CSUN Orchestra Translates Human Stories Into Music
Nineteen classical musicians — all dressed up in shirts, suits and dresses — packed up their instruments and hiked about half a mile to the middle of Stoney Point in Chatsworth, to play a concert on a mountain.
Carrying their delicate violins, violas, cellos and basses — the latter easily weighing 50 pounds including the case and music stand — Project Resonance’s musicians made their way through the canyon.
Once they reached the top after about 20 minutes, they began playing. On top of Stoney Point, Project Resonance’s music accompanied rock climbers Momtaz Alhindi and David Housky. Bryan Barcinas, founder and music director of the ensemble, created a personal soundtrack for the two of them.
“Rock climbing takes a lot of trust. We wanted to portray that feeling of pushing forward and reaching the top of a mountain,” Barcinas said. The ensemble’s melody represented Alhindi and Housky’s friendship and their climb to the mountaintop. The notes of the melody ascended, the tune starting low and reaching higher — just as the rock climbers did.
Project Resonance is a unique new orchestra in the Department of Music at California State University, Northridge. The musicians aim to inspire people through music and get them to care more about other individuals’ personal stories. Each project includes the writing and performance of music that is fueled by real-life stories and experiences. The compositions are meant to accompany people’s creative arts and passions. Every soundtrack suits someone’s individual story.
In December 2017, Project Resonance musicians reached out to Alhindi and Housky through a Facebook climbing group and set up a date for their personal concert session — the orchestra’s second project. While the climbers conquered the mountain and the orchestra played, a small crowd of passing hikers stopped to watch the performance. The scene was filmed by videographers and CSUN students Pablo Azanza, Matt Benedetti, Nadia Fox and Jay Seen. For better sound quality, the music was re-recorded later in the Organ Room at CSUN’s Nordhoff Hall.
For its first event, Project Resonance surprised quadriplegic mouth painter Esvin Rodriguez with a performance in October 2017. Rodriguez’s personal soundtrack consisted of Latin rhythms.
“I also had the orchestra make ‘shh’ whispers with their mouths to imitate the sound of waves, because waves are a common theme in Esvin’s paintings,” Barcinas said. The musicians awaited Rodriguez — who had no clue about what was about to happen — at the Cypress Hall courtyard, where Project Resonance had set up a small outdoor art gallery with 25 of Rodriguez’s paintings.
Barcinas, a music composition senior, lead composer and conductor for the ensemble, founded Project Resonance in August 2017. With his classmate and co-composer Miguel Leyva, a senior in media composition, Barcinas recruited a full orchestra of 39 musicians.
“All of the people are classmates, and we set them up by word of mouth,” Barcinas said. “Together, we participated in a music contest, where we had to create our own version of the Genius television show’s theme song. I thought it would be nice to continue the orchestra and promote real stories.”
Barcinas had dreamed of establishing an exceptional ensemble since he transferred to CSUN from Pierce College in 2015. “I just didn’t have enough experience back then,” he said. “My [music composition] major at CSUN was a tremendous help and prepared me for it. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my education here.”
“Bryan’s unique abilities and drive have brought [Project Resonance] to fruition,” said Elizabeth Sellers, a professor in the Department of Music. “The department is very proud of Bryan and his ‘out-of-the-box’ approach to music making.”
The ensemble includes string, brass and percussion instruments, but also instruments that are rarely found in traditional orchestras.
“I liked that Bryan created a specific guitar part for me, even though it’s not at all conventional,” guitar performance senior Andrew Gomez-Ramirez said.
Trumpet performance junior Alejandro Paz joined on a whim when a trumpet was needed for Rodriguez’s soundtrack.
“I love to play and enjoy taking opportunities to play whenever I can,” Paz said. “I like to support the community, and I wanted to be part of the project and what it stands for.”
Initially, Barcinas reached out to the public by posting about Project Resonance in Facebook groups, inviting people to share their stories with him. He received an avalanche of feedback — more than 100 email replies in two weeks.
“A lot of the stories were really tragic,” Barcinas recalled. “Some people wanted to dedicate a piece of music to a beloved person. One guy asked us to help him with his proposal. His girlfriend had just given birth to their child, and he wanted to ask her to marry him in the hospital.”
However, Project Resonance does not compose commissioned music pieces. The musicians handpick every story. The hardest part of the project is the coordination, Barcinas said. “It’s not easy to find a day when everyone is available,” he said.
Another challenge is the funding. Barcinas has been paying the orchestra’s expenses for production equipment, such as microphones and music stands, out of his own pocket. “We can’t take the university’s equipment off campus, but the orchestra’s goal is to do creative things around the area,” Barcinas said. To raise money, Project Resonance started an online crowdfunding campaign and is looking for patrons.
“All these musicians have decades of experience, and some of the instruments they own cost over $20,000,” Barcinas said. “And they are just [playing in the orchestra] for free, because they believe in the people and their stories.”
To learn more about Project Resonance, visit https://www.patreon.com/projectresonance.
To watch videos of the performances, visit the orchestra’s YouTube channel. Photos of the concert for Rodriguez are available here.