Founded in 1969, the Santa Barbara Music Club has evolved from a private women’s club to a nine-month long public series of classical music concerts. The Music Club is proud of what we have become. Supported wholly by membership dues, generous donations and bequests, and grants, the concerts are free of charge to the public, thereby attracting and serving a demographic not normally seen in concert halls: low- and moderate-income individuals who could not otherwise afford to experience live concerts of classical music in comfortable, accessible settings. In addition, the Music Club provides outreach concerts at senior centers and homes for those who are unable to attend such concerts.
The history of the Santa Barbara Music Club is akin to that of many other major musical organizations, in that it began as a truly modest effort. It started as a local women’s club, in which ladies would gather at each other’s houses for Wednesday musical recitals. Soon the membership expanded to include men. Then, two developments caused a sea change in the course of the Music Club’s evolution. First, through the efforts of members Emil Torick, known for his innovations in recorded sound, and UCSB Professor Emeritus and international piano soloist Betty Oberacker, the membership was expanded to include more professionally oriented performers, including international performing artists with connections to Santa Barbara. Second, the late community benefactor Cynthia Wood donated a magnificent 9-foot Steinway concert grand piano to the Club. These developments and the audience size, necessitated a larger, public venue where the piano could live. The Faulkner Gallery of the Downtown Public Library was selected as most appropriate, and the present-day incarnation of the Music Club was born. As of 2017, the Music Club entered into a partnership with the Santa Barbara Public Library, who produces the six concerts at the Faulkner Gallery in the spring.
In the words of Mary Jo Hartle, former SBMC President, “We are not a music club like others where concerts rotate among members’ homes, where members play for each other and where the audience consists mainly of other members. Our club did start out this way, but we have been so fortunate that it was able to outgrow that state. We now offer a major concert series and a scholarship program as well.”
Today, twice-monthly concerts held Saturdays at 3 p.m. are presented at two attractive, accessible, and acoustically gratifying venues: the Faulkner Gallery at the Downtown Public Library and the First United Methodist Church, at the corner of Garden and Anapamu Streets. Featured are concerts by instrumental and vocal soloists and chamber music ensembles, with programs displaying a wonderful diversity of historical musical periods and compositional styles, including beloved masterworks together with exciting new and seldom-heard repertoire – all presented free to the public.
The artists range from dedicated and gifted local amateurs and semi-professionals to students and faculty from UC Santa Barbara and Westmont College to international performing artists. All share a connection and love of Santa Barbara as well as a dedication to classical music and fine performance. Whether a world-class polished rendition or a most valiant effort, performances are presented with great energy and spirit and the audience reacts with enthusiasm and appreciation. World class performer, student, professor, and amateur alike enthusiastically donate their performances. The series is organized by SBMC’s Concert Committee, currently co-chaired by composer-pianist Leslie Hogan and pianist Betty Oberacker.
Current SBMC President Eric Valinsky states “I truly love the Music Club because it is an embodiment of the spirit of Santa Barbara: a melding of the traditional and the experimental. I love how amateurs and retired professionals are encouraged to perform along with international artists and how the international artists feel free to go outside their standard repertoire and experiment with unusual works. These performances are presented in a friendly, informal setting to a wildly enthusiastic audience. The performers benefit and the audience benefits. The encouragement of Santa Barbarans to participate in the classical music experience along with our scholarship program to encourage students of classical music truly enriches our community.”
Of the SBMC series, the Santa Barbara Independent exclaimed: “A beautiful day, a beautiful room, beautiful music … who could ask for more?” Other accolades have included “This is the kind of musical event that makes our community a rare place to be: on a beautiful, Jacaranda-decked day, a concert of sublime music, offered at the handsome Central Library, and at no cost to the audience whatsoever” and “The Santa Barbara Music Club, in Saturday’s opening concert, reaffirmed its place in the top echelon of the South Coast’s serious music groups. While Santa Barbara’s opera company, its symphony, chamber groups and UCSB visiting luminaries are all shining stars, the Music Club has a special luster of its own,” and “The concert welcomed all music lovers who could fit into the art-bedecked room, including those in wheelchairs. It is probably not possible to praise too highly the place this organization occupies in the lives of those who cherish fine music.”
The Music Club is equally proud of its vibrant Scholarship Program, which aids gifted and financially deserving Santa Barbara County music students. This invaluable assistance, donated by generous Music Club members, has engendered numerous letters of appreciation from SBMC scholarship recipients, many of whom have gone on to notable success in their musical careers, as the following comments exemplify:
“The Santa Barbara Music Club was there for me with financial support, performance opportunities, community support and career guidance,” wrote Tracy Harris, who today is a Yamaha International Performing Artist on flute and piccolo. “SBMC was an integral part of my musical education and played an essential role in allowing me to study with the best names in the industry. I can never thank SBMC enough for all they did for me in my formative years of study. They will always be a big part of the reason I am the successful concert artist I am today.
Violinist Calyssa Davidson wrote, “I was so pleased to hear that I am an Award winner and my promise to you, the Santa Barbara Music Club, is to become the best musician and humanitarian I can be. It is my goal to contribute with music, not only because it is my passion, but because I think it is an art form by which many could be greatly affected. I feel so blessed and honored to be given this opportunity and I hope one day I will be able to support a scholarship through the Santa Barbara Music Club for students just like me. I will not forget what you have done for me.”
The final two concerts of each season’s series are devoted to showcasing winners of the annual SBMC scholarships. These events are consistently audience favorites, and elicit high praise from critics:
In Noozhawk.com, Gerald Carpenter declared: “Of course, every Santa Barbara Music Club concert that I have ever attended has been a sensory joy as well as a consciousness expansion. Yet, I confess to a special reverence for the two concerts in June, when the club introduces this year’s winners of its scholarships, demonstrating with passion and skill the musical accomplishments that got them into the winner’s circle. There are few entertainments so rewarding, not to say inspiring, as these events dedicated to the honoring of young talent.” In The Independent, Carpenter began his review entitled Artists of the Future with “A beautiful day, a beautiful room, beautiful music, and young people playing it beautifully. Who could ask for more?”
In like manner, Margo Kline observed: “Seven golden youngsters took their bows Saturday at the Santa Barbara Music Club’s first of two Scholarship Winners Concerts, demonstrating how this organization continually enriches the South Coast’s cultural life. … As always, there was no charge for admission and the concert welcomed all music lovers who could fit into the art-bedecked room, including those in wheelchairs. It is probably not possible to praise too highly the place this organization occupies in the lives of those who cherish fine music. And through its Scholarship Program, the club means to cultivate new artists for the foreseeable future.”
The Santa Barbara Music Club also reaches beyond the walls of the concert hall: it sponsors a Community Series, which offers free monthly concerts at area retirement homes, and is an important extension of its commitment to bring music into the community, especially to homebound seniors unable to attend its regular programs.