Quire Composer’s Set and Setting

By Steven Libowitz   |   December 19, 2019

Stephen Dombek had the unusual experience of hearing one of his compositions from the audience when the Quire of Voyces performed his setting of “Hodie – Christus Natus Est (Today Christ is Born)” at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art at December’s 1st Thursday art walk. Normally, Dombek would have been among the baritone section amid the 25 singers offering the Christmas chant antiphon as a preview of the Quire’s annual pair of holiday concert at St. Anthony’s Chapel at the Garden Street Academy this weekend. But he was still ailing with a nasty virus.

Quire of Voyces performs Stephen Dombek’s compositions for “A Baltic Christmas” on December 21 and 22 at St. Anthony’s Chapel at the Garden Street Academy

His thoughts?

“Actually I wasn’t as bowled over with it as a I thought I would be,” Dombek admitted with a chuckle. “But I think it was mostly the acoustics in the museum, or maybe my cold.”

His was the minority opinion, though, as the audience at the preview roundly cheered the “Hodie” as well as all of the other pieces slated to be part of “A Baltic Christmas,” for which the Quire, still led by founding director Nathan Kreitzer, will deliver a cornucopia of a cappella works from the unique area of the world in the unparalleled acoustics of the chapel prior to its upcoming Baltic Tour next summer.

Dombek has certainly been in demand ever since he began composing for choir way back during his time as a graduate student at Indiana University, where he studied music education, composition, and music theory before earning a doctorate in conducting.

He arrived in town 35 years ago when he was hired to serve on the faculty at Westmont College, where he was the choir director and conducting professor for two years before heading back to Indiana to finish his degree. Dombek returned to the village for good just a year later, in the fall of 1987, to take a position as the music director at El Montecito Presbyterian Church, which lasted for three years and led to a lot of new works before he decided to switch to a more lucrative career in computers.

“I wrote a fair amount of music when I was at El Montecito,” Dombek recalled. “All sorts of hymns and songs and choral anthems to keep my hand in composition. But that dropped off after I left the church, because of not having a choir to write things for.”

Now a database software specialist at AIGA Inc. in Carpinteria, Dombek has continued to compose and make music on the side, lending his hand to a number of classical music organizations in town.

He worked as the assistant conductor for Santa Barbara Civic Light Opera, served two stints as the leader of the Santa Barbara Youth Symphony, and spent three years with the Gold Coast Community Chorus, a Ventura-based, 120-voice strong ensemble that toured the British Isles.

In 2002 Dombek got involved with Santa Barbara Choral Society as a singer, and shortly afterward was asked by artistic director/conductor Jo Anne Wasserman to create an arrangement of “America” for the chorus and Santa Barbara Symphony to perform at the Arlington as part of the globally-coordinated Mozart Requiem concerts to commemorate the September 11 attacks in 2002, a program that was repeated on the event’s 10th anniversary.

In between came one of the more exciting assignments of his career: working with George Martin, the legendary producer of The Beatles for “LoveLoveLove,” a Beatles tribute created collaboratively with Santa Barbara Choral Society and Orchestra and State Street Ballet. The performance featured a medley of Beatles’ music arranged by Dombek with choreography by William Soleau, while the composer-arranger also helped Martin arrange the choral parts for the world premiere of famed producer’s “The Mission Chorales,” which Martin conducted.

“That was quite a night,” Dombek recalled. “I wanted to do the tunes in a slightly different manner, finding what would work for each song. It turned out great.”

Dombek became a member of the Quire of Voyces when he and his wife, the soprano Mary Dombek, were invited to join the chorus for its trip to Wales in 2016. “She’s an excellent singer who has worked in musical theater all over town, performed with San Diego Opera, soloed with the Atlanta Symphony in the early 1980s,” Dombek said. “I think they invited her and took me too.”

Then Kreitzer asked him to create a new arrangement of the Wexford Carol, the beloved traditional Irish Christmas carol, for Quire’s next concert. Dombek has contributed a piece per year ever since, including creating a new setting of “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” in 2017 and re-arranging the Darke organ setting of “In the Bleak Mid-Winter” for a cappella choir in 2018.

This year’s “Hodie” was created of his own volition and based on some material he’d been working with for some time. “I had been kicking around the idea, and had the tune for quite some time, just a little four-bar tune that I wanted to turn into a full anthem,” Dombek said. “I was working on it since July and threw an awful lot away before ending up with something I was pleased with. The Quire seems to be enjoying it.”

As Dombek imagines he will, too, once he hears it again from his perspective on the riser in the hallowed hall and heavenly acoustics of St. Anthony’s Chapel. “I think it will have a great effect in the chapel because that place is so live. It’s a joy to sing there. I’m looking forward to hearing it in bouncing off the walls at the end.”

(Quire of Voyces performs “A Baltic Christmas” at 7 pm Saturday and 3 pm Sunday, December 21-22, at St. Anthony’s Chapel at the Garden Street Academy, 2300 Garden Street. Tickets cost $20 general, $15 students & seniors. Call 805-965-5935 or visit www.quireofvoyces.org.)


A) Quire of Voyces performs Stephen Dombek’s compositions for “A Baltic Christmas” on December 21 and 22 at St. Anthony’s Chapel at the Garden Street Academy

All in the Family: Akoni at Home

Santa Barbara-born guitarist Tariqh Akoni, a performance degree major at Berklee College of Music, established some serious cred in the business living in the Los Angeles area, most recently as the long-time and current music director for singer Josh Groban, before moving back to town in 2011.

But the lure of the big city was always at hand, as the composer, producer, songwriter, studio musician, educator, musical director, multi-instrumentalist and clinician has lots of opportunities to strut his stuff on the guitar and as a top-notch musical wrangler. Which is why he couldn’t talk until finishing a final rehearsal late Monday night for the following evening’s premiere of a holiday-themed live staging of Norman Lear’s classic 1974 sitcom, Good Times, part of ABC’s recent catalog of live classic TV specials. Akoni was to be wielding the guitar for the event starring Viola Davis and Andre Braugher, performing the show’s iconic theme song with Black-ish star Anthony Anderson and Patti LaBelle on vocals.

That was another highlight of a high-flying year for Akoni, who once again spent his summer on the road with Groban, a tour that included a special date at the Santa Barbara Bowl, where the singer gave his guitarist a shout out.

“That was incredible. He was so sweet,” Akoni recalled. “He took a time out from the show to introduce me and say it was my first performance at the Bowl, a hometown boy made good.”

The 2019 capper comes this Saturday, December 21, when the guitarist makes good on his desire to create continuing concerts for the locals up to par with those you might hear in El Lay. So when Tariqh Akoni and the Alcazar All Stars hit the stage at the Carpinteria theater, the band will be a collaborative effort between top session musicians and the cream of the crop of Santa Barbara players, teaming guitarist David Delhomme (EricClapton, Michael Bolton, Stevie Wonder, the Tonight Show), saxophonist Sean Holt (Dancing with the Stars) and trumpeter Mike Cottone (The Eagles, Al Jarreau, Robin Thicke, Neil Diamond) with local stalwarts George Friedenthal (keyboards), Randy Tico (bass), and vocalist Lois Mahalia, among others.

“We want to bring people to the Alcazar, which is a great venue with a great stage and terrific sound system, and have a great time showcasing local talent and using the show as a bridge between the amazing musicians in L.A. and Santa Barbara,” Akoni said.

The luminous line up will let loose on a series of rock classics to ring in the holidays, Akoni said.

“It’s not a tribute, but a throwback to our big influences, people like Neil Young, Joe Walsh, Little Feat, and people who we’ve played with. It’s going to be a rockin’ good time.”

Akoni – who created similar shows for Summer Solstice and for New Year’s Eve at SOhO – said he hopes to turn the concert into a quarterly event.

“I’ve had this dream of doing it like A Prairie Home Companion-style showcase and variety show, where you can hear different styles, from bluegrass to jazz to rock. Maybe partner with radio stations and get the local groups a larger showcase.”

But every three months might be a stretch, he cautioned as he begged off the phone to finish up with Delhomme. “I’m pretty busy.”

It’ll be a Greene Christmas: 3Qs with the Blues Guitarist

Santa Barbara-native blues-rock guitarist and singer-songwriter Alastair Greene is calling Friday’s show at SOhO a “Rockin’ Blues Hell-Raising Holiday Hoedown,” but don’t expect to be singing along to Christmas carols or humming holiday hymns when the six-string slinger fronts his trio featuring Jim Rankin on bass and Austin Beede on drums for a power-packed night at the supper club just five days before Christmas.

Q. So you’ve just come off the road with Sugaray Rayford, not even two years after you quit working as lead guitarist and singer with Alan Parsons. What gives?

A. I was with Parsons for seven years and it was time for me to move on and get back to my band. I put out two records in a year and a half, just cranked ‘em on out. Then this gig came up and it was too good an opportunity to get out in the blues world to pass up. I did a year, and then left it open with him. I said, I won’t leave you hanging but I got to get back to my thing.

So what’s your thing for 2020?

I’m going to play as much as possible. I mean, that’s why I’m doing all those club shows in town now because you have to get out and get gigs playing guitar wherever you can, or you have to get a side job. So I’m open to whatever opportunities come up. But I did sign with a new company, shooting to get a new record out this summer.

What can we expect to hear at SOhO this time around?

A lot. I might have bit off more than I can chew, actually. We’re doing a “Tribute to Terrifying Trios,” meaning we’ll play some ZZ Top, Hendrix, Cream, early Stevie Ray Vaughn. Then Debbie Davis will sit in for a set. And then we’re going to do a few songs off the new record that we haven’t performed live before… The only things at all Christmas will be if some riff comes out randomly during “Voodoo Child.”

But I’d love to do a holiday show like this [annually], maybe find a charitable cause besides my checking account that I can donate to. That would be a cool thing to do at home every year.”


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