The San Francisco-based chamber orchestra One Found Sound is no stranger to unconventional concert experiences, whether they be in-person or online. “We’ve never had a show where someone new hasn’t shown up and said ‘I didn’t even know something like this existed,’” oboist Jesse Barrett commented during a recent interview. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, the group’s eighth season has continued their characteristic creativity and innovation. Their April 22nd concert, SPRING, is all about collaboration — the online watch party will combine pre-recorded and live elements, celebrating the debut of their education program as well as artistic partnerships with Bay Area poets.
Without a conductor or a music director, One Found Sound’s musicians have the unique opportunity to choose the orchestra’s repertoire through a voting process. While picking music for spring 2021, they noticed a trend of pieces with references to water, leading them to name the season “Water Music.” It’s a theme that feels very fitting for the moment, flutist and co-founder Sasha Launer explained. “Right now it feels like life is kind of on hold, but at the same time it’s actually continuing to move — kind of like how water is always in motion.”
SPRING will be a celebration of the inaugural One Found Sound Education Program, which paired orchestra members with students from two area schools for mentoring and side-by-side performances. Students from Edna Brewer Middle School, one of the most diverse schools in Oakland, will be featured in a pre-recorded performance of Omar Thomas’ A Mother of a Revolution!
Launer described Thomas’ piece, which was inspired by trans activist Marsha “Pay It No Mind” Johnson, as an “ode to all of the trans women who have literally put their lives on the line for the rights of trans people in our country and in the world.” One Found Sound gravitated towards Thomas for his diverse background and accomplishments — born in Brooklyn to Guyanese parents, Thomas is an experienced composer in both the classical and jazz idioms as well as an “incredible” activist for the LGBTQ community. “We’re very thrilled to be able to play his music,” Launer.
The group’s second educational partnership is with Enriching Lives Through Music (ELM), an El Sistema-inspired program that serves San Rafael’s Canal neighborhood. The area is located in the affluent Marin County, which also has one of the largest wealth disparities in the nation. A tuition-free program, ELM caters to the area’s large yet under-resourced Latinx community by providing children with a music education that includes ensemble experience and scholarships for private lessons.
Thanks to California’s sunny weather and ELM’s spacious parking lot, the students were able to record Astor Piazzolla’s Libertango along with OFS musicians in a socially distanced setting. Barrett praised the experience: “Can you imagine getting to do that as a kid?” “We feel so lucky to have been able to work with them,” Launer added, also explaining that both groups of students inspired this concert’s title. “We love this idea of these amazing kids being like spring — this source of energy and movement going forward.”
These two performances are highlighted by imaginative music videos produced by Max Savage of Noisy Savage. Both Launer and Barrett had nothing but praise for the video producer, lauding his innovative thought process. His perspective meshed well with One Found Sound right from their first meeting over the summer. “We didn’t want just a static image,” Launer said. “We wanted something that captured the music more, and that was more than just trying to recreate what you would see at a live concert.” Barrett added, “It’s a serendipitous pairing — he’s just that kind of creative who is always fun to watch, let alone collaborate with.”
The second half of the watch party furthers that spirit of partnership by featuring an “artistic game of telephone” between OFS musicians and Bay Area poets. After reaching out to Green Apple Books, one of San Francisco’s most treasured bookshops, One Found Sound connected with local poets Kar Johnson, Thea Matthews, Christine No, and Preeti Vangani, pairing each with a musician from the orchestra.
First, the poets sent the musicians one of their poems. The musicians — violinist Abi Shiman, violist Christy Simpson, cellist Helen Newby (OC ’13), and oboist Ryan Zwahlen — then replied with a piece of music, written either by another composer or themselves. The poets are currently crafting their response. Both the music choices and the new poems will be performed live, and the artists will discuss their artistic process and field questions from the virtual audience. As it turned out, the online format worked in the group’s favor by allowing OFS members who no longer live in the Bay Area to participate in the collaboration.
That kind of genuine dedication to the orchestra is reflected in the easy camaraderie of Launer and Barrett. Launer estimated that the majority of the group has been there since the very beginning in 2013. “Obviously we’re all very good friends and have been working together for a very long time, which is part of what makes our dynamic as much fun as it is — even when we’re doing really serious work,” Barrett said. The musicians are united in their mission to broaden the reach of classical music. “This is so very much from the heart, and from the heart of what the organization has always been about.”
All the innovations and creative partnerships of the past year will continue. One Found Sound plans to keep working with Max Savage next season, both by accentuating their in-person experiences and by continuing to create videos for their newfound online audience. More cross-disciplinary collaborations are also on the way. “Of course this pandemic is horrendous, but I think that the creativity that has come out of it has been really exciting for One Found Sound,” Launer said.
“Our long-term goals are to be touring and sharing these types of musical experiences with communities outside of the Bay Area,” she added. “So, who knows —maybe someday we’ll get to Oberlin.”