Aux for All: An Inclusive Future for the Auxiliary

By Zach Rosen   |   November 15, 2022
Set in 1922, the cabaret fused innovative projections and lighting that reflect the forward-thinking nature of the Music Academy (photo by Zach Mendez)

“My favorite thing is having all the fellows show up to a rehearsal and not know what’s going to happen,” Artistic and Creative Director James Darrah told me this summer in an interview during the leadup for Hahn Hall 1922-2022: An Original Cabaret. He continued, “It also helps highlight where you can push and everyone has different skills and experiences… How are you going to be an artist in the next 20 years that has something important to say? Especially opera, which is really good at siloing people away into categories.”

The one-night show was a culmination of a 10-day intensive between Darrah and the group of fellows from their Summer program. Later as I sat in on one of the cabaret rehearsals, watching fellow Alex Mathews sing a buttery baritone tune, Darrah entered the room, stating, “Okay, let’s do it just like that. But again. And this time I want everyone, and I mean everyone, to stand around the piano,” as he waved his arm out to the room, meeting eyes with each person, including myself. Before I knew it, I was standing around the Steinway, listening to fellows break into song just feet away from me.

The summer fellows joining in around the piano at the rehearsal to create a sense of intimacy

His goal was to create the genuine intimacy a cabaret cast would have and a warmth that would bring the fellows closer, as well as the audience. As Darrah, Musical Director Craig Terry, and the fellows later wooed and enchanted the crowd at the cabaret, this inclusivity and closeness paid off in the performances, making the audience feel as if they were part of the show. The cabaret’s fusing of technology, stereotype-bending performances, and playful eye towards the past foretold the change recently made from the Music Academy’s Auxiliary group. In October, the Auxiliary announced a new rendition of the group, proclaiming themselves now as “Aux for All” – a non-gendered, all-inclusive new title to reflect the modern times, but also the direction the Music Academy has been going for a while now.

“[The cabaret] really does speak to this Auxiliary idea because not only is that group of fellows representative of our goal as an Auxiliary – really representing the diversity of the fellows, the diversity of the community programs, the teaching artists, and the audience – but also the music,” says Auxiliary Governance Chair and Music Academy Board Member Mally Chakola. “Because music is for all,” she later adds. 

Originally founded in 1954 as the Women’s Auxiliary, this group was traditionally women supporters that operated as one of the fundraising arms for the Music Academy, raising millions of dollars to help support the MA’s mission and many programs. 

As Chakola puts it, “We existed for many years around the shops and the rack and so that was really about bringing women at the time to a physical place. And it was about selling something and that money going to the Music Academy. Now, what we’re becoming is much more dynamic, much more integrated. We still are doing similar things, but we’re doing them in new ways.” 

As the Auxiliary heads into its future, fundraising will still be part of their aim, but the group plans to do this in a much more interactive way where fundraising is simply a fun outcome of the experience. “One of the things that is really changing is the type of meetings that we’re hosting. In the past they were daytime, sleepy, heavy administrative meetings. Now, we’ve moved into a format that is a world-class performance by an alum of the Music Academy, and typically these are really innovative, groundbreaking performances – electric violin or the playing of a cello in a way that makes it sound like burning and fire – really diverse and unique ways to introduce instruments,” says Chakola. 

The rehearsals paid off with the cabaret cast exuding a genuine warmth and love for one another and the audience (photo by Zach Mendez)

They will also be putting an emphasis on how the Auxiliary supports the Music Academy – and not just through financial means – such as their Compeer Program, which is a personal favorite of Chakola’s and one she describes as “life changing” for herself and her family. She adds, “The Compeer Program takes place when the Summer Festival is going on. We have fellows coming from all over the world and families or individuals have an opportunity to team up, or do it on their own, and be a host – the fellows are not staying with them, or living with them, they’re not providing them their meals – but they’re acting as an ambassador for the town of Santa Barbara.” These ambassadors get to host a fellow or two, showing them around the area and helping them feel connected to the community. 

This week there is a chance for the whole community to experience the new approach of the Auxiliary with a free kick-off concert to launch their five-day fundraising Online Auction. The concert will be held this Wednesday, November 16, from 4-6 pm at Weinman Hall and will feature MA alums and invigorating electroacoustic duo, ARKAI, along with a raffle to win an e-bike. The auction will go until Saturday, November 20, and each day will bring new surprises with daily raffles and local offerings like wine tastings, private concerts, and spa treatments. The auction is the largest fundraiser the Auxiliary will be hosting this year and will go to support the Sing! Choir along with the MA’s mission and other programs, including the summer fellows’ full scholarships. 

Visit for early registration and to join the group and help make more musical magic like this happen.  


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