COARSEGOLD — Local composer Barbara Ulman’s composition “One Loon’s Afternoon” for chorus, flute and clarinet just won the Akademia 2020 Artist Vision Award — a prestigious honor in the composing world.
Akademia Film Awards support musicians by streaming their music online all over the world. (Here’s a link to the video on YouTube.) According to its website, Akademia supports “excellence in film throughout the world and advancing the careers of filmmakers and actors worldwide.”
Ulman, a Coarsegold resident, said she was honored to receive the recognition from Akademia. “It’s definitely not the Academy Awards, but obviously they picked a name that could be confused with that,” she joked.
The local composer’s unique musical compositions have been garnering praise for years. “Ulman strongly bases her melodic-rhythmic structure on the patterns of speech,” said Lynn René Bayley, a reviewer for Fanfare magazine. “[Her] music is great, and it makes the world a better place!” said Nick Peros of Phoenix Classical, a division of Phoenix Records.
A founding member of both the Sierra Foothill Composers and Sierra Foothill Musicians, Ulman was born in Detroit. Her father was an automotive engineer for General Motors who tested military vehicles during World War II.
Ulman began studying piano at the age of seven. At 12, she was hired to play the piano during a friend’s flute lessons — the start of her life as a “collaborative” musician.
She later accompanied her high school glee club and various soloists as needed, sang in a choir and while singing Fauré’s Requiem, said she realized “the power of music to move [me] deeply.”
Ulman graduated from Harvard/Radcliffe College, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with a combined concentration in psychology, anthropology and sociology — while also studying piano chamber music at the nearby Longy School of Music. During those years, she was also privileged to sing with the Boston Symphony Orchestra several times as part of the Harvard/Radcliffe Chorus, both at Symphony Hall and at the summer music festival in Tanglewood — which she still considers “among the peak experiences” of her life.
A few years after graduation, a summer course in Musicianship at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music spawned her interest in composing, just as she had begun teaching elementary school. After completing ten years of teaching, including classroom music, she moved to Coarsegold and in 1989, completed a second B.A. at Fresno State, concentrating in Music Theory and Composition.
Ulman, who continues to be an active chamber music player — “for fun and for public performance” — now composes art songs and music for small ensembles and for chorus. She said this week that her “One Loon’s Afternoon” composition is based on an actual event that occurred on a lake in the Rangeley Lakes Region of Maine.
“A man in a kayak rescued a loon from tangled fishing line with the help of a friend,” she said. “This touching event inspired the music, poem and paintings in the video.”
“In the music, the actual loon calls are introduced by the flute and clarinet, and are then modified rhythmically to accommodate the words of the poem that was inspired by the story,” Ulman explains.
The video, created by North Fork resident John Kilburn, was “a collaboration of many local artists,” Ulman said. “The poem that I set to music was written at my request by Rachel Oliver, of Mariposa. The painted illustrations by Oakhurst artist Sheila Boyd are copies of photographs taken during the rescue. The live video footage of the man in the kayak was filmed by Cedar Dobson — and the man is her dad, David Dobson — both of Oakhurst.”
Kilburn has created over 20 YouTube videos of her compositions, Ulman says. “He’s really done some wonderful work. John chose some beautiful images to go with my pieces and they really work well.”