Cirque du Soleil Redefines World Music with ‘Totem’

photo by John Mattera

Since the Cirque du Soleil production Totem opened in San Pedro on Oct. 11, its acrobatic, multi-sensory narrative of the evolution of mankind has captured the imaginations of audience members of all ages. Close your eyes, though, and you’ll be captured by its exotic, percussive soundtrack – composed by the Montreal-based Guy Dubuc and Marc Lessard, who work together under the moniker Bob & Bill – which mirrors the show’s evocative imagery and atmosphere.

Incorporating indigenous music from across the globe, the rhythmic, multi-cultural music of Totem is “a trip around the world, starting from the first nations to today’s modern world,” Dubuc and Lessard said in a recent interview conducted by e-mail. That trip includes such seemingly disparate elements as Spanish flamenco, Native American influences and African rhythms, yet the pair manages to weave everything together in a way that effectively reiterates the Totem story of humanity.

Although tackling such a grand existential project might seem overwhelming, Dubuc and Lessard – who met while attending college and for 15 years have worked together scoring video games, TV shows and films – said they simply followed the script. “Like the evolution of mankind, we started from the beginning,” they said. “It’s the same process as writing for a movie – we have to follow the emotion curve of the performance by creating some (high) points in the music.”

When crafting ideas together for Cirque du Soleil, Dubuc plays keyboards while Lessard drums and sings. “We shoot different ideas and keep the ones we think sound the best,” they explain. “Then, our goal is to synchronize the music with the acrobatic acts. We’re inspired by the script, images from the creation of the show and costume designs, and we also like to bring the acrobats in our studio and work closely together.”

Although Dubuc and Lessard had previously served as musical directors and arrangers for several Cirque du Soleil productions and even produced the soundtrack to the touring production Kooza, Totem – the performances of which feature a live band with multiple vocalists, percussionists and guitarists, including former Genesis and Spock’s Beard singer/drummer Nick D’Virgilio – was the first Cirque show the pair composed. They have since written music for two additional Cirque shows (including another touring production, Amaluna) and are currently working on another Cirque project in development, they say.

“Writing music for Cirque du Soleil is very close to who we are,” they say, noting that Totem took them two years to compose. “Since the beginning, our dream was to write music for big shows like Cirque du Soleil, and it’s a great opportunity for us.”

With its global worldview, it’s hard to imagine a grander platform for Dubuc and Lessard than Totem. By incorporating sounds from numerous cultures past and present and using a wide variety of indigenous musical instruments from Mexican basses to Indian sitars, the show’s music is the aural equivalent to a voyage not only around the world, but also through time. In fact, its seamless meshing of traditional tribal music with contemporary influences makes you wonder if music has truly always been – and will always continue to be – the universal language. spt

Performances of Totem continue in San Pedro at 3011 S. Miner St. (near Berth 46) on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Nov. 10. Tickets range from $55-$135. For more information, visit

Clay Marshall is a San Pedro-based freelance writer who has written for Billboard, Guitar World and the L.A. Weekly, among others. He can be reached at

It’s Not About Burning Calories

If you want to lose weight so you can feel confident and have energy without wasting time on methods that don’t work, then read on. What I’m going to tell you may completely change how you look at weight-loss.

Last month, I talked about the comfortable rut. It’s the place so many of us find ourselves in where we aren’t happy, but things haven’t gotten bad enough to change. If you are fed up and ready to end the rut, I want to set you on the right path and keep you from wasting effort and failing because you followed the wrong map.

I am going to assume your goal is fitness. You want a flatter stomach (maybe even abs), a firm butt, better arm definition, and it’d be nice to stop feeling so dang tired all the time.

Oh, and you don’t particularly have a lot of time in the week to do it.

Sound about right? Okay I’m going to show you a few common misconceptions people have about weight-loss and exercise. It may even explain why you’ve failed in the past. Here goes…

Losing weight – Perhaps the most important idea in regards to fitness is this: You do not try to lose weight. You try to lose body fat. There’s a big difference.

Losing weight is easy. Skip dinner and run on a treadmill for an hour. Do that for a month. You will lose a ton of weight (plus your sanity) and start to resemble a bag of skin propped up by a coat hanger.

The problem with most approaches to weight-loss is that it’s a short-term solution focusing solely on getting the number on the scale to drop. It puts you on severe calorie restriction (shakes, appetite-suppressing pills, long bouts of cardio) so that you can get the gratification of dramatic weight-loss.

However the results never last because a.) Nobody can live like that long-term, b.) Your body adapts and it stops working, and c.) Losing a ton of weight quickly means much of that weight is lean mass.

When you lose twenty pounds in three weeks, only a portion of it was fat. Any extended period of severe calorie restriction is almost always followed by a re-feeding period. Meaning, these people almost always gain the weight back. Only now they have less lean mass, making it easier to put on more fat than before.

It is true that to lose weight you need to create a deficit by consuming less calories than you burn in day. The problem is that people take this to an extreme and try to burn as many calories as possible. This leads directly to the second myth: Exercise is for burning calories.

Running or doing cardio alone for the sake of burning calories is a terrible method for burning fat. Your body is an adapting machine and will adapt to virtually anything thrown at it and will steadily get better in any routine until it becomes virtually effortless.

Your body must expend energy (calories) in everything it does. However, your body is a shrewd machine designed to survive so it will constantly try to save energy when and where it can.

When you first start running, your body is shocked by the change. You burn a ton of calories, sweat like crazy and after a couple weeks drop a ton of weight. But shortly after, doing generally doing the same workout stops working and you will plateau. This is the case with any exercise. Lack of variety will kill your progress.

Exercising to burn calories will have you focusing on spending longer and longer periods on the treadmill. Instead, what you should aim to do is increase your metabolic rate, the rate at which you burn calories all day in and out of the gym.

The right approach is adopting a well-planned strength and conditioning program that will add, not decrease, lean mass. You don’t need a gym or weights starting out either. You couple that with avoiding refined carbohydrates, sugar and processed food. Do that and you’ll be well on your way out of the comfortable rut. spt

Great Streets = Great Community

If we are going to have a conversation about the impact arts can have on a community, we must mention the current talk of the town, the Cirque du Soleil show Totem, which opened in San Pedro last month and will run until Nov. 10.

I took my family to see the show several days after it opened and was pleasantly surprised, not only by the quality of the show and its performers, but by the sense of community that I experienced while enjoying the evening out with my family in San Pedro.

While the show will bring approximately 50,000 people to San Pedro during its month-long run, helping our local economy and our local businesses, the experience of being out in San Pedro at a high-end professional entertainment event as we ran into familiar face after familiar face is something that I have not felt since my parents took me to Ports O’ Call when I was a kid. On a warm summer-like night out we greeted each other before the show, raved about it during the intermission and seemingly floated to our cars after, waving goodnight to each other. It was a very special evening in every way.

The fact that Cirque du Soleil chose San Pedro as its Los Angeles location for Totem, coupled with the fact that the redevelopment of Ports O’ Call Village will start in just over a year, where we will see new retail, dining and entertainment opportunities, is evidence enough that San Pedro is returning to its roots of being a social community that has a lot to offer to its residents and its visitors.

The reception room at the top of Los Angeles City Hall, called the Tom Bradley Room, has an inscription that reads: “The City Came into Being To Preserve Life, It Exists for the Good Life,” a quote from Aristotle. Even though we live in a suburb of the great city of Los Angeles, we are very much part of the fabric of it and participate in the evolution of it.

We live in an urban age. For the first time in history, most people live in cities and the UN estimates that over the next 40 years, the population is going to double on the planet. While we focus on the basics that preserve life – police & fire, maintaining streets and ensuring sanitation – it is equally important that we feed the soul of the city through arts and entertainment to ensure our residents can participate in “the good life.”

The city can support our new and exploding arts community by ensuring that the public environment in our arts district is thriving by being functional and safe. We must ensure there is ample parking, lighting and police patrol. We must work to create more public space that allows for the incubation of even more art, community and entertainment. Our First Thursday Art Walk is an ideal example of this.

A couple weeks ago, Mayor Garcetti issued his first executive directive, launching the Great Streets Initiative. “A great neighborhood needs a great street as its backbone, and, as city leaders, we need the backbone to make the bold changes necessary to build great streets,” said Mayor Garcetti.

The directive establishes a working group comprised of several City departments and headed by Doane Liu, Deputy Mayor of City Services (as well as a longtime San Pedro resident and my former Chief of Staff). The group is tasked with identifying 40 potential “great streets,” and proposing potential improvements – such as lighting, street furniture and landscaping – with the overall goal of increasing economic activity, improving access and mobility, enhancing neighborhood character, increasing community engagement, improving environmental resilience and making safer and more secure communities.

Great streets make for great community. San Pedro has outgrown the more simple utilitarian needs of our parents and their parents and now we must work towards fulfilling our cultural needs. As much as I was excited about the entire evening surrounding the Cirque du Soleil show, I am even more excited that we are closing in on a future for our community that makes my wonderful experience at the show a common experience for all of us.

I commend Cirque du Soleil for their brilliance of bringing their production to San Pedro, but ask all of you to recognize that they did it because it had value to them. San Pedro has lots of value and many of us will be very blessed to experience it on a whole new level very soon. spt

Meeting the Challenge

Our organization has adopted a slogan this year called, “Meet the Challenge.” It is appropriate for so many reasons given the difficulties we and all nonprofits face in attempting to keep up with the demand for our programs and services in an era of a growing “working poor” class.

I am in my 19th year at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Los Angeles Harbor – the challenges have been constant during this time and have become even more severe given the economic realities of the past four years and the difficulties, limitations and sometimes the outright danger a growing number of local families and especially their children must face. I grew up in San Pedro at a much better time – there are MANY more challenges today for our children to address and overcome.

I recently read two articles that reinforced this imperative to “meet the challenge.” In a recent op-ed piece titled “When School’s Out,” two researchers talked about the huge concern of working parents while they are on the job and their kids are out of school. Interestingly enough, Fortune 100 companies employed all the parents interviewed, so they had many resources at their disposal and yet were still anxious and sometimes desperate as to where their children could thrive during those most important hours of 3-6 p.m. Juxtapose that reality with another article stating that Los Angeles has the highest poverty rate among all California counties – a staggering 27%. If parents of Fortune 100 companies are extremely anxious due to uncertainty about where their kids are and what they are doing after school, just think what our growing number of working poor parents of San Pedro and our Harbor Area must feel who have many less options but all of the same concerns and needs.

This is one reason why our “Meet the Challenge” slogan is so very appropriate at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Los Angeles Harbor. Because without the commitment of our Board, staff and our donors, we could not continue to make available the most up-to-date facilities nor sponsor the most comprehensive child development programming possible for over 8,000 youth annually, a number that is growing as our College Bound and Arts Academy programs attract continually more at-risk youth and provide a pathway to their development and success. One illustration: our high school and middle school attendance has increased by a combined 70% over the last two years alone. Now that is a challenge.

But “Meet the Challenge” is also most appropriate for the children we serve. Although we attract all types of youth, our members are more often than not part of our 27% poverty rate. They are often hungry, condemned to poor living conditions, are without basic medical, dental and vision care (another article stated that one in seven Los Angeles school children do not have the glasses he or she needs), may be living without a parent or are in foster care. These children are part of the vastly growing segment of highly at-risk youth. Still, day in and day out I witness our kids who “meet the challenge” and truly overcome such great odds due to their indelible spirit and the efforts of so many caring adults and supporters. These children could easily give up, but with the Club providing a safe place to go and a plethora of programs and activities that allow them to develop and succeed – they do “meet the challenge” and will soon be leading our community and possibly our greater Los Angeles area as productive, caring and involved adults.

These children do not need a handout; they just need a helping hand. If not us, who? If not now, when? spt

Some Things Are Meant To Be

In March, I wrote a column about Tripod, our 14-year-old, three-legged dog. Originally, she wasn’t supposed to have been ours at all, but some things are just meant to be.

I found her in Banning Park as a four-month-old red-brown puppy with a broken left hind leg. We weren’t looking to adopt a dog just then and vowed to find her a good home. Before we began the search for an adopter, however, we took her to our veterinarian to see if there was a chance to save the injured leg. Unfortunately, it was beyond repair, but, if it was amputated, she stood every chance of living a normal life with just three legs. Amputation required a canine orthopedic surgeon, at a cost of $1,500.

Finding someone willing to take on a dog with such a hefty price tag was impossible. The alternatives were: 1.) Turn her in to the county shelter, virtually assuring she’d be euthanized, or 2.) Adopt her ourselves. Obviously, she was just meant to be ours, and for 14 great years Tripod was the belle of both our home and our print shop. Sadly, in July, we had to let Tripod go after her spinal cord became compromised.

I recount this story because history has repeated itself. After we lost Tripod, our friend Camilla Townsend asked her good friend, artist Stan Hicks, to do a watercolor painting of Tripod that we could hang in the shop for all her “fans” to see. The painting (which is outstanding) was unveiled during September’s First Thursday Art Walk at fINdings art gallery. Since Stan specializes in paintings of dogs, the show was also billed as a fundraiser for a local dog rescue service called Doggies 911 Rescue. In order to entice people to donate to that organization, Marilyn Vittone, one of the partners in Doggies 911 Rescue, brought an adoptable rescued puppy to the event: a five-month-old red-brown puppy with a fractured left hind leg in a cast.

She knew nothing of our history with Tripod, and to have chosen to bring that particular puppy from the scores of dogs in her care was, to us, like déjà vu all over again. The message couldn’t have been clearer: We were there to adopt this puppy… some things are just meant to be.

We named the puppy Alfie, but before he could come home with us, he had to spend two weeks at South Shores Pet Clinic until his cast was removed. During that time, we visited him often and got to know and really admire Marilyn, her partner, Masumi Hara, and Dr. Mark Weimer at South Shores. Doggies 911 Rescue’s motto is “No dog left behind,” and they specialize in homeless dogs with special needs that make them unadoptable. They rescue animals from shelters all over Southern California. With their personal funds, and with some limited outside donations, they fix whatever problems a dog may have before finding it a good home. For example, one night, while we were visiting Alfie, they brought in a small puppy for emergency surgery to remove nuts, bolts and metal scraps from his intestinal tract, which he had ingested while homeless and wandering the streets. He’ll be fine and will get a good home.

Even though Dr. Weimer and staff donate many of their services, Doggies 911 nonetheless accumulates huge medical bills. They’re constantly in need of donations. Please stop by and meet them and their adoptable dogs, Saturday mornings at Petco on Western Ave., or go to their website: You might find a new best friend that was just meant to be yours, or by donating, make it possible for someone else to find theirs. spt

Herb Zimmer owns PriorityOne Printing in downtown San Pedro.

The Eighth Terminal

Last month, I had the honor of being appointed a Los Angeles Harbor Commissioner by Mayor Eric Garcetti and confirmed by the L.A. City Council. The purpose of the Harbor Commission is to oversea the management and operation of the Port of Los Angeles. The confirmation hearing actually took place on my birthday and was a great way to start off what turned out to be an extraordinary day and awesome experience for family, my friends and me.

Becoming a Harbor Commissioner provides me the opportunity to do what I love and that is representing San Pedro on an even broader scale. For those who have followed my columns over the past three years you have become accustomed to my passion for this town and where I believe we need to focus in order to secure our economic future for generations to come.

When my grandfather Domenic Costa came here in 1920, and my father in 1956, they both saw a waterfront at very different stages of development and transition, so being given the opportunity to help frame the waterfront for future generations to come is a responsibility I don’t take lightly. In fact, I welcome the challenges in front of my fellow colleagues and me on the Harbor Commission.

My appointment finalized Mayor Garcetti’s commitment of appointing three of the five Harbor Commissioners from San Pedro. The other two local commissioners are David Arian, the commissions Vice-President, who was appointed back in 2010, and newly appointed commissioner, Patricia Castellanos. Commissioner Arian, a former ILWU International President, has been a fixture on the waterfront as a union worker and labor leader. In addition to Commissioner Castellanos’ role as commissioner, she serves as deputy director of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), a leading policy, advocacy non-profit, where she oversees the organization’s efforts to advance economic development strategies that lead to better jobs and an improved environment.

As I prepared after my appointment hearing at City Hall, I began reviewing the capability, capacity, and strategic objectives of the Port of Los Angeles. The Port consists of seven terminals that import and export over 40% of the world’s cargo into the nation. For every one job the port creates an estimated 10 jobs are created regionally. So, staying competitive in the global economy is critical to our economic future. That means we must find ways to increase our efficiency and continue to build the required infrastructure that differentiates us from other ports across the country.

Another key element is the opportunity to redevelop Port’s O’ Call and the extended waterfront to the outer harbor where the Lane Victory sits today. In order to do so, we must think about this segment of the waterfront as the Eighth Terminal. If we prioritize this development as we do all the other terminal developments, then we will develop a world-class waterfront in our lifetime, not in a generation, but today.

The question is will we collectively embrace change? Will we embrace new out-of-the-box ideas or will we stubbornly hold on to nostalgia for the way things were rather than what they can be? My focus and hope is that we will all have an open mind and raise our expectations on what “can be” not “what was.” This does not mean we should eliminate our historic past, but rather integrate it with something new.

And we should think big. San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39, Seattle’s Pike Place Market and the Baltimore Harbor are great examples of what dreaming and thinking big looks like. We in San Pedro need to start thinking as big – if not bigger – than they did because we represent the waterfront for Los Angeles, one of the greatest cities in the world.

Finally, I would like to thank my wife Carolyn for her love and support, Councilman Joe Buscaino for his advocacy and finally our new Mayor Eric Garcetti for giving a Pedro Boy the opportunity to represent his hometown on the Harbor Commission and work to influence generations to come. This is our opportunity to build a world-class waterfront together for a new generation. As the expression goes, it’s time to go big or go home, San Pedro. spt

Anthony Pirozzi can be contacted at

A Place Of Gratitude

November is the month of Thanksgiving. Our Thanksgiving holiday can be traced to a 1621 celebration in Plymouth, Mass. by the Pilgrims at their first harvest in the New World. This feast lasted three days, and was attended by approximately 53 Pilgrims and 90 Native-Americans, who had donated food to their new neighbors during their first winter here.

Our annual tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving Day on the fourth Thursday in November began during the Civil War when President Lincoln declared a national day of “Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

In San Pedro, many of the new immigrants from Croatia, Italy, Portugal, Japan, Mexico, Norway, and other seaside nations didn’t get off a boat and stay on land like the Pilgrims. They went back to sea on fishing boats and worked hard so that they could provide for their families. In the process they built a town. This is something that those of us who love San Pedro should always be thankful for.

Although the American tradition of Thanksgiving was brought to the New World by Pilgrims from England, ceremonies of prayer and thanksgiving are common among almost all religions after harvests and at other times.

In Ancient Greece, Thanksgiving was Thesmophoria, a festival to honor the goddess that taught mankind to tend the soil. Southwest Native-Americans perform a corn dance to give thanks for their crop. The Jewish people celebrate Sukkot, which marks the end of the end of the agricultural year and celebrates the final harvest before winter. Many Asian cultures have festivals of gratitude for their rich rice harvest.

For many years, the San Pedro festival of thanks, which heaped gratitude toward the heavens for our harvest, was the Fishermen’s Fiesta. Our local crop was fish and in many ways, both literal and figurative, it fed our town. Because the great majority of the fishermen in our fleet were Catholics, the central piece of the Fishermen’s Fiesta ceremonies was the blessing of the fishing boats by the cardinal or bishop of the Los Angeles Archdiocese. The men and women saying their prayers of thanksgiving on those days were in many ways San Pedro’s Pilgrims and just like the Pilgrims had their Plymouth Rock, we have our port.

Another set of San Pedro Pilgrims that helped build our town from its very first days, and have emerged as the economic engine that have driven our local economy after the fishing industry shrank, is our longshoremen. They also have an annual day of thanks that honors the deep struggle of their forefathers to ensure good compensation for the harvest of their labor. It’s called Bloody Thursday.

Every year on July 5, ILWU members gather at a picnic to remember the men that were killed in the Big Strike of 1934, a labor struggle that was won by the longshoremen and created the conditions for a waterfront that has greatly prospered our community.

As we embark on a new era in San Pedro, the coming waterfront development at Ports O’ Call and the construction of AltaSea, a world-class marine research center at City Dock 1, provide us the exciting opportunity to start dreaming of new Pilgrims that will join our fishermen and longshoremen in building the next chapter of what we will be thankful for in our community.

This Thanksgiving, while the rest of the nation carves turkey and looks back at Plymouth, I think it might be appropriate for us San Pedrans to include a side dish from the sea and to take a long and reflective look at our beautiful harbor that has given us so much to be thankful for. spt

Jack Baric can be reached at

Time To Salute A Different Kind Of Veteran

I usually try to use my November column to honor veterans, and this month is no exception. The only difference is that this column was written 70 years ago by one of those veterans that you don’t read much about – military nurses.

Berdine Stime was a lieutenant in the Army nurse corps when she wrote a letter that appeared in her local paper in Brookings, Minn. Stored away in an old trunk, it was just recently discovered.

It was while in New Guinea, in the rear of MacArthur’s advancing forces, that she ran into Vernon Nelson, an Army Air Corps mechanic. Vernon grew up in the same small Minnesota town as Stime and knew the family but had never met Berdine. They ended up getting married after the war and were living in Orange County when Vernon died at age 47, leaving Berdine with six children.

She came to San Pedro in the early `70s when her oldest son, Luthor, now well known for his dove release business, was hired as youth pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church. Berdine moved back to Minnesota in the `90s, then returned a few years ago and is living at Little Sisters of the Poor. Now 94, she has 19 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren, with three more on the way.

The following letter was edited only for brevity:

So far no hot running water, no iceboxes, no screens, so bugs and flies are numerous. No bathrobes, so when it rains the patients have to walk to the mess hall in their pajamas, through mud six inches deep! We use flashlights for throat examinations, etc., and a thousand and one inconveniences. But at least we have cement floors, a tin roof over our head, and enough equipment for essentials, with promise of better things to come. If it wasn’t for the heat, we really would have nothing to complain about, except the food, which isn’t too tasty but of good caloric value, and if we’re hungry enough, we eat it.

When the evenings cool off, as well as they do, together with a beautiful moon coming up, the sound of waves against the beach in our backyard, and Dianna Durbin singing, “Way Down Upon the Swanee River,” what more can you ask for, except an ice cold Coke or laundry services, a little less mud and heat, or a few hundred other things? I don’t know myself whether I’m griping about this hole or praising the beautiful country. What’s your guess?

Incidentally, in case of any doubt in your mind because of preceding rambling, I still love nursing, New Guinea or not, and even though my glamour days of nursing are over, and I’m… perspiring very freely while giving baths, or just standing still (and in pants), I’m still thankful that I’ve been permitted to be of some service, and do not want to be any other place.

Last night we went on a five-mile jeep ride, but because of the general bumps and ruts and holes, it’s actually about 10 miles. Then the ride up the “stairs;” they have regular steps for the jeep to go up, only the steps zigzag, if you get what I mean. You go up a ways, then turn and go up a little further. I don’t know how we did it, but all the time while up there, we were afraid it would rain, and they say when it rains, the jeep just slides down very “smoothly.” What a country! Never lacks of variety or gets monotonous. But these jeeps are real corkers! When the kids don’t like the looks of the road ahead, they just go around it, right through the woods, fields or rivers…. The only annoying “animals,” besides lizards, snakes and spiders, are the airplanes that delight in swooping so low they almost crack up.

What a humbling and heartbreaking experience I had today with two new patients, just young kids straight from the fighting line, one with both legs amputated, and the other, a most handsome and intelligent boy with a gangrenous leg to be amputated in the morning. Pitiful! I could hardly keep back the tears. But the hardest to take was the cheerful and brave way they took it in spite of the pain. They barely spoke, just smiled when we smiled (because of the lack of words to express ourselves). I spent three hours trying to clean them up (it will take several baths to get them really clean). They had been washed once on the boat in four days. But it all seemed so vain when I knew I couldn’t do the impossible, restore the lost limb. Then stop and multiply their suffering and handicap by hundreds and hundreds more. It’s enough to make one go crazy just thinking about it. And then to think of how often I fret and gripe – what a heel I’ve been. I marvel at God’s patience and love! “It passeth knowledge, that love of Thine!” Last night I cried myself to sleep thinking about it all, but I guess that doesn’t help, does it? Think I had better do something worthwhile for them from now on.

Berdine was one of 74,000 women in the Army and Navy Nurse Corps during World War II; 201 Army nurses died. What they did was more than worthwhile. spt

Horror Soundtracks Come to Life at the Warner Grand

The Golden State Pops Orchestra will kick off their 11th season in spook-tacular fashion on Oct. 19, when the group’s Halloween-themed concert at the Warner Grand continues its yearlong tribute to noted film music record label Varese Sarabande.

Currently celebrating its 35th anniversary, Varese Sarabande has to date released thousands of film scores, soundtracks and original cast recordings, more than 1,100 of which have been produced by Robert Townson, the label’s vice president of soundtracks. Townson will serve as host of the Halloween Gala at the Warner Grand, which will see maestro Steven Allen Fox conduct the GSPO as it performs excerpts of scores from such films as Halloween, Alien and The Omen.

This is not the GSPO’s first collaboration with Townson and Varese Sarabande, as earlier this year, the Warner Grand hosted a sold-out performance commemorating the label’s anniversary that featured such prominent guests as Danny Elfman (The Simpsons, The Nightmare Before Christmas) and Hans Zimmer (Pirates of the Caribbean, The Dark Knight). That was just the tip of the iceberg, says Fox. “The largest hurdle that everyone immediately noticed was the enormous catalog of music Varese Sarabande has and that we would never be able to appropriately represent it with one concert,” he explains. “As we began development of our 2013-14 concert season, we realized the answer was to do more than one concert.” (A holiday-themed event will take place in December.)

As of mid-September, five guests beside Townson had been publicly announced for the Oct. 19 concert, including composers Christopher Young (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Hellraiser) and Nathan Barr (Hostel, True Blood). At least five more guests are in the works, Fox notes. “Many will be conducting music they’ve composed or arranged, while some are performers,” he says.

Fox believes that music is a critical part of setting the mood for Halloween, both on and off the screen. “Think about the two notes from Jaws, the shrieking strings from Psycho or the haunting melody from Halloween,” he says. “Do you feel that shiver down your spine?”

Fox calls working with Townson an honor and privilege, and believes the Halloween Gala will set “a great pace” for the GSPO’s 11th season. “People can expect more iconic special guests from the industry, superb music – some they know, and some they should know – and evenings they will never forget,” he says.

The Golden State Pops Orchestra’s Varese Sarabande 35th Anniversary Halloween Gala takes place at the Warner Grand Theatre (478 W. 6th St.) on Oct. 19 at 8 p.m. Tickets ($28-$60) are available at

The Grand Annex kicks off a busy fourth quarter calendar of events on Oct. 5 with a performance by Calé, a group that describes its music as “a spicy blend of Gypsy flamenco and Spanish classical guitar mixed with South American rhythms.”

Anchored by Spanish-born guitarists Jose Priesto and Victor Torres, Calé has been together for nearly a decade, during which they’ve performed live in a wide variety of settings, from weddings and tapas bars to traditional venues like The Grove of Anaheim, where they opened for Kenny G this summer. The Grand Annex concert will mark the group’s first San Pedro performance, although Torres notes that Calé has played nearby shows in both Long Beach (Cafe Sevilla) and Rancho Palos Verdes (Terranea Resort Lounge).

“I really believe our music transcends and translates across all platforms,” he says. “That’s why we have performed in almost every possible scenario throughout the country, with good response.”

For the uninitiated, Torres explains that the flamenco and Spanish classical guitar styles are “very different, yet similarly beautiful. Flamenco is more sentimental and aggressive, so you have to really express your passion, fire and feelings through the guitar or vocals or even dancing. We like to take people to a musical experience where passion, energy and sentiment are mixed together, and they can feel that they are part of it.”

Calé plays the Grand Annex (434 W. 6th St.) on Oct. 5 at 8 p.m. $20 advance tickets are available at For more information on the group, visit spt

The Comfortable Rut: The Worst Place to Be

I suppose in October, the month of ghouls, goblins and generally everything that scares us, it’s only fitting to talk about fear. For now, I’ll talk about mine. Be ready.

It was nearing the end of 2005 and I was a sophomore in college. Everything was panning out as any 19-year-old’s life would: hang out with friends, take a couple classes at a junior college, get average grades, and that’s about it. I was floating. It was also the year the thing I feared most as a kid happened.

Fear is an interesting emotion. It’s meant to warn of legitimate dangers to our well-being, like illness or accidents, and cause us to be alert, take action, and prepare.

More often than not though, it has a paralyzing effect. At a time when many of the dangers that once threatened our lives have been neutralized through technology and medical advances, we still live with fear. Only it isn’t fear of haunted houses or zombies that we’re afraid of.

It’s change.

Fear keeps us from making the changes that we know deep down we need to make. It keeps our broom in hand constantly sweeping our growing discontent under the rug.

Many people live in their comfort zone, a place that feels safe and familiar. It’s the shallow end of the pool. A place we can daydream about a better life without actually doing anything that calls for uncertainty.

Some of you may find yourself in this place. You go through the motions feeling stuck and stagnant. Things aren’t terrible but they just aren’t what you want. You’re not sure of how to get out of this funk, so you do nothing.

This is the place called “The Comfortable Rut.” The wasteland where you wish things were different but it’s just not bad enough to change. It was where I was when I was 19 and my father died. I was forced to reevaluate everything.

It was when he passed that I seriously looked at everything I was just tolerating. My health, my future, all of it, and I realized I was incredibly complacent. I woke up. I got my act together, took my education and my fitness seriously and dropped a lot of the low-value things I was doing. But it took a painful experience to do it.

How many times have you talked to someone who wants more of life? Every time you see them they tell you everything’s going to be different this time next year. They’re going to leave a dead-end job, finally get in shape, and yet they go on year after year never actually doing anything.

How are you doing on your goals? Are you making steady progress with consistent action everyday? Or are you no closer today than you were a year ago? Or maybe like many people you’re just going in circles but never really getting anywhere. Maybe you’ve given up trying all together.

Ask yourself, what am I tolerating? What did you imagine for yourself that you just gave up on by convincing yourself that you’re too busy, too old, or simply don’t have what it takes? What has you at the side of the pool dipping your toes in the water, afraid to jump in?

If that thing is getting in shape, here’s some advice:

Feel the fear. Do it anyway. The very fact that you’re afraid is a good indicator that it’s really important. Sometimes the most important thing to do is just start. Do this and the fear will disappear (eventually).

Quit swinging for the fences. Aim for singles. Everybody thinks they have to completely overhaul their lives to get fit. Start with small steps done consistently. Week after week, just show up.

Have someone who’s been there to push you. I recently started training for a triathlon. I never could have swum a mile in the ocean without a coach to guide and talk me through it. A little handholding is the fastest sure-fire way to conquer fear and reach your goals.

And remember, the pain of regret is more painful than the pain of changing for the better. spt