the four-minute piece will serve as a very special capper to the evening.

A journey through China from an artistic master: Wu Man’s Ancient Dances

By Steve Hochman

“The whole evening will be a journey,” says Wu Man, leading virtuoso of the pipa, the demanding lute that threads through centuries of music from her native China. “We will take the audience on a journey from ancient times to modern China. What the 8th century sounded like, and then music of the Cultural Revolution in the ‘60s and ‘70s and then now, the 2000s, what does an American-based composer write for this instrument?”

The latter, the centerpiece of Wu Man’s Royce Hall program, is Ancient Dances, a gripping multi-media collaboration between her, Guangzhou-born/New York-based composer Chen Yi, percussionist Bob Schulz and video artist Kathleen Owen. The music draws inspiration from the 8th century Tang Dynasty poetry of Li Bai and ancient Chinese calligraphy, but also the 20th/21st century classical Chinese art of Wu Man’s own father.

“The three movements are all composed, none are traditional,” she says, noting each movement is titled for a Li Bai poem — “Cheering,” “Longing” and “Wondering.” “But the material came from traditional music. The first movement, written by Chen Li, is very much her language with a little bit of Chinese folk music, very fast. The second movement which I composed, I wanted to go back to ancient pipa repertoire, very slow, meditative. The scale is something I took from an ancient tune, 9th century, discovered in Dung Huang Cave in western China, very close to Central Asia. And the third movement, Chen Li composed, again using some ancient styles, very lyrical and slow and percussive.”

Behind the musicians, on two vertical screens images move and transform in Owen’s flowing program. The music and visuals are not meant to be synchronized as literal matches — the music includes improvisational elements and the length and pace of the movements can vary from performance to performance. But they are aesthetically linked.

“The piece starts very slow, the audience almost can’t recognize the screen is moving,” she says. “But the color of the music goes through the image.”

Throughout, Owen has incorporated paintings by Wu Man’s father, often birds and flowers done with ink brush. “I don’t know how Kathleen did it! They took my father’s birds and they can fly from one screen to another.”

Overall, this brings “new elements to the repertoire,” Wu Man says. “This is not standard. This is totally a new creation.  With the percussion, plus the images and poem, these elements are very classical Chinese art. I wanted to put it together, but use the high technology. That’s the idea. I haven’t seen other pieces like that.”

Ancient Dances —Three Poems by Li Bai, 701-762

About Ancient Dances, Wu Man writes:

I am very interested in exploring the inner relationship between artistic forms of pipa music, calligraphy and poetry of the Tang Dynasty (the Tang Dynasty, 610-906 A.D., was one of the most prosperous period in Chinese history). The playing style of the pipa, which consists of “civil” (tranquil and elegant) or “martial” (dramatic and military) schools, fits very well with the hand movement of calligraphy and body movement of dance. I believe that by combining the musical power of the pipa with these elements, I will be able to create a new dimension for pipa performance and provide a comprehensive experience of classical Chinese culture for the audience.

About Ancient Dances, Chen Yi writes:

It’s a privilege to write a new work for my friend, the pipa master Wu Man. In Chinese cultural tradition, in which I am deeply rooted, music is part of an organic art form, along with poetry, calligraphy and painting. I am glad that Wu Man suggested that our new work should be performed together with visual artists. We will combine the art forms together into one. I got my inspiration from three ancient poems, which are drawn in Chinese calligraphy with exaggerated dancing lines and shapes in layers of ink. The music will be accompanied by projections of Chinese painting according to the poems. The duet Ancient Dances is written for pipa and a set of percussion instruments (including woodblock, bongo, maracas, paddle castanets, a pair of small bells, a small Beijing Opera gong and two pairs of small Chinese cymbals). The movements represent various expressions, in different textures and tempos (Allegro-Adagio-Moderato), inspired by three Chinese poems by Li Bai from the Tang Dynasty: Riding on My Skiff, Night Thoughts, and The Cataract of Mount Lu. The flying lines, like mysterious and vivid ancient dances, bring the music, the calligraphy and the painting all together in our work.

The poems:

I.      Riding on My Skiff

Leaving at dawn the Baidi city crowned with cloud,

I’ve sailed a thousand miles for Jiangling in a day.

With screams of monkeys still the riverbanks are loud,

My skiff has left ten thousand mountains far far away.

II.      Night Thoughts

On couch bright moon shone,

Thought frost on ground foamed,

Raised head facing bright moon,

Lowered head dreaming of home.

III.      The Cataract of Mount Lu

In the warm sunlight, the purple smokes rising from the Censer Peak,

In the distance, the cataract hanging between the gorges.

The flying torrent drops straight down three thousand feet,

I wonder if it was the Milky Way falling from the Ninth Heaven!

Concert Brings Together Two Complementary Virtuosos

By Billy Gil

A beautiful woman dressed in black sits unaccompanied and begins playing on the cello, somewhat harshly, an instantly recognizable, repeated phrase as dark, evocative imagery is cast on her and behind her — clouds racing, water, snow. The woman’s cello playing grows more agitated, eerie and mysterious as the show progresses, her cello looping over itself so it sounds as though a group were playing.

So goes one of the collaborations between longtime friends and collaborators cellist Maya Beiser and composer David Lang. The piece in question was entitled “World to Come,” written by Pulitzer Prize-winning Lang and performed hauntingly by Beiser, which was put on at Royce Hall in 2004.

Now, Beiser appears in performance at Royce Hall alongside percussionist Evelyn Glennie in a unique double bill, with the two together performing a piece by Lang.

Both Beiser and Glennie have performed at Royce Hall and have performed pieces by Lang, but this show gathers the two to perform for the first time, separately then collaboratively.

Beiser favors taking her audience on a journey of sorts, saying, “I really look at my concerts as an event. It’s really important to me that people experience something that is meaningful in that moment. When you go to a concert, it has to be an event — it has to draw you in.”

Israeli-born Beiser will perform pieces from her 2010 record Provenance, which features work by composers of Iranian, Israeli and Armenian descent, among others, drawing inspiration from the Spanish Golden Age and the multicultural confluence of music, art and culture there — plus, in Beiser’s words, her own “crazy rendition” of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.”

From the world’s first full time solo percussionist expect a free-flowing program style. Glennie gives more than 100 performances per year worldwide, offering her fans a transfixing, multi-instrumental dynamic experience. She often performs barefoot to enhance her incredible ability to sense sound through vibration. Her diverse collaborations have included Björk, Sting and for her younger fans she played in the infamous Oscar Grouch Band on “Sesame Street.”

Glennie will perform both pre-written and improvised pieces, including Steve Reich’s Clapping Music; Rhythmic Caprice by Leigh Howard Stevens and her own unique “Waterphone improvisation.”

Lang has written a work titled Stuttered Chant for her and Beiser and Glennie said she is excited by the prospect of a composition for two cellos with a percussive element. Therefore she comments that she may be playing an inexpensive cello in a completely new way.

Another piece that Lang wrote for Glennie, Loud Love Songs, consisted of her playing the tambourine for 20 minutes in what she describes as a “zenlike fashion.”

Glennie says: “There’s a real quirkiness to David’s music, he’s not at all afraid to bring in electronic sounds in any combination.”

She also comments that she thinks Lang really does know how to allow his audience to be on an extraordinary journey.

With these two virtuosos performing, and collaborating on a piece by Lang, audiences are faced with three exciting rule-breakers who challenge conventional notions of modern classical music. We can expect to see something no one has seen before.

Love & Rage: Operatic Fireworks from the 18th Century

By Jeannette Sorrell, director of Apollo’s Fire Baroque Orchestra

“Farinelli drew every Body to the Haymarket.
What a Pipe! What Modulation! What Extasy to the Ear!”
– Roger Pickering, London, 1755

October 26 at UCLA Live Apollo’s Fire presents  a tale of two cities – two great baroque cities that attracted the greatest composers and singers of the time.  Though 18th-century Venice and London boasted wealth and sophistication, it was their opera stages, above all, that made them the spotlights of the world.

Venice was a city of cosmopolitan decadence.  On a given day, Handel and Scarlatti might be found playing a duel as keyboardists at a lavish party, while down the street, foreign tourists listened to a famous virtuoso orchestra of orphan girls, led by Vivaldi.  Music was the supreme attraction – especially opera, which flourished in eight opera theatres.

Venice photo courtesy Emily Gates

In this magical city lived Antonio Vivaldi, a priest (of sorts) who served as music-master for the orphaned girls of the famous Ospedale della Pietà, while pursuing an ambitious international career as soloist and opera composer.  And in this city, for about five years, visited the young George Friedrich Handel – equally ambitious, equally international, and equally fascinated by opera.  Both composers were destined for tumultuous successes, failures, and upheavals in their careers as they pursued that passionate art form of love and rage:  opera.

A Priest Misunderstood

Many people think of Vivaldi as the composer of the Four Seasons.  In reality, though, we are still in the early stages of getting to know his work.  His 49 operas and approximately 30 sacred works are still in the process of being published.  It is therefore surprising to hear prominent musicians talk about Handel as being “the only important baroque opera composer,” and to hear people toss Vivaldi aside as merely a composer of violin concertos.  When I ask these people how many of Vivaldi’s operas they know, they look blank.  Likewise, we tend to talk about Vivaldi as a composer of youthful, light music, forgetting that we are primarily acquainted with his concertos, which he wrote for performance by orphan girls. His operas and sacred music could hardly be described as light or playful.

Vivaldi had a meteoric career, achieving the popularity of a rock star and then crashing to complete oblivion.  In his concertos for his orphan protégées, he was the great developer of ritornello form – the form that became the model for concerto-writing by all European composers of the century, including J.S. Bach.  The Italian word “ritornello” means something that returns.  The same word is used to mean the refrain in pop music – and indeed, Vivaldi’s ritornellos convey the bold and driving sense of rhythm and melody found in pop music.  Like pop composers today, he was writing for teenagers.  The Concerto for Two Cellos is a wonderful example of his driving rock-and-roll rhythm, as two cellists engage in a duel that is alternately playful and fiery.

Scholars believe that the great follia or folia dance-tune originated in Portugal, where girls would engage in the “folly” of a mad dance around the fire.  The follia is a ground bass in haughty sarabande-like rhythm, traditionally growing faster and faster toward the end.  It was said that the girls finished in a state of frenzied collapse. The theme is full of the tension of courtship and seduction, and has served as inspiration for variations by dozens of baroque composers, including Corelli, Marais, Geminiani, C.P.E. Bach, and of course, Vivaldi.  Vivaldi’s version, which I believe is the finest of them all, was originally a triosonata; I arranged it as a concerto grosso so that all of us could join in the fray.

Divas and Castrati

Opera performances in 18th-century Venice resembled the atmosphere of a casino – people chatting, playing cards, and shouting their approval or annoyance with the show.  The operas were formulaic and the public demanded new ones every few weeks.  This was the pop music of the times.  Into this circus walked Handel and Vivaldi, both with ambitions to conquer the fickle public.  In 1712 Handel indeed had the Venetian public at his feet with his wildly successful opera Agrippina, performed 27 times that year.

Fifteen years later, we see Vivaldi, already an international operatic star, producing perhaps his greatest masterpiece for the stage:  Orlando furioso. With this opera, Vivaldi declared war on the trivial and formulaic operas that were all the rage.  Based on the 16th-century epic poem by Ariosto, Orlando furioso is a tragic and heroic dramma per musica that explores the fragile strength of humanity. It can be seen as Vivaldi’s manifesto, proclaiming boldly that great music can and should be in the service of great drama.

London, too, was a city of rival opera companies and a fickle public.  Handel made London his home after his Italian studies were completed, and during his checkered career in the opera world he both made and lost a fortune.  In 1729 he became joint manager of the Theatre in the Haymarket, and travelled to Italy to engage seven new singers.  But he failed to compete with the rival Opera of the Nobility, who brought in more famous singers such the castrato Farinelli.

London opera house courtesy "cebete" via Flickr

Seven of the eight arias Apollo’s Fire are performing at UCLA Live October 26 were written for the great castrato singers of Italy (several of whom went to London to work with Handel).  Castrati had entered the musical world in the late 16th century, when papal decree established them in the cathedral choirs.  (Women were banned by the Vatican from performing.)  By 1680, castrati were the rage.  An Italian opera not featuring at least one renowned castrato would be doomed to fail.  Singers such as Farinelli and Carestini became the first operatic superstars, earning enormous fees and hysterical public adulation.

By presenting Vivaldi’s neglected arias alongside the well-known ones of Handel, we hope  to give you, our Noble Publick, the chance to decide for yourselves:  Does Vivaldi deserve a place beside Handel on the baroque opera stage?

© 2011 Jeannette Sorrell
Cleveland, Ohio

Seven Operas in One Night! – A Whirlwind Tour

Handel’s Oreste

1734 pastiche for Covent Garden.  Cobbled together from earlier works by Handel, this opera featured the great Italian castrato Giovanni Carestini in the role of Oreste, the tragic Greek hero who must murder his mother in order to avenge his father’s death.

Handel’s Parnasso in Festa

1734 serenade for the wedding of Princess Anne and Prince William of Orange. At a wedding feast on Mount Parnassus, the great musician Orpheus sings the angst-ridden song of longing for his lost beloved: “Ho perso il caro ben.”

Handel’s Imeneo

1740 opera for Lincoln’s Inn Fields in London.  Act I opens with Tirinto’s lamentation for his lost beloved, kidnapped by pirates:  “Se potessero I sospir miei.”  The role of Tirinto was sung by castrato Giovanni Battista Andreoni.

Handel’s Ariodante

1735 opera for Covent Garden, based on Ariosto’s classic poem Orlando furioso. The Act I ariaCon l’ali di costanza” (With wings of faithfulness) was written for Carestini, and contains many thrilling vocal acrobatics.

Vivaldi’s Catone in Utica

1735 opera for the Teatro Filarmonico in Verona. Composed to a pre-existing libretto by Metastasio, the opera concerns Julius Caesar (“Cesare”), who sings the tender Act II aria “Se mai senti spirati sul volto.”  The role of Cesare was sung by castrato Giacomo Zaghini.

Vivaldi’s Giustino

1724 dramma per musica for the carnival celebrations in Rome.  Vivaldi recycled much of the music from his earlier works.  Anastasio, the emperor of Byzantium, sings the Act I love song “Vedro con mio diletto.” Anastasio was sung by the castrato Giovanni Ossi.

Vivaldi’s Tito Manlio

1719 opera composed for the Duke of Mantua.  Perhaps because of the lavish Mantuan resources, this opera features exuberant orchestral writing and many elaborate ensembles in addition to solo arias.  The Act II aria “Frà le procelle” depicts Tito being rescued from a storm at sea.  The wild accompaniment shows similarity to the concerto “La Tempesta di Mare.”

– Jeannette Sorrell

Sonny, With a Chance of Awesome

Very soon the darkened stage of Royce Hall will spring to life with the first show of our season—Sonny Rollins. What a show and what a life it is.

Sonny Rollins is known as the saxophone colossus and his great gift at expressing joy, sorrow, love, peace and humanity in general through the medium of jazz is legendary.  He’s an extraordinary individual who’s lived an incredible life. September 7 marked his 81st birthday. You can celebrate with him (and us) here in Royce Hall Sept. 22 and you can pick up his brand-new live album next week. Road Shows vol. 2 hits stores on the 13th.

Sonny’s 80th-birthday celebration at New York’s Beacon Theatre last September was the jazz event of the year, and the release of Road Shows, vol. 2 allows everybody to share in the proceedings.

More about the album and Sonny’s thoughts from the Doxy/Emarcy Records album release:

Sounding as robust and inventive as ever, the tenor saxophone titan joins forces with an unprecedented array of friends old and new, including Jim Hall, Roy Haynes, Christian McBride, Roy Hargrove, and, most unexpectedly, alto sax revolutionary Ornette Coleman. The festivities add another illustrious chapter to the career of jazz’s most prodigious improviser.

For Rollins, the palpable affection and respect of his peers was the evening’s most profound gift. “I was extraordinarily happy that my colleagues agreed to come and join me for this birthday celebration,” says Rollins, whose delight is evident as he energetically doubles as the concert’s emcee. “It was really a great honor that all these guys came. I was quite touched that everybody seemed anxious to do it.”

On an evening marked by one musical high point after another, the encounter that set fans buzzing for months was the dramatic arrival of Ornette Coleman, who was also in the midst of celebrating his 80th year. While they had never before shared a stage together, Rollins notes that he and Coleman once practiced together on the beach in Malibu back in the mid-1950s when he came out to Los Angeles with the Max Roach–Clifford Brown Quintet.

He didn’t know whether or not Coleman was going to perform at the Beacon until the last minute, so there was no rehearsal before he introduced the harmolodic innovator in the middle of an already riveting performance of Rollins’s blues “Sonnymoon for Two” with the ageless trap master Roy Haynes and bass virtuoso Christian McBride (reprising the pianoless trio format defined by Rollins more than five decades ago). At almost 22 minutes long, “Sonnymoon” is the album’s centerpiece, less a cutting contest than an inspired parallel conversation between jazz’s most surgically acute dissectors of time.

It was a piece Rollins selected with Coleman in mind, “something that would be open enough to lead to free conversation, and could go any place, rather than something like ‘I’m in the Mood for Love,’ with much more set harmonic patterns,” Rollins says. “The blues would be wide enough for Ornette to do whatever he wanted. It was all spontaneous. It was exciting to play with him again so many years later, a nice circular situation.”

Coleman’s indomitable presence on the stage was only one of the evening’s completed circles. McBride and Haynes performed with Rollins at the 2007 Carnegie Hall concert marking his golden anniversary as a bandleader, an epochal event documented on the concluding track of Road Shows, vol. 1.

Guitarist Jim Hall’s participation at the Beacon concert harks back to his crucial role on The Bridge, the 1962 album that announced Rollins’s thrilling return to the scene after his first famous hiatus. They’ve been close ever since, and Rollins was so intent on featuring him on Road Shows that he includes Hall’s sublime rendition of “In a Sentimental Mood,” a piece on which Rollins sits out.

“I love playing with Jim and I really wanted to get him in there,” says Rollins, who notes that a technical glitch on their version of “If Ever I Would Leave You” prevented him from including the performance on the album. “We go back a long way, and I have an affinity for his interpretations. It’s always exhilarating playing with Jim.”

A more recent Rollins associate, trumpeter Roy Hargrove, joins the saxophonist for riveting performances of Billy Strayhorn’s classic “Rain Check” and the beloved standard “I Can’t Get Started.” They’re accompanied by Rollins’s working band featuring guitar star Russell Malone, rising young drummer Kobie Watkins, versatile percussionist Sammy Figueroa, and Bob Cranshaw, the redoubtable bassist who’s been a dependably swinging Rollins mainstay since the early 1960s.

While Rollins first recorded “Rain Check” in 1957, he first heard the original Duke Ellington recording shortly after it was recorded in the early 1940s. “It’s a very important song in jazz history, something that I thought Roy could display his wares on,” Rollins says. “We didn’t have a lot of time to rehearse, and I thought ‘Rain Check’ was perfect for letting these guys show who they are.”

Rollins spotted Hargrove as an immensely gifted young player nearly two decades ago, and they bonded on a shared love of the American Songbook. It’s an ongoing passion reflected by their mutual caress of Vernon Duke’s soaring melodic line on “I Can’t Get Started.”

“When I first heard Roy and recorded with him back in 1990s I was amazed at his knowledge of jazz repertoire,” Rollins says. “I had some older fellows in the band that didn’t know some of the standards that Roy and I chose. It’s one thing that makes him so special. When he’s playing ‘I Can’t Get Started,’ you’re hearing him today and a history of the music.”

In keeping with the road rubric, the album opens and closes with tracks recorded in Japan about a month after the Beacon concert. A nearly 15-minute up-tempo romp through Irving Berlin’s “They Say It’s Wonderful” serves as a rousing overture for the birthday tracks, and offers yet another example of his capacious gift for turning familiar standards into vehicles for enthralling improvisation.

“That’s a great song to improvise on,” Rollins says. “Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane played it as a ballad, but it’s a great up-tempo song. The band really had a good groove on that one. That’s a tight rhythm section! I think finding drummers is part of my legacy. It’s very important for the drummer I play with to have a certain feel, and Kobie has a beat I feel I can improvise on. I accumulated some good karma by getting guys like Bob, Kobie, Sammy, and Russell Malone, who loves ballads and knows a lot of jazz standards.”

The album closes with a brief run through Rollins’s famous calypso “St. Thomas,” a piece he uses as a sign-off, perhaps following the old show business maxim to always leave the audience wanting more.

Every End Has A Start

We closed out our 2010-11 season last Thursday night on a literal high note. The pairing of two American music traditions–jazz and bluegrass–was incredibly seamless and utterly joyful.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the Del McCoury band ended a collaborative show with a rousing rendition of “When The Saints Go Marching In,” complete with umbrella-toting audience members gleefully marching their way to the stage.

And just before these two seminal bands took the stage, we took the opportunity to announce details on  all the shows in our upcoming season.

We’re looking forward to a lot of changes ahead, with our new leader Kristy Edmunds and as we work with her on the future of UCLA Live, we will celebrate in Royce Hall with a great lineup of music legends and rising stars in the 2011-12 season.

Subscription packages are on sale now and you can build your own series by choosing any four events from our calendar on our website. Or, individual tickets for all shows go on sale July 22. (You get access to the best seats and 10-15% savings during the subscription window).

I’m especially looking forward to a couple of events, what would basically be MY “choose your own” subscription package.

Stew and The Negro Problem-Check out this “afro-baroque” band from L.A. Stew’s a wholly unique artist and he’ll be in residency here this fall working on a song cycle about life in this city, called “The Westside of Your Mind.” I’m really intrigued by the thought of an L.A. artist working on something about L.A., then performing it for an L.A. audience. I’m all about shared experiences.

Rebecca Skloot–This science writer wrote one of the best books I’ve ever read–fiction or non-fiction. If you have a book club, consider taking on her epic bestseller The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks this summer. It’s incredibly illuminating, tackling complex scientific and ethical issues while simultaneously being emotionally riveting thanks to Skloot’s compelling narrative style. Read it, discuss it among friends and then join us for her spoken word appearance and hear more about the decade she spent working on the book and the ripple effect of its creation.

Max Raabe and They Might Be Giants–I think we could all use a little more whimsy in our lives these days and these two events from talented performers will bring us an abundance of it.

Hope you will join us many times in the upcoming year!

UCLA Live and Poetry…..Winning!

We had some fun this month with National Poetry Month, sponsoring our very first UCLA Live poetry competition and getting great news about one of our poetry spoken word artists.

Our National Poetry Month spoken word event this Saturday night features two former U.S. Poets Laureate, Billy Collins and Kay Ryan.

And it was a winning week for UCLA Live and poetry. Kay Ryan, UCLA alum was just named a Pulitzer Prize winner on Monday April 18. She’s being honored for her most recent collection The Best of It: New and Selected Poems, which the Pulitzer committee called “a body of work spanning 45 years, witty, rebellious and yet tender, a treasure trove of an iconoclastic and joyful mind.”

And she’ll be here to read selections from that long and storied career this Saturday night.

Meanwhile, our poetry competition tied to the event with these two poets working at the top of their craft received a truly stunning amount of submissions. We thrilled (and only a little surprised)  to discover what a truly creative community of UCLA Live lovers we have surrounding us.

As a member of the committee that read every single entry and I was really impressed with many of the submissions. Those of us reading collaborated and discovered we had very similar poems in mind as finalists.

We unanimously whittled those down to a few selections and sent them off to Billy Collins and Kay Ryan, then eagerly waited to find out which ones these amazing authors selected as the winner and two runner ups.

And now, here they are! We’re proud to announce the winners and so grateful for all the great submissions we got. Thanks to everyone who participated.

The first prize winner, Bobbi Jacobsen’s poignant poem Shoshannah struck a chord with all the UCLA Live readers. She will be here Saturday night to read her poem from the stage and claim her $100 gift certificate  to Book Soup, and get an autograph from the artists.

Second and third prize winners also will be awarded gift certificates to the eclectic indie bookstore.

Here are all the winning entries. Enjoy and see you Saturday night!

First Prize:

Shoshannah by Bobbi Jacobsen

There’ll come a time

When your child asks for a pet,

A cat, or a dog, a turtle or a fish.

You’ll say, “No, no, no!”

Knowing you’ll be the one

To buy the food

To clean up the hairballs

To pay the vet bills

To pick up strewn toilet paper

To stretch for the gritty litter

Behind the toilet.

There’ll come a time

When your kid brings home a kitten

(That his girlfriend has already named!)

You’ll say, “Oh, alright,”

Knowing you’ll be the one

To dangle the red ribbon

To sprinkle the catnip

To pet her impossibly white

Fur until her eyelids droop

To worry about traffic

To calendar boosters.

There’ll come a time

When she’s sick and swollen

And your son will want to drive

And will want to hold her weakened body

While her paw is shaved

And the needle eased in

And because your son is twenty-one

You’ll have to let him.

Second Prize:

Signifying  Something by Katherine Thompson

I am in a class full of idiots,

assigned to The Sound and the Fury,

and most of us are beginning to think the title

a fairly apt description.

Among us is the boy with the long greasy hair,

who wears black and spouts Ulysses with a stutter,

who thinks the nonsense is intentioned, who,

applauding Faulkner’s genius, won’t hear our underbreath whispers

that you can still smell spilt whiskey

on each page.

Among us too are the requisite several girls who never speak,

the requisite several boys who rarely show,

the boy from Baltimore who likes to think he’s Southern

since it lets him start sentences with

“Well, for me personally,

being from the South,

I think the symbolism of the

syllogism has a

very imagistic effect on the

heinous (pronounced hyenous)

adaptivation,

if you get my meaning.”

There are some of us who scribble idle poetry

beneath our notes, which consist

of caricatures of some oddly morphed entity

like our teacher and like Faulkner, drunken and drooling.

There’s the graduate assistant who sits on his nervous hands

to keep them from volunteering intelligence

into this fog of stupidity, and

on top of it all, there’s the hotshot teacher hired for fame

who wouldn’t know the difference

between a student and a dog

if it bit her.

And I’m tired.

Tired of the lack of punctuation,

of the sentences endless and thick as forests,

of the time travel crammed between two words.

I’m tired of humoring a cocky writer who assumed

I would do the work required to understand,

when my reward for understanding

is deeper knowledge of depressing, sadistic, masochistic, misogynistic,

abused, abusive, apathetic,

idiotic, incestuous,

cultish characters for whom I never cared,

though now I harbor some resentment

that (for me personally, being from the South) so much of the world

thought they represented so much of the South

for so long.

And outside the spring is passing away

like an unfortunate Yoknapatawphan,

and Quentin on the page keeps saying

and i temporary,

and I know that wasting my mornings in this class is a temporary burden,

but its end is the end of all other wonderful wastes

I’ve been privy to, as a student at this esteemed institution,

when in the middle of the muck of Quentin’s id I find the phrase

you cannot bear to think that someday it will no longer hurt you like this.

“Why does Quentin kill himself?”

the teacher asks, in a voice bright as bleach,

as if she didn’t think it were a stupid question

aimed at a dayroom full of vegetables.

There is silence,

as there always is,

but not because, as she thinks, we didn’t read the book

or were born with pigeon brains.

In one moment of silence I read volumes more than Faulkner ever wrote; it says

we do not speak because we each have an answer,

and each is correct,

and each is reason enough for Quentin to call it quits,

and each is our own secret reason—

my father, my mother, will never understand;

I will never attain my object of desire;

I am motheaten by my secrets;

no one, not even me, truly knows who I am.

I know my answer is on the last page of Quentin’s life,

so since it has weakly to do with the book,

I martyr myself, and raise my hand.

“He cannot bear to think that someday it will no longer hurt him like this.”

“Elaborate,” she says.

Third Prize:

String Theory No Joke by Yvonne Estrada

A string walks into a bar.

A huge crowd has gathered.

Before him the bartender

places a plastic red basket

of hot wings and cheese toast.

The string breathes in, then sighs,

blesses the food.

Cocktail waitresses pass it out.

Even the hecklers eat,

they taunt the string,

they sneer,

“If you come from the cosmic net,

then weave us a miracle,

a blanket that brings back the dead,

or fly a kite into the parallel universe.

Here, take these soup cans,

stretch yourself between them,

take one to heaven,

set the other one on the bar

so we can listen

to the voice of God.

Getting Creative at UCLA Community School

by Theresa Willis-Peters

UCLA Live’s Design for Sharing Program Coordinator

Today is a big day for UCLA Live’s K-12 outreach program, Design for Sharing:  Our residency program at UCLA Community school culminates with the students’ presentation of dance and spoken word performance pieces.

Since October,  teaching artists from DFS and L.A.-based dance company CONTRA-TIEMPO have made  weekly visits to Community School, spending our Wednesdays working with nearly 200 fourth, fifth and sixth graders.  This year, we’ve been exploring the theme of Homeland or Patria through dance, theatre, movement and creative writing.   Each class has prepared a presentation featuring traditional salsa dance, creative movement, and a group poem.

We’ve asked a lot of our students over the last few months, and they have delivered.   We asked them to think and write about home, about country and community, about what matters to them, about their dreams for themselves and  for the world.   These may be big ideas, but the responses were specific and personal:

This land is struggles,

excitement, success

sadness, friendship

mystery, kindness

This land is a piece of me.

-Group poem excerpt, Ms. Arevelo’s class

Home is a fish tank where water is falling

Home is watching cartoons

Home is soft

Home is plants and chirping and blooms

Home is where my heart resides

Home is where I dream of dreaming

-Group poem excerpt,  Ms. S. Kim’s class


It matters that my parents care about me.

It matters that we wrote this poem.

It matters that we learn something,

That we have comfort

That I have a turtle

That my family is together

It matters that we have a tune in our voice.

-Group poem excerpt,  Ms. Lee’s class


I have a dream that poor people will have a home

That I will be a teacher

That tomorrow will be a better day

I have a dream that all people will have work,

That someday, I will be someone…

I dream that people will make justice,

That everyone will be welcome.

-Group poem excerpt, Mr. Sotelo’s class


We also asked them to express themselves off the page.  In groups of 3 or 4, they created their own dance movements representing themes, images or ideas from their writings.  These short combinations became the basis for the choreography in their final performance piece.

The UCLA Community School students have great ideas and huge hearts.  We’re so proud that they were willing to share them with us—and we are even more proud to help give them a chance to share those great ideas with their community at today’s  presentation.


Meet The New Boss: Welcoming Kristy Edmunds

Hopefully you’ve heard the news already, but UCLA Live has a new fearless leader in Kristy Edmunds.

It’s been a long hiring process and a short whirlwind of activity as we geared up to announce her appointment this week. We’re thrilled with the selection and are looking forward to the burst of energy and ideas that Kristy is sure to bring our organization.

She’s in Australia for the time being so we as a staff  got to meet her Monday afternoon via  Skype session. Hooray for technology. And yes, that is Christopher Waterman, dean of UCLA’s School of the Arts and Architecture doing tech for us over there in the right-hand corner 🙂

Staff Skype Session with our new boss

By all accounts Kristy is smart, creative, engaged and she is clearly totally intrigued and invigorated by Los Angeles and the role contemporary performing arts plays in this crazy, infuriating and delightful city.

Kristy has an amazing background as an arts curator but also as an artist in her own right–she’s directed plays, choreographed dance, made independent films, created visual art and even had a stint as a singer in a band.

She’s up to some cool stuff in New York for a while, she’ll be consulting with the Park Avenue Armory for the first year or so she is with UCLA Live.

We’re very much looking forward to what’s in store for us with Kristy at the helm and we’ll be rolling out ways for arts lovers and UCLA Live patrons to interact with her over the next few months.

Stay tuned.

Thoughts from the staff of CAP UCLA