In recent years, Santa Barbara Revels has used the season change from summer to fall to offer its annual Equinox Concert, with a wide-ranging selection of music that marks its own transition from last year’s to this year’s productions of The Christmas Revels, the organization’s biggest event of the year. To that end, the Equinox event, slated for next Thursday, September 22, al fresco at the University Club downtown, will find Revels segueing between echoes of three centuries worth of Spanish and Mexican music from the New World (a revisit of 2021’s Early California-themed production), to a preview of the soaring pipes, drums, and harmonies of the Scottish Highlands that will arrive with its upcoming show, A Scottish Celebration of the Winter Solstice.
But this year also marks another transition – from longtime music director Erin McKibben to Susan Lansing-Weller, a Santa Barbara native who returned to town last summer after decades in Los Angeles. She had her first exposure to Revels at last December’s Christmas show, which, like its predecessors, is a community-based show that combines music, dance, storytelling, and lots and lots of singing, including the audience joining in.
“I just loved the show, the music, the history, the way it all comes together,” said Lansing-Weller, a pianist, teacher, and choral conductor who has served as soloist and section leader in several church music ministries and directed children’s choirs and handbell ensembles, among other outfits. “I’m all about people singing, and I really like the combination of professional and volunteers, so it’s very exciting to take this on.”
The Equinox Concert – which raises funds to support the Christmas shows and coincides with the opening of Santa Barbara Revels’ Fall Online Auction – is Lansing-Weller’s first opportunity, and the event aligns with the new director’s own ethos and interests, she said.
“Revels is very much about the ritual, and it recognizes this very primal part of human life, which is pre-religion, where people observe the stars and watch the moon, and they count the length of the days. No matter what our backgrounds are, we all kind of feel different when the days are getting shorter.”
Getting up to speed quickly, Lansing-Weller said she’s been spending time gathering resources, including checking in with McKibben – who needed to scale back her Revels’ duties partly in favor of her position at the Music Academy’s Sing! Program, but will sing and play flute as part of the musical ensemble for Equinox event – and studying Revels’ local and national history, which includes a Scottish show presented in 2016. Also performing are Marie Hébert and Rafael Vázquez Guevara on violin, Britta Thomas on cello, and Gary Solt (who the new music director recruited) on guitar and mandolin, plus Luís Moreno, the Early California music specialist, on guitar.
Musical selections will include “Mi Pepa” and “El Capotin” (with audience participation), “Duo a Nuestra Señora” and Manuel de Zumaya’s “Cantata” from the Mexican Baroque period before special guests usher in the transition to some scintillating, not-yet-announced Scottish music.
“The music is really great and there’s tremendous variety,” Lansing-Weller said. “It’s going to be a whole lot of fun.”
Looks like the new music director has followed Santa Barbara Revels’ longtime motto: “Join us and be joyous!”
Visit santabarbararevels.org for more information or tickets to the Santa Barbara Revels Equinox Concert.