Clearing Mud through Music

By Steven Libowitz   |   May 17, 2018
MAW concert is at Robert Cassidy’s fingertips on Thursday, May 24

When the mud and debris from the mountains coursed through Montecito back on January 9, Robert Cassidy immediately felt the need to support the victims and the community in some way. “Like so many people, I wanted to help, but I didn’t really know what I could do,” said Cassidy, a classical pianist who only moved permanently to Santa Barbara in 2014. “But music is who I am, it’s what I do. So I thought I could pull something together to raise money for the recovery efforts.”

It took four months to get things together, but Cassidy, who maintains a piano and chamber music studio at the Music Academy of the West, which itself sustained communications systems issues during the disaster, was able to create a special benefit performance featuring a few of his local musical colleagues – including several connected to the Montecito Miraflores campus. Joining Cassidy for the chamber music concert slated for 7 pm next Thursday, May 24, at MAW’s Hahn Hall, are fellow pianist Natasha Kislenko, who is a faculty member at both MAW and the USCB Department of Music; cellist Jennifer Kloetzel, who is an instructor at UCSB and Cassidy’s daughter’s cello teacher; saxophonist Patrick Posey, MAW’s vice president of Artistic Planning and Educational Programs; and violinist Mary Beth Woodruff, and the artistic director of Santa Barbara Strings, which often performs at Hahn Hall and for whom Cassidy runs the piano chamber program. The pianist, who has released two solo recordings (the latest includes works by Debussy and Joel Feigin, who is also on faculty at UCSB Music department), has played several times at Hahn in chamber and solo concerts, and has also performed locally with the Santa Barbara Music Club.

Actually, Cassidy’s connection to the Music Academy runs deeper than his studio. He’s married to Ana Papakhian, MAW’s VP of marketing and communications. The couple’s first exposure to the summer institute for advanced classical music young artists came more than 20 years ago, when Papakhian served as Marilyn Horne‘s assistant. “We’d come out here from New York in the summers,” Cassidy recalled. “The house that we had stayed in on Olive Mill Road from 1997-2001 was directly affected by the debris flow. It’s still standing but suffered very severe damage. So, even though we now live out in Goleta, it hit close to home.”

The benefit concert will raise funds for the Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade, the all-volunteer Montecito organization that has come together to dig out homes, offices, and open spaces, removing mud and debris from nearly 100 structures and recently shifted toward a beautification focus as the recovery progresses. Deciding which local organization to direct the funds to wasn’t difficult, Cassidy said. “One of my students had a lot of mud on their property, and the Bucket Brigade really helped them out.”

The concert features all music by Claude Debussy to mark the 100th anniversary since the death of the famed French composer. The program includes Debussy’s Sonata for Violin and Piano, the solo piano pieces La cathedrale engloutie and L’isle joyeuse, the Rhapsody for Saxophone and Piano, the Petite Suite for piano four-hands, and Cello and Piano sonata. While it’s a bit of a stretch to suggest that performing with saxophonist Posey was on Cassidy’s bucket list, the pianist is eagerly anticipating the duo’s piece.

“We’ve been wanting to play together for years, perhaps a recital, but it’s hard to coordinate time between our schedules. I manage to corral him for the Debussy Rhapsody.”

The May 24 concert is a no-ticket event, and admission is officially free, although there’s a suggested donation of $20 at the door. “I wanted to open it up so that the music is accessible to everybody,” he explained. “It’s fine if you come and don’t give anything if that’s what you want or need to do. But we hope to raise some money for the Bucket Brigade to support the great volunteer work they do.”

Beers for Buckets

Also on tap for the Bucket Brigade are two brewery-based benefits this Saturday, May 19. Four Seasons x Telegraph Brewing Pop Up, which connects the brewery with the resort that is nearly ready to reopen, takes place 2 to 4 pm at Telegraph’s 418 N. Salsipuedes St. headquarters, while the annual Hammer-n-Ales music festival takes over M. Special Brewery, 6860 Cortona Drive in Goleta, from 1 to 7 pm with performances from Los Angeles-based funk-rock heroes Ozomatli plus Santa Barbara bands Soul Majestic, The Upbeat, Cornerstone, and David Segall. The latter is a benefit for Habitat for Humanity, which been performing similar recovery efforts and partnered with the Bucket Brigade last weekend.

In more recovery-through-music news, 16-year-old Santa Barbara High student Bree Francis recently penned and recorded the song “We’re Trying” about her grief over loss as a community. Francis, who received a scholarship through the Police Activities League (SBPAL) to attend the Musicology Santa Barbara, will also headline the local modern music school’s student concert at Hahn Hall at 2 pm on Saturday, May 19, when she will perform the song in front of a live audience for the first time. “We’re Trying” can be heard online at Proceeds from sales of her forthcoming debut recording are earmarked for recovery efforts.

Spoon River Adaptation Offers Dead Reckoning

The cast of characters in Spoon River Anthology would be considered lively folks, if not for the fact that they’re not actually alive. That was the surprising conceit of Edgar Lee Masters’s 1915 classic, which shattered the myths of small-town American life as the denizens of his fictional Midwestern town find that death has loosened their tongues, and they share what they really think about their lives, loves, and one another over the course of the collection of first-person poems. The book was also clever in weaving together the tales, as nearly every resident of the town had only one entry.

The work has received filmic and theatrical treatments over the past century, and now Peter Frisch – acting teacher, director, and the founder of the Santa Barbara-based The Producing Unit – is taking his turn in forming Spoon River into a piece that receives a staged reading this weekend. The more than 200 poems have turned into far fewer monologues, a culling that Frisch said was somewhat challenging.

“I went with the ones that are most dramatic,” he explained. “The most ironic, or powerful, or the saddest, or sometimes even the funniest. The wonderful thing about Spoon River is that nearly all of the people eventually tie in to each other. They’re family, or they have other relationships. It’s an interwoven tapestry. So, you get a portrait of the entire town and all of the connections.”

At first blush, a work that was first published 103 years ago might seem a little dated, but Frisch said that there was no issue with relevancy for today’s audiences.

“They have very similar problems, things we still deal with on a daily basis,” he said. “Sure, there aren’t any computers or cell phones, but there are questions about balancing work and free time, and keeping relationships strong. It’s a period piece, and you feel a slice of the era, but it’s not at all dated in philosophy or impact.”

Frisch assembled a cast of largely company regulars, including Bill Egan, Meredith McMinn, Tom Hinshaw, Ed Giron, Janelle Odair, Justin Davanza, and Ivy Vahanian, each of whom plays an average of eight different characters. It’s a tall order, given that they only appear once and don’t have a lot of stage time.

“That means they have to etch each of the characters very clearly and deeply, which is what we’ve been focusing on in rehearsal,” Frisch said. “They’re using new voices, different approaches for each one.”

While the nature of Spoon River is that the characters are already addressing the audience, making the piece perfect for a staged reading, Frisch said most of the actors will be performing “off-book” having memorized their lines by request.

“This material is too powerful and too beautiful to be read from a book. It will be a real performance that’s profound and moving.”

(The Producing Unit presents Spoon River Anthology at 8 pm Friday and Saturday, May 18-19, at Center Stage Theater, 751 Paseo Nuevo. Tickets cost $18. Call 963-0408 or visit

The Dazzling Dozen

Santa Barbara Youth Ensemble Theatre (SBYET) celebrates its 12th season at the Lobero Theatre with a large-scale production of Les Misérables, one of the world’s most popular musicals. While it might seem hyperbolic to suggest that the kids who make up the cast are capable of a Broadway-quality performance, note that several alumni of the program have gone on to careers on stages all over the country, while the performances are the culmination of nine months of theatrical enrichment featuring approximately 40 actors aged 8-16 who are led by SBYET’s creative director Janet Adderley, a Broadway and TV veteran herself. Expect an emotionally evocative show that, like the musical’s material, can set your heart soaring when the kids hit the stage at 1 & 5 pm Saturday, and 2 & 6 pm Sunday, May 19-20. Tickets range from $20 to $129. Call 963-0761 or visit


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