Meet a Member 2018-19
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LAB’s Managing Director Joan Lounsbery in conversation with LAB’s youngest member, 23-year-old harpsichordist Ethan Williams.
Tell me a bit about your early life, particularly your musical life and influences.
I was born at Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto, and grew up in Half Moon Bay, where my parents still live. They do not play instruments but they love classical music and I heard it a lot in our home. I started taking piano lessons when I was seven, but even from that early age was fascinated by the harpsichord, which I heard on recordings, like the Bach Fifth Brandenburg Concerto. There was no YouTube when I was growing up but I did have access to the internet and found recordings that way.
How did your keyboard playing evolve during high school and college?
I started playing organ when I was 13. I knew the organist at my school so was able to take lessons there. I became the organist at the local Catholic church in Half Moon Bay almost immediately. They didn’t have an organist so I was tagged. It was really quite bad at the beginning. I was terrified, but I improved quickly. I think this early exposure to playing in front of people dramatically reduced my performance anxiety later.
I went to Stanford with a double major, and received a BA in music with “departmental honors in performance” and a BS in geophysics. While at Stanford I took harpsichord and organ lessons and worked as an accompanist for students taking voice lessons. Also, I was director of music at a local church and I played with Stanford Baroque Soloists and other ad hoc chamber ensembles, wherever continuo was needed. So I was always into early music.
I know you had a big adventure last year.
Yes I did! After graduation from Stanford, I came straight to Cal Tech to pursue a Ph. D. in geophysics. The big adventure happened in 2018. With a research group from Cal Tech, I flew to New Zealand and boarded the R. V. Marcus Langseth. We sailed out of the port of Dunedin in South New Zealand for six weeks of wide-angle reflection seismic profiling. We dropped to the ocean floor an array of ocean bottom seismometers and then we went around with the ship and made a lot of loud noises. We recorded the sounds which echoed off sub-surface structures and then created images which allowed us to interpret how two tectonic plates are moving over one another. In lay terms, we stuck the earth under our recording array and got slices of the crust, similar to how neuroscientists use CT scans to get cross-sections of the human brain except using sound instead of radiation. During our month at sea there were typhoons that came through and we had to hide behind islands a couple of times. I will graduate (maybe!) in 2022 with a PhD in geophysics. I’m open to either an academic or industry career.
Now that you’re in Pasadena, what are your musical activities?
I’m organist at St. Philip the Apostle Catholic Church on Hill Street. Also I occasionally substitute at other churches. I was involved with the Cal Tech chamber music program in the beginning but at the moment but I’ve had to cut back on my work with them as I just don’t have time for it. And of course I’m a member of LAB.
What are the challenges of playing a harpsichord?
It’s surprisingly different from piano. It’s challenging to play both at the same time because the key spacing is different and the touch is completely different. Harpsichord is a plucked string instrument and the piano is a percussive instrument. The harpsichord is much more aligned to lute or guitar. There’s a pluck point on the key so you have to be very precise in your approach and it’s antithetical to how you would hit a key on the piano. And of course the organ is a wind instrument. They’re all very different in how you approach touch and articulation. There’s also the aspect of the room. You have to play the space. The harpsichord is quiet so it’s better to play it in a small room. There are a lot of ways to keep the sound going, for instance through arpeggiating chords.
You play a Roland digital harpsichord with LAB. Has that been an adjustment for you?
Not really. Stanford Baroque Soloists rehearsed with a Roland, which Stanford has had for about four years, so when I came to LAB it was an easy transition for me. The Roland Company has weighted the key action so it closely approximates the touch of a harpsichord, not at all like a digital piano.
Finally, how did you find LAB?
In the fall of 2017 I was subbing at St. James’ and I met Lucy (LAB member Lucy Jones) and she invited me to join LAB. I’ve been a member ever since. LAB is great. It’s a lot like Stanford Baroque Soloists. I assumed that music I would be doing in LA would be solo stuff; I didn’t expect to find a Baroque ensemble.
I appreciate that LAB Directors Lindsey and Alexa take it slowly with us, giving everyone, no matter what their level of playing, plenty of time to learn and rehearse the music. For those of us who are busy with other lives, it’s great that we have just four to seven rehearsals. By performance time we are playing at a very high level. I continue to be very excited to be a member of LAB. It’s ideal for me.
Los Angeles Baroque's Managing Director Joan Lounsbery interviewed LAB Co-founding Artistic Director Alexa Haynes-Pilon.
Joan Lounsbery and Alexa Haynes-Pilon in conversation:
How did the idea of LAB come about?
I’ve always been fascinated by the work Frances Blaker and Kati Kyme do up in the Bay Area, both of them directing community Baroque orchestras, creating a real bond between early music performers. I’ve been inspired by that. I knew LA had a doctors’ symphony orchestra, and that there were other community-based or niche-based orchestras, but there was no community orchestra here for the playing of Baroque music. My colleague Lindsey Strand-Polyak and I were driving back from Berkeley in the summer of 2015 and I told her I would like to start a community Baroque orchestra. She said she would, too! So we spent the next five hours in the car, me driving and she taking notes, plotting how we would make this happen. It was truly a “magical lightbulb” moment for both of us. During the rest of the summer we planned further, hit the urban dictionary for names and came up with our name, Los Angeles Baroque, which seemed to fit the bill for what we wanted to accomplish.
You have embraced a come-one come-all philosophy for membership. How does that work?
Yes, we accept anyone as long as they have an instrument that plays at 415 pitch. That’s really the only requirement. We have strings, a theorbo and a harpsichord, traverso flutes, recorders, and at one point we had a Baroque bassoonist.
As a playing member of the group, I observe that you start each new rehearsal set by digging into all the repertoire at pretty much performance tempo.
Yes we do. We set the bar high from the beginning so people know where they have to go. We don’t like to surprise people later. Although in the very beginning we do observe what Lindsey and I jokingly refer to as “Tempo di Learno”! Then we move quickly ahead to performance tempos, so that by the second or third rehearsal we are up to speed. It’s been wonderful to connect with our players and work with them musically to create a LAB sound, both with our strings and with our wind players. Frankly it’s darned inspiring for us to work with this wonderful group of people we call LAB. This season we are a band of 22.
What do you do when you’re not directing LAB?
I do lots of different things. I’m a freelance performer and teacher. I leave this Saturday to make a recording with harpsichordist Jory Vinikour in VA. I’m Principal Cellist of Musica Angelica here in LA, and I play with American Bach Soloists and will record with them in January. Through Ars Lyrica Houston I spend most of the month of May each year at K-12 schools in Texas, along with four other professional musicians. We play viols, recorders, crumhorns, dulcians and hurdy-gurdies, introducing students to Renaissance music. We’re in costume, and the kids love it. We add a little bit of dance at times. Basically, we introduce them to the society, music, dance, attire and culture of a different era. Also, I’m excited to be on the faculty of the Road Scholar Early Music Program in Carmel Valley this November; and I taught three classes at the San Francisco Early Music Society’s Recorder Workshop last summer.
You are a true Renaissance woman! You also play many instruments.
Yes, I play Baroque cello, all sizes of viola da gamba, Baroque bassoon and dulcian. My husband Justin took instrument-making in the Lutherie Department at London University, and built both viols that I own and play: a treble and a bass. Also, he restored the cello I play, built by English luthier John Morrison in the 18th Century. Next up: Justin is going to make a vielle for me. Since I’m not very good at Sudoku (I basically can’t do it!) I like to play brain games with instruments, and I love playing vielle.
Do you have a favorite instrument?
Cello is probably my favorite instrument. My cello has extra special meaning for me because Justin restored it. But I love them all in different ways and for different reasons.
Meet a member 2017-18
Los Angeles Baroque's Managing Director Joan Lounsbery interviewed LAB member Melissa Orquiza. She believes "if you surround yourself with people who are taking risks, you start looking at your own life in a different way."
Joan Lounsbery and Melissa Orquiza in conversation:
What are your earliest memories of music in your home?
I started piano at three. We lived in Carmel, Indiana and my piano teacher was affiliated with the Jordan School of Music. I remember being bundled up in snow gear to go to the lesson, then taking it all off to sit at the piano and putting it all back on again 15 minutes later; and my treat was to feed the ducks over the bridge as a reward of for my lesson. I don’t remember the music but I remember the snow gear and the ducks. I had a love-hate relationship with music as a child. I liked being able to express myself, but most kids don’t like to practice for too long, me included. However, I was motivated by the stickers and that’s the only reason I practiced. I would always try to figure out the fastest way to learn something so I could get the most stickers. I come from a family of physicians. My paternal grandmother played the piano, and in the Philippines she won a big prize on piano. My mother says I got my musical talent gene from my Filipino grandmother. My mother wanted me to play the piano because she wanted me to be well-rounded.
Where were you educated?
I majored in film scoring/music composition at USC. I got a Bachelor of Music there and a Masters Degree in composition from UCLA. I always wanted to play the cello, and I started to get bored with the piano. I’d run through all the Chopin etudes, waltzes, ballades. Basically, I had piano burn-out happening. I wanted to find my love of playing again and feel like a kid again. I rented a cello and Lindsey’s (Strand-Polyak, LAB Artistic Director) husband Jonathan Beard gave me my first lessons. Then I started studying with Stan Sharp (Hollywood Bowl Orchestra) at the Colburn School. He knew I was an accomplished musician and it was just the physical challenge of playing a new instrument that I had to overcome. So, he gave me the fundamentals of playing the cello instead of going through early technique books. He knew I didn’t have the time to put in hours of practice so he gave me a cheat sheet so I could pick it up as quickly as possible. He’s a wonderful teacher.
How did you find LAB?
I saw a Facebook post from Lindsey about LAB membership. I have always admired her for her early music knowledge. When she would talk about the research she was doing at UCLA, it was interesting to me because she put context to it, she was relatable, and she could bring everyday-life analogies to early music. I hated early music when I studied it at USC and she completely turned me around because she was smart, accomplished and funny.
How are you liking your membership in LAB?
I love the fact that LAB members are so diverse in their backgrounds. However, we all have something in common. We want to learn something new, we want to have fun, and because time is precious to all of us, we don’t want to be bored or waste time. When I saw the Facebook post, I thought, wow this gives me a chance to play classical music on the cello; and LAB surpassed all my expectations.
I’m protective of my time. I have to be, as a working mom, but this was a perfect fit. Plus, I love talking with my colleagues during our tea and cookies breaks, all of whom have such interesting backgrounds and lives.
What I admire about Lindsey and Alexa, and why I support them, is because they have taken a risk with LAB and it’s paying off. We live in a highly competitive city, they have found a way to make this work, and it’s like nothing else that’s offered in LA. If you surround yourself with people who are taking risks, you start looking at your own life in a different way. I’ve tried to do that and it’s nice to see others accomplish it, too.
Tell me a little about your life when you aren’t playing cello with LAB.
I am a mom, musician, songwriter and entrepreneur. I work in music preparation services for Booker White at Walt Disney Studios. My husband Dave is a jazz pianist and arranger and we’ve just had our first child, Eva Christine (“Chillie”), born in July. Sometimes, she comes to rehearsals and she seems to love it. She hates the piano and she loves the cello. She screams when Dave or I play the piano and when I play the cello she smiles and falls asleep. I like to cook, read K-beauty and fashion blogs, sleep and surf. Nothing’s better than hanging out with my daughter, music in the background, and cooking in the kitchen.
LAB is a wonderful opportunity for specialist early wind players to join a baroque string band, adding contrasting colors to the soundscape. Managing Director Joan Lounsbery recently spoke with baroque flautist Janna Stauffer, who was featured in LAB's Dance Party program on March 11, 2018:
Joan Lounsbery and Janna Stauffer in conversation:
What are your earliest memories of playing your first instrument?
My mom’s a pianist and I played piano first, as soon she would let me. I was pretty young and I played for a long time. Our family sang all the time. I was home-schooled growing up and my mom taught us a folk song every week and our family had a binder full of random folk songs. There was always music in the house.
When did you start playing flute?
I started talking about playing flute when I was really young. We listened to a lot of classical music and I’m sure I must have heard flute from the time I was 5 or 6. I kept asking and asking, and finally one of our neighbors loaned us an old flute from her attic. I started taking lessons when I was 9. I started playing in a youth orchestra in the western suburbs of Chicago when I was 12. My private teacher finally said “I can’t teach you anymore. You have to go to someone better than me.” My new teacher held regular recitals so I got to play in one recital a year.
Then my family moved to the country. Northern Illinois University was 45 minutes away. They had a community program so college kids could teach younger people. My teacher referred me to the flute professor at NIU, Peter Middleton, and he invited me to come in and play for him. I was 15 and super nervous about playing for a college professor. He spent an hour with me (it felt like such a long time) and then he started giving me lessons. Then I ended up going to college there.
How and when did you make the transition to Baroque flute?
I had a music history professor there who ran an early music ensemble and in my sophomore year I took a class with her. I started playing soprano recorder in the early music ensemble, mostly Medieval and Renaissance music. In my junior year she asked me “Why aren’t you playing Baroque flute? I have one. I’ll let you borrow it and let’s see what happens.” It’s so different mechanically from a silver flute and I was really challenged by it. Because it’s made out of wood it’s more sensitive than silver. The differences were driving me crazy. Then I started not wanting to play Baroque music on silver flute, and I had felt this way since high school. I had to play Bach in my freshman year at NIU and hated it. We had to play Hotteterre and Telemann in my junior year, which coincided with my beginning to play this music on Baroque flute. I needed my own instrument and commissioned Rod Cameron in Mendocino to make a baroque flute for me. Then the music history professor suggested I go to graduate school and major in early music. I didn’t even know there was such a thing! I applied to Indiana University, Peabody, Juilliard (it was the first year of the program there) and The Longy School in Boston. They all granted me an audition, and they all went well. It was a crazy spring in my senior year going to all the auditions, in addition to playing piccolo and flute in many of the NIU ensembles. I was accepted at all except Juilliard (which was fine because I didn’t think I wanted to live in NYC) and I chose Longy because I fell in love with Boston. I got a Masters in Historical Performance there.
After graduation a friend encouraged me to move to Houston because everything was starting to happen arts-wise there. I met the Assistant Principal Flute in the Houston Symphony. She said there was a Baroque orchestra there and I auditioned a lot but nothing happened. All this while I was moving up the ladder at Starbucks as a store manager, but it was soul-sucking. What else could I do? All my adult life people would tell me I should be a teacher. Because I was home-schooled, I started looking into alternative schools, and stumbled on The Waldorf School. It was so similar to my own home-schooling and I really responded to it.
What do you do currently when you aren’t playing Baroque flute?
Houston friends had been in touch with the owner of a recording studio in LA to and recommended me for a job there - unbeknownst to me! In June of 2014, he flew me to LA for an interview. He offered me the job and 4 weeks later I moved to LA. I had the job for one year and then remembered that there was a Waldorf training school in LA. In 2015 I started Saturday-training at the Waldorf Institute of Southern California. I’m currently an assistant teacher at the Pasadena Waldorf School. I’ll finish training this May and will apply for a job as a Waldorf teacher upon graduation.
I hear you’re a sports fan!
Baseball is in my family’s blood. My mom is a baseball fan, and my older brother started playing T Ball at 7. He wanted to be a professional player. All my summers were spent at the ball field. I was born into a Cubs family and I listened or watched the Cubs games, as well as all my brother’s games. My brother played through college, and now coaches a high school baseball team. It was so great when the Cubs won the World Series in 2016.
LAB's Managing Director Joan Lounsbery spoke with LAB regulars Christian D'Souza and J Winthrop ('Win') Aldrich (both pictured) during the Fall 17 'Roman Holiday' rehearsal run about their experiences playing with Los Angeles Baroque, and more. Here's what they had to say:
Joan Lounsbery and Christian D'Souza in conversation:
Christian, tell us about your early years with the violin.
I’m from a military family. I played a violin for the first time in 3rd grade, when we were asked to choose a stringed instrument at my school in Annapolis, MD, where my dad taught at the US Naval Academy. The first time I played it I put it on the wrong shoulder and played it backwards until I had my first lesson! I then played it continuously through college, with private teachers along the way, membership in the San Diego Youth Symphony, and in the Brandeis University Orchestra and the UC San Diego Orchestra. I didn’t play again until a couple of years ago. Work got in the way!
What is your history with the violin you now play?
I wanted to buy a violin with my own money. So in high school I took a job at an AMC theater to save up for one. Finally, in 11th grade, I had saved enough money and bought a decent German-made violin. It was a thrill for me. I even remember the exact amount I paid for it: $2128.06. I play that violin to this day.
How did you find your way to Los Angeles Baroque?
When I finally decided to return to playing after several years away from the violin, I called UCLA to see if they could recommend a teacher. They recommended Lindsey Strand-Polyak, who, I found out, lived 7 blocks away from me in Santa Monica. When she started LAB last year, she urged me to join. I had never played Baroque-style violin. She set me up with gut strings and a Baroque bow. I fell in love with gut strings (especially the e-string) and will never go back! I also fell in love with Baroque music. Lindsey makes it so fun. It’s all her fault!
How did you come to have your current job?
I thought I wanted to work for the State Department in Foreign Service, so I started a multi-year process of applying, including grueling written and oral tests and a lot of years of waiting for next steps, including interviews. While I was waiting (and thinking I would never get a job with them) I decided I wanted to go into finance. I got my MBA at Georgetown University in 2008, and went to work on Wall Street, right at the time of the big economic downturn. I worked for Wachovia Bank and was part of a team that sold the bank to Wells Fargo. Then I went to work at Wells’ headquarters in Charlotte. Wanting to be closer to my family, I returned to Los Angeles and in 2012 took a job with The Disney Company as Director of Investor Relations. I work with Wall St. analysts and major shareholders keeping them informed of activities throughout all the Disney entities. It’s a fun job. Last year I took a group of investors to Shanghai for the opening of the new Park there. By the way, I did end up getting the job at the State Department, but by the time I heard I was well on my way into the world of finance.
If you were to give advice to someone who’s thinking about learning the Baroque style of performance, what would it be?
Well, what really resonated with me was trying out the gut strings, and the Baroque bow. There are so many things I love about it. I love the fact that it’s a smaller more intimate group as opposed to a big orchestra. LAB gives you the ability to make an individual contribution. It’s like an individual sport vs. a team sport. Sometimes it’s one on a part, and it takes a different mindset. You don’t know what you don’t know until you try it!
What do you do when you’re not working or playing in LAB?
I love international travel. My husband is from India and we usually go there once a year and add a country to that trip. I am an amateur potter, and I spend many Saturdays at the neighborhood potting studio. And I love cooking desserts. I’m a fantasy pastry chef!
Joan Lounsbery and J Winthrop ("Win") Aldrich in conversation:
When did you pick up a recorder for the first time, Win?
I was handed a recorder in third grade, as were all my classmates in Woodbury, Connecticut. In college, I bought a recorder but never played it. Then, in 2010, I took that recorder out of a seriously deteriorated case, and I’ve been playing ever since.
What do you do when you’re not playing music? What’s your profession?
My education and professional life revolved around material science, engineering, applied math and science. I received a PhD from Brown University, taught at Boston University and MIT, then went into industrial research, first at American Optical in Southbridge, MA as head of Materials and Process Engineering, followed by a stint at Polaroid Corporation as Manager of the Sesame Research Division. I met my wife Carole, a graphic designer, in graduate school and eventually we drifted west because I was appointed a teaching position at Cal Poly Pomona. I became Department Chair of Chemical and Materials Engineering there, before retiring in 2004.
Tell me more about your recorder playing.
The recorder I bought in college is a Kung alto, which I still own. When I finally made the decision to play, I took lessons at the Claremont Community School of Music. There I discovered the Village Pipers, one of Claremont’s two recorder groups. Later I got involved with the Orange County Recorder Society where I’m now President, and the Southern California Recorder Society where I’m a board member. I’m also on the board of Tesserae and a former board member of the American Recorder Society.
How did you find your way to Los Angeles Baroque?
I saw a listing on Facebook for last fall’s inaugural concert, so I decided to go. I was struck by how much fun the musicians seemed to be having as they made their way through gems of the Baroque repertoire. Then I spoke with you at the reception, and you urged me to join. I’ve never regretted it for a moment. I love playing in recorder groups, but there’s nothing quite like playing a group with diverse instruments.
If you had a message for newcomers to this music – performers or audience members – what would it be?
Give it a try! It’s really fun!