A California arts high school refines its already superb Music Department.

Chris Reba

Idyllwild Arts Academy has always had an outstanding music faculty, which is obviously a good thing. But by 2015 all of those first-rate teachers had attracted so many students that the Music Department had grown unwieldy.

Chris Reba, Associate Professor of Music and Sound Recording at the University of New Haven, in Connecticut, was brought in as Music Chair and given the task of reshaping the department so that its abundance of talent and ambition would be best served.

The move back to his native Southern California wasn’t easy: halfway across the country, a collision totaled his car.
 But there were no injuries and he was able to get to work. By the start of the 2016–2017 school year, the changes were in place.

“We offer several different concentrations,” Chris says, “including Orchestra, Piano, Jazz Instrumental, and Songwriting. But now we’ve combined Classical Voice and Jazz Voice into a single Voice concentration, so each Voice student has a weekly forty-five-minute private lesson with Lori Stinson, for classical voice, plus a weekly forty-five-minute private lesson with Cathy Segal-Garcia, for jazz voice.”

“At first we got a little push-back from some of the Voice students, but with the support of our excellent Voice teachers they’ve come around. At this age your voice hasn’t developed enough for you to know your best genre. High-school-age singers are discovering their voices, and studying both Classical Voice and Jazz Voice gives them more options.”

This thoughtful concern for the development of young musicians had motivated another change in the Music Department. The Academy’s new Orchestra Director, Scott Hosfeld, explains:

“You can hide in an orchestra, but not in a chamber ensemble.”

Scott goes on to elaborate on the Music Department’s new emphasis on chamber groups.

“The outstanding talent of the students here means they don’t want to hide. They’ve come here having done mainly solo work, but having them take part in orchestra as their primary ensemble may not be the best way to get them to take full responsibility for their personal development.”

Scott’s own talent for violin was cultivated by his teacher, Camilla Wicks (b. 1928), one of the first female violinists to establish a major international career. An exceptional musician, however, is not necessarily an exceptional teacher, especially of young musicians.

“We needed somebody who could relate to this age group,” says Heather Netz, the Academy’s Orchestra Manager and former Interim Music Department Chair.

Heather was able to recommend Scott as Orchestra Director because she had happy memories of learning from him as a teenager and, years later, becoming his friend. Scott grew up in Wenatchee, Washington, and helped found Icicle Creek Center for the Arts, in the North Cascade Mountains. Heather, just out of high school in Wenatchee in 1995, studied violin at Icicle Creek’s first summer program before going on to Eastman School of Music, in Rochester, New York.

Scott has organized and conducted Malibu Friends of Music’s highly successful concert series since 2005. Luckily for the Academy, Heather had relocated to Southern California and knew that Scott wasn’t far from Idyllwild.

It’s appropriate to have friendship play a role in this evolution of the Academy’s classical music program. As Heather observes, “chamber music is about intimacy.”

Encouraging intimate cooperation among small groups of students will also become a larger part of the Academy’s non-classical Songwriting concentration.

“Songwriting includes more group classes now,” Chris says, “so we’ll see more collaboration between students who come here thinking ‘I only write alt-rock’ or ‘I only write pop’ — or whatever. Students might think they know themselves and understand what they’re capable of, but it’s our job to show them more. That’s what teachers do!”

Some of the “showing more” will occur in two brand-new classes taught by guitarist Don Reed. Both Pop Music History and Analysis, which teaches critical listening, and Music Business and Marketing — team-taught with Chris — are required for Songwriters, but are open to all Music majors.

Chris is a longtime music-industry professional, experienced as both a recording engineer and a live sound technician. Not surprisingly, he has brought in a lot of high-tech equipment.

“It’s allowed us to build a fully-equipped recording suite to go along with our new concert hall and its state-of-the-art sound.”

Running the Music Department makes Chris a busy man. He needs to leave, but can’t resist a few parting words.

“This equipment and this great concert hall are what the talent here deserves.”