Arts + Letters

Harmonious Memories: The Berkeley Community Chorus and Orchestra Turns 50

Fifty years after its founding as a program of the Berkeley Adult School, the Berkeley Community Chorus and Orchestra (BCCO, for short) is going stronger than ever by remaining true to its two founding principles: amateurs only, and no auditions. Membership has zoomed from 20 people to 220, and there would be even more if BCCO could find a larger rehearsal space. And the quality of the musicianship has never been higher.

Making Believe: Actor Robert Sicular’s Devotion to Berkeley, the Bard, and The Bay

Born and raised in Berkeley, Robert Sicular feels sorry for people who didn’t grow up here. He even loved his time in high school, which he remembers as full of opportunities–not just in academics, but in sports and music and the arts. When he went there, Berkeley High School’s commitment to drama was clear—there was a theater technician and costumer along with the two drama teachers—all full-time.  

New Life: A Documentary on Jazz Pianist Fred Hersch Revives Both Filmmakers and Subject

When filmmakers Carrie Lozano and Charlotte Lagarde approached jazz pianist Fred Hersch about making a documentary, they intended to capture the making of his ambitious new multimedia production, My Coma Dreams. What started as an investigation into the fantastical creations of Hersch’s unconscious mind turned into a sumptuous celebration of his entire musical world.

Message in a Bottle: Nearly Four Decades After Launch the Voyager Record Still Inspires

This Friday night the Greek Theatre will host a one-night-only performance of music and storytelling exploring the “sounds, ideas, and culture of California and the West today.” Called “The Golden State Record,” the evening’s program—a joint presentation by the folks at Pop-Up Magazine, California Sunday Magazine (not to be confused with this magazine), and festival producer NoisePop—is a nod to the NASA Voyager Golden Records, which are carried by the twin space probes, Voyagers 1 and 2.

Crazy Love: Cal Performances Brings Arabia’s Iconic Love Story to the West

The epic poem Layla and Majnun is arguably the most famous love story in the Middle East, and yet many Westerners have never heard of it. It is the tale of two teenagers who fall deeply in love but are tragically kept apart, even until death. After Layla’s father rejects Qays’s request for her hand in marriage, Qays wanders the desert expressing his undying love through poetry.

From the Fall 2016 The Greatest Show On Earth issue of California.

The Bot Versus the Bard: Researchers Teach a Computer to Write Poetry

What’s in the brain that ink may character
Which hath not figured to thee my true spirit

King of hell no quarrel have I left thee
No lovely maid who gleaned in fields or skies

One pair of lines above is the work of Shakespeare. The other was written by a computer. Can you tell which is which?

The People’s Museum: Evelyn Orantes Connects Oaklanders with the OMCA

When Evelyn Orantes studied history at UC Berkeley, she lived just a few blocks from the Oakland Museum. To her and her roommates the museum seemed as inaccessible as a castle, complete with moat. The Class of ’99 had gotten involved with Chicano politics while at Berkeley, so when she finally went to the museum for its Day of the Dead celebration, it wasn’t to enjoy but to see how OMCA was co-opting the Mexican holiday.

It Can Happen Here: Linguist Jim Cohen Interprets Frank Zappa Lyrics for Germans

It’s mid-July in Bad Doberan, a small town in Germany about two and a half hours north of Berlin. More than 2,000 music fans are present, and many, many of them are sporting Frank Zappa–style moustaches (including one young woman whose facial adornment is from a magic marker).

This is Zappanale, pronounced “zap-pa-nal-lah,” a weekend rock festival dedicated to the music of the late rock musician. Standing out among them is Jim Cohen, the show’s master of ceremonies, wearing a light-blue plaid jacket and a skinny black tie.

Sun Mad: Ester Hernández, One of the Bay Area’s Las Mujeres Muralistas, Takes on Agribusiness

Ester Hernández’s Sun Mad is her best-known piece, the one she’s most associated with. It now forms part of the San Francisco Legion of Honor exhibit, “Wild West: Plains to the Pacific,” through September 11.

Jim Ganz, who curated the show with Colleen Terry, says when they were looking for some political art to include in the show—and in their collection—Sun Mad seemed perfect. He says this print, alongside Matt Black’s photos of farm workers, adds a lot.

‘Happy Birthday’ Suit Resolved: The Most-Sung Song Is Free for All

In a rare victory for the commons, “Happy Birthday to You” enters the public domain today, finally freed from a copyright long claimed by Warner/Chappell Music. Though Judge George H. King of the federal district court in Los Angeles initially ruled last September that the copyright was not valid, the company battled on, perhaps because with no rival as the most widely recognized and frequently sung song in the English language, the tune has steadily generated some $2 million a year for the publishing company.

Famous in Guinea-Bissau: In Africa, Berkeley Band Becomes ‘Non-Militarized Face’ of USA

 Drenched in sweat, I rushed to pack up my cello before the crowd stormed the stage again. It was dark, and all the dancing had filled the hot air with reddish dust. We’d just finished our set, and I couldn’t wait to get my gear locked up in the van so I could relax. But as I knelt down to pick up my rosin, the mob of kids rushed my bandmate Brendan and slammed his back against the wall. By the time I turned, a sea of hands and fingers were rippling over his entire body.

From the Summer 2016 Welcome to There issue of California.

You’re Out: ‘The Return’ Documents the Release of Former Three Strikes Prisoners

Lock ’em up and throw away the key: For several generations California’s response to rising crime rates consisted of a variation on this theme, culminating with 1994’s severe Three Strikes law. But for the past two decades, violent crime in California has been falling, and by 2012, California voters took the unprecedented step of approving Prop. 36. For the first time in American history, voters passed an initiative that ran counter to the tough-on-crime movement. Serving as a key to long-locked prison doors, Prop. 36 enables hard-time convicts to petition for early release.

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