Let the Children SING!

By Steven A. Blum   |   July 25, 2023
The Music Academy SING! children’s choir will join the Young People’s Chorus this weekend at the Lobero (photo by Zach Mendez)

The members of the Music Academy’s SING! children’s choir were part of the two triumphant performances of La bohème at the Granada Theatre last weekend. This Sunday afternoon, they’ll be back downtown as the stars of the show at the Lobero Theatre, once again joining forces with the Young People’s Chorus (YPC) of New York City, and even performing the world premiere of a piece written especially for the groups. 

Santa Barbara’s year-long SING! program is based on the concept of YPC, which was founded by Artistic Director Francisco J. Núñez, a MacArthur Fellow and Musical America’s 2018 Educator of the Year, with a mission and values deeply rooted in providing children of all cultural and economic backgrounds with a unique program of music education and choral performance. The innovative program has become the model for such children’s ensembles around the world and has earned a ton of prizes, including three world championships and two additional gold medals at the World Choir Game in Korea earlier this month.

As part of the second year of collaboration between the organizations, the choirs will offer the world premiere of a commissioned piece by Nia Imani Franklin, a composer, actress, conductor, and singer from North Carolina whose music has been performed by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Friction Quartet, Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra, and many others. 

It’s the second work Franklin has created for kids at Núñez’s behest. It’s also no surprise as the composer started singing in church choirs herself at age four. 

“Youth choirs have always played a big part in my passion for music, and had a special place in my heart,” she said. 

Indeed, Franklin’s community initiative developed during her time as Miss America in 2018-19 is based around emphasizing the importance of an arts education, a platform she has only raised in the years since. (Coincidentally Franklin sang an aria from La bohème in the talent portion of the competition in Atlantic City.) 

Franklin composed both the music and the lyrics for the new piece, called “Tides,” drawing inspiration from the famous poem “Still I Rise” by the late Maya Angelou to lend a hopeful focus to issues of the environment. 

“A lot of my music deals with nature, and the environment has always really inspired me as an artist,” she said. “Children are aware of everything that’s happening, and it affects them deeply. But it was tricky to write because it is such a complex subject. I had the theme be about respect and gratitude for our planet and what we can do to show that gratitude. It just scratches the surface, but I’m really excited to work with the choir as we bring the piece to life.” 

Franklin scored “Tides” for piano, flute, and rainstick, drawing on her own early memories for the latter acoustic instrument. 

“My grandfather wasn’t a musician, but he had a rainstick in his house, about five feet long, which was a lot taller than I was at that age,” she recalled. “But I’d play with it all the time, and I can remember the sound of it, even having this conversation right now, those memories get unlocked. It kind of brings everything full circle for me.” 

Upcoming @ MA

Thursday, July 20: Samuel Carl Adams is the highly-sought-after, not-yet-40-year-old American composer whose mesmerizing music weaves acoustic and digital sound together, much as his career has veered from performing improvised/electronic music in San Francisco to earning a master’s degree in composition from the Yale School of Music. Given that Adams taught yesterday’s piano master class and will have a world premiere tomorrow night, you have to imagine he’s also been working with the fellows’ string quartet and faculty percussionist Michael Wernerfor tonight’s performance of his 15-minute 2021 piece “Sundial”that the composer called a “series of musical shadows that, unbroken, reveal the passage of time in the shape of an inverted arc.” Also, on the X2 faculty-fellows program: Barber’s “Summer Music for Wind Quintet, Op. 31,” and Dvořák’s “String Quintet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 77.” (7:30 pm; Hahn Hall; $45)

Friday, July 21: With barely two-plus weeks left in the season, the events are coming fast and furious. Today’s fare includes a Showcase Series spotlight on the Collaborative Piano studio, pairing instrumental fellows with the piano specialists on pieces they’ve been perfecting, program TBA. (1:30 pm; Hahn Hall; $40)… The annual Innovation Institute Fast Pitch Competition is a Shark Tank-style (sans the controversy) new venture opportunity in which the fellows pitch their ideas for projects in a variety of fields that might serve to shape the future of classical music. The finalists compete for $10,000 in prizes to support their entrepreneurial efforts; the audience vote also can influence the panel of industry judges. (3:30 pm; Lehmann Hall; free)… Tonight’s Picnic Concert boasts the aforementioned premiere of AdamsÉtudes for Solo Piano (featuring all six fellows), plus Schumann’s “Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1, Op. 105,” and Mozart’s “Clarinet Quintet in A Major, K. 581,” that also features faculty Richie Hawley on the reed. (7:30 pm; Hahn Hall; $40)

Get ready for the very first Cello Fest this Saturday at Hahn Hall (courtesy photo)

Saturday, July 22: Nope, still no symphony concert tonight, but there’s also no rest for the cello fellows as all 10 of ‘em are performing in the Academy’s first Cello Fest. The special concert gradually increases from three cellos for Haydn’s “Baryton Trio in D Major,” then four for a work by Mark Lomax II, eight for Bartok’s Hungarian Peasant Songs, adds soprano fellow Dalia Medovnikov for Villa-Lobos’ “Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5,” and closes with the two faculty cellists joining in to make an even dozen for Klengel’s “Hymnus, Op. 75”and, appropriate, Pablo Casals’ “Sant Martí del Canigó.” Take that, Yo-Yo Ma! (7:30 pm; Hahn Hall; $40)

Sunday, July 23: Some events are so special they’re not even on the Academy calendar. Such is the case with Music & Art at SBMA, part of the Museum of Art’s Beyond Conversations series dedicated to engaging with the most challenging art of our time. The inaugural event brings together Awol Erizku, best known for photographing Beyoncé and whose iconic photograph of Amanda Gorman and golden mirrored mosaic sculpture of Nefertiti are on display at SBMA, and several Music Academy fellows in an experimental performance combining contemporary art and classical music. A reception in the galleries is followed by a performance in Mary Craig Auditorium. (5 pm; 1130 State St.; $65)

Tuesday, July 25: The official years-long partnership with the London Symphony Orchestra winds up with today’s Chamber Showcase featuring four visiting principals from the esteemed ensemble (plus two Academy faculty pianists) delivering a taste of the classics from across the pond including works by Haydn, Britten, Reynaldo Hahn, Carlos Salzedo, and 27-year-old Scottish composer Electra Perivolaris. (7:30 pm; Lehmann Hall; $55)

Wednesday, July 26: The fifth Chamber Nights salon-style fellows’ concert is deep enough in the summer that there’s just two pieces on the program, each running about half an hour, so settle in with your wine and wallow in the wonderment of Dohnányi’s “Sextet in C Major, Op. 37,” and Schumann’s “Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44.” (7:30 pm; Lehmann Hall; $45)  


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