Originally published December 9, 2013 at 6 a.m., updated December 12, 2013 at 10:46 a.m.
Bill Conti, is Principal Pops Conductor for the San Diego Symphony
Leonor Xochitl Perez, PhD, is artistic projects manager for the San Diego Symphony
The San Diego Symphony asked everyday San Diegans to send in videos of their music to help inspire an original orchestral composition about San Diego.
One man is tasked with composing an original piece of orchestral music about San Diego: Bill Conti. If you don’t know his name, you probably recognize his music. Think grey sweats and a famous run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Arts.
Bill Conti composed the theme music to the movie "Rocky." He’s also the principal pops conductor at the San Diego Symphony, the entity commissioning the San Diego-inspired music.
Composing music that captures the spirit of an underdog fighter is one thing. Capturing the pulse and identity of an entire city is something else entirely. Conti is getting some help. Symphony leadership asked every-day San Diegans to share their music and stories to help him. The project is called "Your Song, Your Story" and it's funded through a grant from the James Irvine Foundation.
In a conference room at Symphony headquarters, a committee of musicians and ethnomusicologists are sifting through more than 300 videos submitted by San Diegans. There are videos of people, singing, performing and telling their stories. And there’s a range. The Martin Luther King Choir submitted a video. So did a 10–year-old girl who plays "Camptown Races" on her keyboard. A beat boxer wanted to be considered, so his video is there too.
The committee selected 24 videos to give to Bill Conti for inspiration, narrowing it down by focusing on original works. The song "Better Days" by Joshua Sharpe was one of the 24.
Jonathan Fohrman is an ethnomusicologist at Mira Costa College in Oceanside. He’s on the committee. Fohrman likes the idea of collecting what he calls “the music of the people.”
"When I first heard of it, it made me think of the public works types projects that America was doing in the 1930s with Woody Guthrie," he explained. "When they were writing songs that represented the American experience."
The diversity of San Diego is represented in the submissions, from the Pacific Islander community, to the Chaldean, to two hip-hop artists trying to start a new San Diego dance craze called the "San Diego Dip."
Jeff Nevin is a professor of music at Southwestern College. He also helped select the videos going to Conti. He says some of the stories were just as powerful as the music.
"One little boy talked about how he came home from school one day and his dad had been deported. One girl talked about how she coped with being bullied," Nevin said.
A woman told the story of her son who was shot and killed in Los Angeles. She wrote a lullaby for him and performs it in a video.
Fohrman says a lot of people shared stories about overcoming addiction and domestic violence.
Leonore Xochitl Perez is the San Diego Symphony's artistic projects manager. She's coordinating “Your Song, Your Story." She says they see this as a way to grow the audience base.
"The Symphony is very aware of the fact, trying to reach out to audiences it doesn’t normally get at Symphony Hall."
Conti is working on the piece now. The final composition will be performed at Symphony Hall next summer and at a series of block parties, all free to the public. There will be performances by some of the groups who submitted videos to the project. Other videos will be worked into a multi-media component.
All of the videos can be viewed online. Including this performance of a Bruno Mars cover featuring Lance, a 9-year-old Filipino boy from Lemon Grove. He’s only been playing piano for a few months. He recorded three versions before he felt like his performance was good enough. So I’m going to let him sing us out.