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Cabrillo Festival offers more than just the avant garde

I was inspired to write more on a topic from last week’s Santa Cruz Parent newsletter (if you’re in Santa Cruz, you’re a parent, and you don’t get it, you should — sign up here). It was a small feature about the Cabrillo Music Festival, which is a great local gem. I am a big fan, not only because I am actually into New Music (What’s that??) year-round, but because it’s such a great event for families.

Free family concert

Free family concert

As the article said, the Festival is an unusual event: All orchestral music, all by composers of our time, most of it never heard before, much of it by really truly young composers.

But that’s not why my kids care about it. They just think it’s fun!

There are three reasons why I think families — whether in Santa Cruz or within drivable distance — should make this festival part of their children’s lives.

First of all, there’s the street fair. This is an easy part of the festival to enjoy. You come to downtown Santa Cruz on a Saturday or Sunday, enjoy the open air music, the variety of food, the crafts, and the kids’ art area. The music, the crafts, and the art are free; the rest will empty your pocketbook if you don’t watch out. If you’re on a budget, bring a picnic! We always try to make sure we see Zunzun and Watsonville Taiko, and there are always other great musicians on the schedule.

Second, families are invited to the free family performance on Sunday, which is a real treat. (To go, you need to have a ticket, which is free. Either you can order tickets to paid performances and get tickets for the family concert sent as well, or you can walk up to the box office at the Civic Auditorium and get them free of charge. But do it before the day of the concert, because it pretty much always “sells out”!) This concert is truly geared toward kids, with a “petting zoo” of instruments (don’t think you’re just going to be sitting there — this is an interactive event), exciting musical selections that are short and dazzling, and usually a young conductor or composer in residence to make sure your kids know that classical music isn’t only fit for grey-hairs. Director Marin Alsop, a mom herself, makes this a really special event.

Third, and probably least well-known, are the open rehearsals. I take my kids every year. If you have a child who can refrain from screaming, you’re probably OK to go to the rehearsals. They’re pretty busy, with people going in and out, musicians playing, arriving, and leaving. The orchestra and Alsop are amazingly focused, running through bits of music and also entire pieces without much of a nod toward the audience. It’s a great learning experience for kids, whether they are studying an instrument or not. It’s such a revelation that huge groups of people can all work really hard on their own, then come together for a few weeks a year to do something amazingly complex and exciting.

If you have a teen, there’s another free event I’d recommend: The free “In the Works” concert on August 4 features music by young composers with young conductors leading the music. My almost-teen is interested in music composition, so of course we’ll be there, but even if your teen isn’t interested in composition, per se, it’s a great lesson in what can be done by young people who set their mind to something.

My blog’s name was influenced by my love of avant garde music, and I am thrilled to be in one of the centers of it, even though at the moment I am too busy with parenting to even think about writing music. (OK, I do still think about it, but composing requires long periods of silence, which I never get!) But even if you aren’t into New Music at all, this festival offers so much to entertain, dazzle, and excite the neurons in those little growing brains in your household.

Posted in Arts & Music, Culture.

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