Los Angeles, of course, is known for its cultural diversity. And for decades, the city's live music programmers have worked hard to capture that at venues ranging from concert halls and stadiums to churches, parks, and beaches.
Armenian-American Nova Safo has been pondering the possibilities too. A trained opera singer and music director, he's also a long-time public radio producer.
In creating LA Tapestries, a new vocal music series, he's put all his skills to work. The first performance in the Series was Sunday, September 10, and focused on Tin Pan Alley.
Here's a Q&A with Nova Safo about "Tin Pan Alley to Broadway," which kicked off at at 4:00 PM this past Sunday at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Santa Monica. A $10 donation is suggested.
Q: Why is Tin Pan Alley important, both as an era and a place?
A: Tin Pan Alley was a stretch of 28th Street in New York Cit, now part of the Flatiron District. All the major music writers and publishers were located there in the early 1900s. The name came because many thought all the clinking pianos in the various publishers' offices sounded like tin pans rattling.
This little stretch of street produced some of the most influential music in America's history. It's where many popular songs came from, some later elaborated on by jazz musicians. To this day songs such as Blue Skies and Someone to Watch Over Me are thought of as jazz standards. But they were originally Tin Pan Alley songs. The songs also found their way into Broadway musicals, especially since many of the composers at that time were writing for Broadway shows too.
Q How did you pick the songs in the program?
We wanted to make sure to include a broad scope of songs -- starting with one of the first hit songs of the era written in 1899, all the way to contemporary musicals that can trace their musical influences back to Tin Pan Alley. For example, we have a tune from the musical Ragtime and even some Andrew Lloyd Weber, who composed in a tuneful, lyrical way that is reminiscent of some of the best ballads of Tin Pan Alley.
Q: Tell me about the artists in the concert.
Well, we have baritone Jeff Griggs, who is the definition of a renaissance man. He paints, his work has been honored by an invitation to the White House. He is an accomplished actor, he was a cast member on Days of Our Lives. And he is a fantastic singer .
Soprano Katharine Terray and I sang together in a performance of Donizetti's delightful comic opera The Elixir of Love. That was in 2006. And I've been waiting for a good opportunity to work with her again. She possesses an enchantingly beautiful voice, and is an absolutely disarming presence on stage. Best of all, she has an operatically trained voice that can easily slip into the delicate, nuanced passages of Tin Pan Alley songs.
Finally, pianist Louis Durra is an accomplished jazz musician who can spin exciting, surprising and delightful improvisational passages. He is also a composer, so he can look at a piece of music from a composer's point of view. And that's a real gift for the rest of us, because he brings so much insight and intuitive understanding to the music.
Q: Why have a concert series dedicated to solo vocal pieces?
There are quite a few chamber music series in Southern California. But very few feature solo vocal performances, let alone do they dedicate an entire series to the voice. And I think that's a real shame and a disservice to the audience, because there is so much wonderful vocal music to explore. There are choirs who handle the choral repertoire. So we are focusing on the solo voice.
Also, the solo vocal repertoire is where we can most readily explore the other main focus of our concert series -- the various cultural traditions that exist in Los Angeles. Our future concerts will include music in Armenian, Russian, Hebrew, Spanish, Persian, German, Italian, French and other languages and cultural traditions.
Q: What are the other concerts coming up in the series?
Our Tin Pan Alley songs concert is the first concert of our inaugural season. We will have two others. On December 12, we present "Great Composers Get Spiritual," with the music of Schubert, Beethoven, Mozart, and others. We will focus on how these composers dealt with questions of spirituality in their music.
And on March 20 of next year, we have our folk songs concert. The most exciting element of that concert is a performance by San Francisco-based mezzo soprano Raeeka Shehabi-Yaghmai, who will perform Persian songs in classical vocal settings on the occasion of the Persian New Year. There's more information about our concerts on our website, LATapestries.com.