Local Leaders (Michael Nowak)

Local Leaders (Michael Nowak)


The following is a program of the Santa
Barbara County Education Office. To learn more, visit sbceo.org. No spoken words, music playing, photos of community members and leaders, students, and teachers. HOST: Hi. I’m Susan Salcido, Santa Barbara
County Superintendent of Schools, and I am so delighted to introduce our guest
today, Michael Nowak, music director for the Santa Maria Philharmonic. Michael,
thank you so much for joining us today. GUEST: Thank you, Susan. HOST: Really appreciate that you’re here. Can’t wait to hear about the Philharmonic here in the Santa Maria
Valley, but let’s start with you as a child growing up. Put us in the
place where you were growing up. Where was it? Tell us about your family. GUEST: Right, well I started on the east coast of our country in Rhode Island. I was born in
Providence, Rhode Island and then my family moved to Warwick, which is the
second largest city in Rhode Island, and both my parents were school teachers, so education was part of my whole life. Being around schools, and
being around programs, and being around creative ideas — it was always fun to watch
what my parents were up to. HOST: What grades did they teach, or subjects? GUEST: My dad
taught industrial arts, so he was into drafting, and woodworking, and things like
that, and so we were always having something being created around
our house. HOST: And what about your mom? GUEST: She was a science teacher and guidance counselor, so she went to the high school level later on. HOST: So always service-minded, but also education-minded. And that is something that is instilled in you, clearly, with the work that you’ve done
and do currently. Let’s talk about the schools you attended: elementary, junior
high, high school, and we’ll get to college, too. GUEST: Right. So I went to three different elementary schools when I was growing up. We moved once, but then we
shifted districts and that’s where my music
started taking shape, because I was in third grade class in one of our
elementary schools and they were painting the room, so they told all the
students, you have to leave the room. You have to go into the auditorium. So we all
went to the auditorium, and I sat down and on the stage of the auditorium was a
violin player who was part of a program of the elementary school, a string
program, and they were going to have a concert at the end of that week or the
next week. And he was up there playing his violin and I just was like, wow! I
like that, I like that, I want to do it! And that was third grade and so I went
home and said, guess what guys? I want to play the violin and they were like, no, I
don’t think so. But we didn’t have to decide until the
next year, and then fourth grade we could take string instruments, which
was a wonderful thing to have offered in schools. To have orchestras and string
players, and violins, and cellos, and basses. And when I got to be in fourth
grade, it was time. The teacher said to anybody, want to take an instrument? And I
raised my hand, I said, yeah, I want to play the violin. And so I went home and I
brought a violin home and my parents were like, too squeaky. But no, right
away I was able to get a really nice sound. Really, I got a nice instrument
that had a good sound and we all got happy. Well, this is pretty fun. And so we had a teacher that would come in once or twice a week
during school to teach violin. And so if you were in class and they would say Mr.
Cutty’s here now and if anybody’s gonna go play your violin, go with Mr. Cutty. And
so we would go to the auditorium and we had violin class, and that was went on
for several years. HOST: I’m envisioning you right now, fourth grade with your violin,
going to music class, and okay, walking with your little case and
hearing beautiful sweet music coming out of this violin. Something that you’ve
never picked up before. GUEST: No, no. HOST: Isn’t that something? GUEST: It is something, I mean, one never knows, and that’s why I’m passionate about bringing that to students.
I think it’s super important — the earlier, the better, and as much
opportunity, the better. It’s such a wonderful, calming influence on students.
It gives them a chance to be creative, an individual, and work through issues and
problems, and develop techniques, and things that are a really long-term
educational process. Especially these days, we’re so used to
instant gratification — you can look up something in a moment — but to play the
violin, you can’t learn that in a moment. So you have to learn how to learn and it
takes a while, and and you have to learn when to practice, and how to practice, and
luckily my parents caught on and thought, he’s doing very well. Let’s get
him some private lessons. And so we got to have a private teacher as well, and
that kept motivating me more and more, and then it just seemed like the right
thing for me to be doing in my life. They would always say, well, what do you
want to do when you grow up? kind of thing, and I said I want to play music.
Yeah, but what do you really want to do? I said, play music! And finally they got the
picture that that’s something that was very passionate to me and it still is. HOST:
Clearly, I love that story. And we talked about the three elementary
schools you went to, junior high, high school, and clearly, you played music all along. And did you change instruments up through high
school or junior high? GUEST: I added instruments … HOST: Did you? GUEST: Yeah, in junior high I took up the clarinet, and so I was in the band and the marching band, and then
when I was in high school, I added tuba. HOST: Wow! GUEST: So I was a brass player, too. So strings, woodwinds, and brass. HOST: Hmmm, I could see a Philharmonic Society happening, building right there! GUEST: I didn’t get to the percussion instruments, though. HOST: And so where did you go to college, and what did you major in?
GUEST: Well, my first year of college I went to Boston and went to Boston University, and
I was in their music program there, and I was just … the first year
of school you don’t really declare what kind of major. You’re just taking music
classes. But mostly the other classes, the academic classes, English class,
history, science, that kind of thing, just so you can fulfill that accreditation.
But we also have a lot of music classes as well. At the end of my first year, I
didn’t feel like this was a right fit for me, and a very good friend of mine
was transferring to Indiana University. And I didn’t know anything about Indiana
University, but it turns out Indiana University is like one of the top, top
music schools in the world. I mean, it’s incredible. There’s an outstanding
faculty there, there’s 500 music majors, there are eight orchestras, or six
orchestras, going on all the time. I mean it’s just music, music, music. There’s opera playing, there’s chamber music. HOST: It’s very
rich and diverse. GUEST: Completely wonderful in the teaching, and that’s the main
thing. You found a teacher that just inspired beyond your imagination, and so
I was playing violin at the time, and the viola teacher that was there at
Indiana turned out to be a man named William Primrose, who was the greatest
violist of all time, and still is. I mean, he was the master and I went to his
master class and I sat in and I thought, that’s what I want, I want to be
like him. I want to do what he does and it didn’t matter what he did. If he had
played tennis, I would have been a tennis player. If he had, you know … HOST: Something about him… GUEST: Yeah, well he was a master. HOST: A master. So say a little bit more about what that means in terms of — you saw him, I mean you were awestruck — he is a
master, at that point, it was for viola. So what are some of the characteristics
that came through and you said, wow, this is someone special? GUEST: Well, he was a
virtuoso performer. He was the top of the top of the top, capable on it, and great
composers wrote pieces for him, viola concertos for him. He toured with
all the great musicians of that era. He played in the NBC Symphony with Toscanini, he recorded Jascha Heifetz. I mean he was the top of
the top of the top, and his ability to take you on an inspirational journey was
unbelievable, because he used to do things that we never even thought were
capable of happening. Just sounds making you think of different ways of listening
to yourself, and little tricks things like that. It’s just like doors
were being opened every time he said something and he would often say to me,
you may not know what I’m talking about right now, but 10 years from now you will. HOST: And was it true? GUEST: It’s still happening, yeah, and I mean I was very honored that he took me under his wing, and knew that I wanted
it so badly, even though I wasn’t at the level that I had been later on. He
allowed me to grow, and just threw a whole bunch of information at me and
just take it when it comes. HOST: Wow, pretty remarkable. GUEST: Yes, it was pretty remarkable I was very, very fortunate, and I think that’s, you know, one of those
things where if you hit the right moment in your life and doors are open, go, try
it out and see what’s there. I had a very important teacher in my life. One time I
was trying to make a decision what to do with my career, but I stayed in
Dallas, I got a job in Dallas, and then a job opened up in Los Angeles and
I couldn’t decide whether to stay in Dallas or go to a Los Angeles. And my
friend said, if you look out a door, all you see is the hallway ahead of you, or a
wall ahead of you, but until you’re outside the door, you don’t know there’s
a left or right. And so you have to make that step first and then once you get
there you can say, oh okay, I can go over there or I can go over here. And that’s
one of those things where opportunities arise. Sometimes you don’t feel ready for them or you’re not quite sure if this the
right thing to do, but if you don’t do it, then you won’t know. HOST: It’s a really
nice way to put it. I’ve heard a lot in terms of trying
something — why not try it? We won’t know until you try, but the way you put it or
the way that person put it for you, it’s really … you painted a nice picture and
probably are helping a lot of people who are hearing you today. They’re thinking,
hmmm, maybe I will step through that door and look left and right. For sure, good
idea. Tell me again the name of the viola
teacher? GUEST: William Primrose. HOST: William Primrose. So what would he say today,
knowing you are the maestro of the Santa Maria Valley Philharmonic? GUEST: He would say, oh, I didn’t even know you liked to conduct. HOST: Ah! GUEST: because he didn’t know me as a conductor, he only knew me as a viola student. And when I was leaving Indiana, I
got a job in Dallas right away, my first job right out of school, and I told him
that I got this job and that’s what he said, oh, I didn’t know you conducted, and I think that was kind of a surprise, yeah.
HOST: Can you share with us your path to coming to the Santa Maria Valley. Because
you’re starting … you talked about in Boston to Indiana, Indiana to I think
Dallas, to Los Angeles, but keep going. What’s your path? GUEST: And Los Angeles is still there, it’s still part of my daily life.. HOST: And what is that? GUEST: It’s
going down to the recording studios and doing soundtracks for movies.
HOST: Fascinating! GUEST: I’ve doing that for many, many years. HOST: Can you share a little bit about what that would look like if we followed you with a camera to Los
Angeles. What might that look like? GUEST: Well, you show up at Fox Studios like we did
yesterday. You hand the guard your little name tag or your license and say,
I’m going to Recording, let me give you a parking place, and they show you where to
go. You walk in there and there’s a room full of music stands, and the microphones,
and people passing out music and getting ready for the recording session. There’s
a gigantic screen behind the orchestra and a conductor up front who’s looking at
the music, and we’re many times seeing the music for the very first time. HOST:
I was gonna ask you, so it’s sight-reading. Wow! GUEST: And that’s a skill in itself. HOST: Sure. GUEST: I mean, I think it’s like any reading in a way, the people that read all the time can read really well all the time. And
it’s a skill that goes away quickly if you don’t do it often enough, but it
comes back quickly, too. So your brain kind of switches, it’s a
really interesting thing, so we’re in a room full of people that are there for
that particular project, as opposed to if I were in the Los Angeles Philharmonic
or San Francisco Symphony, I would be with the same people day in, and day out,
for as long as I’m there. HOST: Sure. GUEST: When you go to do a movie project, we know the
same people, but there might not be the same people sitting next to you,
or they’re interchangeable. Maybe you’ll see some new people. HOST: And those who are called for it. GUEST: For that job, yeah, exactly. HOST: And what instrument are you playing, did you play yesterday? GUEST: Viola, for Jumanji 3. HOST: Fantastic, we are all
going to look for your name. GUEST: Unfortunately, they don’t put our names there. HOST: What will it be under? It’ll be under … well we won’t have the
names. GUEST: The composer will be named, okay maybe some of the solo people will be named. When I conduct a movie, and I’ve done over 80 movies that I’ve
conducted the score to, they do put your name — orchestra conducted by Michael
Novak or Mike Novak or Mike Nowak or Mike Nowac with a “C” or it doesn’t matter as long as… HOST: It’s you! GUEST: It’s me, they know by now. And it’s always a challenge, and it’s I think, it’s
one of those things where it’s nice to be around people that are creating at
the same time because we’re sight-reading, and because the music often is really difficult, you have to problem-solve
immediately. HOST: Say more… GUEST: So if you give me a piece of music, and say, come back
tomorrow with that, I can go home and I can work it out really slowly and find out what the best fingering is or how the hands work
together. HOST: Really prepare. GUEST: Right. If I get it now and they just say, turn that page,
and then we go uh-oh, that’s gonna be a little tricky, everybody’s thinking that
at the same time. And then you can go, what are you gonna do there? And what shall we do there? And then options happen, and so it’s kind of nice sharing that
creative process together on a problem solving. It is. So you know, that’s the
nice thing about it. It’s the same education every day. We’re learning,
learning, learning, learning. And we’re counting and we’re counting and
we’re counting. People say, you still count? Yes, you have to count. HOST: You made the bridge, and I was just going to make it, and so thank you for making it. Because
you’re bridging between what you are doing as a career, part of your career, that problem-solving, that sight reading, and
you made bridges to reading anyway. I mean, just if you practice the reading
it’s so much easier. Or if you get something for the first time and have to
read it cold, out loud to the class for example, the more you’ve practiced, the
more you have confidence in doing that. The less you’ve practiced, you’re a little
bit worried that maybe you’ll make a mistake. But also that problem-solving,
that’s what we ask our students to do all the time, and say that’s what’s going
to be when you leave high school and college, and exactly what you said. So
thank you for making that bridge. All right. So, Los Angeles. You go there
all the time but you did go there from Dallas? GUEST: Yes. HOST: And then, how? GUEST: I conducted an orchestra there in L.A. for a couple years. It was for a young conductor and
college students, and just out of college, and so we were all kind of in the
educational process ourselves. I was learning the conducting skill, they were
learning their orchestral skills, and so it was a program that still is around
today. It’s called the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra, and many
famous conductors have come through there, many famous players have come
through there. And it’s a wonderful, again, educational situation where you can
learn repertoire, kind of like a theater
company. So I was like the director of the theater company and these were
the actors, learning their roles and their parts, and learning Shakespeare or
whatever. And after that I played in Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra with Sir
Neville Marriner for five years, which was another education and learning
different styles of playing and that kind of thing. And then in 1984, I was
able to get the job in San Luis Obispo as a music director of the San Luis Obispo
Symphony, and that’s what brought me to the Central Coast. And I stayed with
that group for 31 years, and they had a great time and we really built up a
wonderful orchestra up there, and toured Spain, and we went to Carnegie Hall, and
we went to Disney Hall, and we went through the Sydney Opera House. And
traveled together and had lots of fun together and brought the Central Coast there. Let people know what we’re doing here is very important, and
in a very high level of performance as well. HOST: Right. GUEST: And that’s why Santa Maria right now, when the Santa Maria Philharmonic opening came up, was a good time because it was a transition going on and this opportunity opened up here
with Santa Maria Philharmonic, and I’m just so happy that I said yes, again. HOST: You went through the door. GUEST: I did, and now I’m learning this area. I’m learning the
people here, and getting to meet you and the folks involved in education, because
again, I’ll always go back to those early days of my own life and wish that
for other people as well. And especially now, I think this area’s
just ripe for music education. I have a summer camp that I run each year in Rio
Grande, and I take kids from this area and I mixed them together with kids from
South Central L.A. and from Salinas, and there’s all kinds
of different backgrounds and financial, you know, backgrounds. How much they’ve
had lessons, have been involved, and put these kids together and watch
them develop over a week as people in a very safe and nurturing and cultural
environment for them. It’s just mind-boggling how good they can get in a
very short time, and how much they share with each other. I’m a big believer that
the more you offer students — as far as expression — music, drama, sports, team
efforts — the better they’ll feel about themselves. Because people help each
other. HOST: Right. GUEST: So if, you know, we encourage each other, we want each other to succeed,
because the more you succeed, the more I succeed. And so it makes a better
community in the long run. HOST: What is the name of that camp in the summer? GUEST: Rio Grande. It’s called the String Summer Academy and it’s
usually in July for one week, and it’s overnight. There’s cabins up there, and
the kids stay overnight there, and it’s just wonderful. HOST: Sounds like you ended the earlier part of the explanation by using the word “community” and it sounds
like you really do build community there for the week. And students can shed some
of their other identities and actually become that musician and support one
another to be successful in the community of other musicians, no matter
where they’re from, or their backgrounds. GUEST: Totally right,
yeah. I mean, that’s what I’ve loved about in my life. The fact that I’ve been able to knock down the barriers of prejudice that I had
when I was younger and, you know, so I go back to experiences from post-world War II, all those years what we thought these people weren’t
great, or the Cold War, we didn’t think these people are great and and yet when
I’m around them and we’re making music, or
what if I’m traveling to Germany to play Bach in Germany,
I love the German people. I love their life. I love what they … you know. And I had
prejudice about that because my father fought in World War II, and so there was
sort of a “these aren’t good people.” But everybody’s a good person in a way,
everybody could be a really good person, given the right environment.
Encouragement, nourishment, you know, and allowed to be creative. HOST: And that’s what you’re bringing into the Philharmonic as you’re envisioning the educational component for the young
students in our schools. Can you say a little bit about what it is that you’re
wanting to do and doing for students in schools here? GUEST: Well, I’m really happy that the Philharmonic is completely devoted to bringing children to concerts, and so
we have watched over the last couple of years the exponential growth of our
concert-goers coming for our children’s programs. So this year again in January,
we’ll be at the Pacific Christian Church, which holds a lot of people — nine hundred
ninety nine people. But we fill that up with students that are bused in from
Santa Maria area, even other outside Orcutt, maybe Guadalupe, or Nipomo,
whatever, we can reach out to these schools and say, hey, we’ve got a
wonderful program for you. One of the programs that we really love doing is
something that my wife and I created when I was with San Luis Obispo Symphony, and it’s a program called Fly Me To The Moon, and it’s a combination of music, and
science, and history, and imagination, and creativity, and putting it all together
to make a story out of what flight is all about. How people watched things fly
and said, how do I do that? HOST: And what a great title for that. GUEST: Fly Me To The Moon. And then I have a wonderful singer named Inga SwearIngen. I don’t
know if you know Inga, but she’s a fabulous singer. She’s teaches at Cuesta
College She’s a jazz singer and she sings the
song Fly Me To The Moon and she scat sings, which is really great for the kids
to hear because they’ve never heard scat singing. So she’s like Ella Fitzgerald.
And while that’s happening, we have a lot of things on the movie screen, so
pictures from the moon taken by the astronauts when Neil Armstrong
was stepping on the moon, and the whole program like that. And then we go from there and we travel beyond into outer space using classical music. It’s
one of our travel guides. HOST: Say a bit about who developed this program? GUEST: Fly Me To The Moon? My wife, Suzette. HOST: Talk about her, how did you meet her? GUEST: Well, the wonderful thing about Suzette is that she’s a storyteller. She’s a professional
storyteller, which is unfortunately not high in the employment ranks these days.
And so she tells world stories, and her vision is that when you put together a children’s concert, you have to have a
beginning, a middle, just like a regular story would. So the characters
are involved, the plots are involved, there’s an ending of some kind or a mission or a
message. And then we bring the music in to kind of guide us through that
story. So Fly Me To The Moon opens up with a piece by Tchaikovsky, the Serenade
for Strings, and we see those beautiful photos from the Hubble Telescope of the
galaxies and the nebulae and you know those picturesque photos that were taken
of things that have been way out there and in the universe. And then we
bring it back to the first time you look up in the sky and you see a star, and you
say to your mom and dad, what’s that light up there? And they say, well, that’s
a star. What is that? So we’re learning a little bit about it, and
then what we do is we take Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, the song, and we have
all the different parts of the orchestra demonstrate that song. So we hear the
strings, we hear the woodwinds, we hear the brass percussion, and then we put it
all together. We have the harp and then from there we go to watching things that
fly — birds, bees, butterflies — and amazed that they all leave the ground because
we can’t leave the ground. So how do they do that? How do they do that? The kids go,
wings! So then we’ve taken, and Suzette
took a long time to find these things, old photos of those guys that were the
old film of the guys are running with their skates and flapping, and thinking that
could leap just going off and things like that. And then finally leading
us to all the way to the moon and now beyond that, and we go off into the
planets and Jupiter and Pluto. And then at the end, we make just a reverence
and homage to all the people that got us there — Leonardo da Vinci, who created
those first sketches of what an airplane might look like, and Amelia Earhart, Carl
Sagan, Einstein. So it’s called Fly Me To The Moon — from JS Bach to Mr. Spock — a flight of a story of flight and the flight of
imagination. HOST: Michael when you describe Fly Me To The Moon and as you just did, I
have to tell you that I’m hearing it, I feel like I see it, and hear it. You are as much a storyteller, I think, as you describe Suzette is, and I feel like
I’ve just been flown, yeah, and really taken somewhere really very special. I
also want to say that you said at the very beginning your parents were
educators, and I feel like that is something that you have in you. Here we
have your influence here in Santa Maria Valley, and with our students, so I want
to say it was such a pleasure to talk with you this afternoon and get to
know you. And I’m so glad that we got an opportunity for you to share the story
with the audience today, Michael. Thank you so much. GUEST: Well, thank you so much, Susan, I really appreciate it. HOST: I’m Susan Salcido, Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools, and thank you so much for joining us
today for this edition of Local Leaders. No spoken words, music playing, credits rolling.

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