We had the good fortune of connecting with Jason Barabba and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jason, why did you pursue a creative career?
I don’t believe I ever made a conscious choice to be in the arts. It came down to me realizing that composing music is the thing I get the most excited about doing, while also having enough self-confidence to believe that what I write is of value. This was a lengthy process that I’m constantly re-evaluating, as I imagine most artists do. I do not have a head for business or finance. I have little patience for lengthy meetings. I’m happiest when I can pursue an idea at my own pace, and find the right people to work with to make something happen. I’m a huge believer in collaboration, and I absolutely love when I get to work with talented people in any field. As a composer and presenter, I get the chance to work with just about any kind of artist that you can think of, and that’s been wonderful for my own creative output. I’m always influenced by the world around me. I was Company Manager for Boston Court Performing Arts Center in Pasadena for several years, and since then I’ve incorporated a lot more dramatic elements in my music, including narration parts for actors, and getting to work with playwrights and directors to realize ideas that are bigger than myself. It’s a wild and exciting ride, and I’m so grateful for all of these partnerships I’ve been able to develop. My two most recent projects are collaborations with actor/director/playwright June Carryl, who was Assistant Director for the last show I worked at Boston Court. They are both works I’m very excited to complete and share. One is a monodrama for soprano and 12 strings based on June’s play “The Life and Death Of” about a young Florida woman who was murdered last Summer. It’s a devastating play that June originally wrote for a whole ensemble of actors. For my version, the one soprano will take on all the scenes. June and I are also working on an original opera about the character and corporate image of Aunt Jemima, diving deep into the history of this complex and difficult part of our culture. We spent the Summer researching, reading and talking over ideas. We were fortunate to be included in Overtone Industries’ “Original Vision” program this year. Original Vision is a presentation of theatre pieces created by three composer and librettist teams and directed by O-Lan Jones, which will premiere 10 to 15-minute mythic storytelling scenes as short films. These powerful pieces address loss, grief, racism, hope, and female empowerment. June’s texts for our scene from Aunt Jemima are really gorgeous and tough at the same time. It’s a real pleasure to work with her on every level. It’s projects like that that make me glad I pursued a creative career. Hosted by Overtone Productions, Original Vision will be presented as a live stream via YouTube, premiering Saturday, May 29.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Being a working artist in LA has an interesting combination of good and not-so-good elements. It’s a very creative city where people do respect artists, but it’s also an incredibly expensive place to live where many people seem to think artists don’t need to be paid a living wage. For new music, Los Angeles has been a great incubator for many interesting and diverse voices, and I’ve been honored to be a part of that process. I have recently made the decision to move to Italy after COVID-19 is under control. Leaving LA is hard for me on so many levels, I was born there, and I’ve lived in the same place in Silver Lake for 22 years. I’m leaving for a number of reasons, but a big one is affordability. I worry about LA’s future. So many musicians and artists I know were barely keeping their heads about water before COVID, and now we just don’t know what is coming in the future. I’m fortunate in that I’m able to become a dual citizen, and my hope is that once I’m settled there I will be able to act as a conduit to bring LA’s artists to Italy, and maybe bring some Italian artists to LA. I will absolutely continue to be a part of the new music world in LA for the rest of my life, because it’s deeply ingrained. Moving forward I expect I will be doing more musical dramas, not necessarily operas, but I see dramatic elements in my work becoming my main focus for a while. I learned long ago to not predict the future, but in the short term at least, this is my focus. I’m excited to finish up both of my projects with June, and then there was a play at Boston Court Pasadena that I’ve spoken with the playwright about turning into an opera that I would love to get to soon.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
My favorite place to take people is Little Tokyo. It’s fun, and easy to walk around. The food and drink options are outstanding, and I’ve always felt it was a special place. I try and take people to the Walt Disney Concert Hall when I can, because I find that whole building inspirational in addition to the inspirational groups that call it home. Since COVID hit, I’ve been missing the upper patio at The Red Lion in Silverlake, and eating at Casita del Campo on Hyperion. I look forward to enjoying both of those places again soon. Additionally, ever since I started working in theater, I’ve found an appreciation for the small (officially “intimate”) theaters that are all over the city. I’ve seen so much cool stuff over the years. I used to always try to include LACMA when guests visit, but I guess that’s going to be a very different experience once they’re done tearing down everything and replacing it. I am eager to see the results, but I will miss some of the old buildings.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Of course I want to start with my frequent collaborator June Carryl, stunningly talented playwright, actor and director. Superstar violist Diana Wade is half of the drainage-tube-playing Spacepants duo in addition to being a fierce champion of new music (and Hindemith). Heidi Lesemann, Executive Director at Piano Spheres has done more for the new music community in LA than anyone I know. Elizabeth Huston, Executive Director of Synchromy is a force to be reckoned with in arts management, and Los Angeles is lucky she decided to come here. I don’t want to miss adding my good friends and co-Artistic Directors at Synchromy…Dante De Silva , Ethan Braun, Juhi Bansal and Vera Ivanova.
The main photo of me (laughing and sitting outside) is credited to Emrey Ozcan The one from behind of me taking applause from the audience is Adam Borecki The live performance shot (not of me, but of the premiere of Lettere da Triggiano) is Brian Blevins