A Timely Idea: Part Five

This series, A Timely Idea, tells the history of the Music Academy of the West – a story of innovation, rising to meet great challenges, and transformational philanthropy. Be sure to catch up on parts onetwothree, and four.



Part Five: Early Success

At the conclusion of a Music Academy Summer School and Festival, patrons often ask the staff, “What do you do now?” The answer, of course, is start planning for the next year. This was no different after the close of the first Festival in 1947. Amidst the more mundane post-Festival business—writing letters of appreciation to the Santa Barbara News-Press for its coverage of the season and to Curtis Wolsey Cate for the use of his school as a host site— were more pressing issues like the Academy’s legal status and the continued expansion of the program. Up to that point, for reasons mostly of convenience, they had been operating under the auspices of the Southern California Society for Music Education. It was time, the board felt, that the Music Academy should be incorporated as a legal entity of its own. Now newly incorporated, their attention turned to further developing the Academy’s program. In keeping with their geographical directive as an organization for the training of students in the western United States, committees were planned to promote the Academy in many western cities. By 1948, such groups had been established in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Bakersfield, and there was interest in forming one in Salt Lake City. The board also explored the possibility of forming committees in Oklahoma, Texas, and Colorado.

Their hard work paid off. After the first Festival had attracted 46 full time students (plus 7 day students), the second festival enrolled 72 full time students. Their success also attracted the interest of further distinguished faculty. Darius Milhaud, a French composer of great renown, was named Honorary Director of the Academy for the 1948 season. A Milhaud Festival Week was organized to celebrate his involvement. Also on the faculty that summer was one of the twentieth century’s most influential musicians: Arnold Schoenberg. The Austrian-born composer and music theorist served as the Academy’s very first composer-in-residence. During his six-week tenure he taught composition lessons and presented a weekly lecture series. Schoenberg’s residency was followed by another, this one featuring the noted American composer Roy Harris and culminating in a Roy Harris Festival Concert.

Even with the growth and development of the Music Academy on their minds, though, the Academy’s leadership never faltered in their belief that the Summer Festival should cater to advanced students and endeavor to provide scholarships to as many of their students as possible. The wide availability of scholarships had been a major talking point in the press following the first season in 1947, and the generosity of local Santa Barbarans continued to impress in 1948. Ganna Walska, the enigmatic lady of Lotusland, gave a $5,000 gift, at that time the largest single donation to the Music Academy.

A spring benefit concert in support of the scholarship program became an annual affair; violinist Roman Totenberg and singer Richard Bonelli headlined the 1949 event. In late 1949, the board established a foundation to support the Music Academy’s continued operation. They seeded this foundation with an initial $2,000; a French Riviera-themed winter gala event raised another $1,500.

Composer and Honorary Director Darius Milhaud (seated, center) is surrounded by other faculty. From left to right, standing: Charles Jones, composer and Milhaud’s assistant; diction coach Evelina Colorni; diction coach Madeleine Milhaud; cellist Nikolai Graudan, and bassoonist Simon Kovar. Seated on ground: Martial Singher and pianist Joanna Graudan.

Composer Arnold Schoenberg

The Academy continued to attract high-level students and faculty during the 1950 season. Dedicated woodwind and brass departments were added, led by renowned New York Philharmonic bassoonist Simon Kovar and UCSB music department chair Maurice Faulkner, respectively. Also new to the faculty was French baritone Martial Singher, who had starred on the Met Opera stage. But as the Academy grew and attracted students, distinguished faculty, and donors, it was still missing one thing. It did not have a permanent home. That was about to change.

– Henry Michaels
Resonance editor, Audience Services and Community Access Manager, Music Academy of the West


Sharon Crawford, Music Academy of the West, Santa Barbara: Fifty Years, 1947-1997 (1997)

Special thanks to Konnie Gault for providing her notes on early Music Academy board minutes