10 questions with Steven Schick, music director and conductor of the La Jolla Symphony & Chorus


Steven Schick was born in Iowa and raised in a farming family. For the past 30 years, he has championed contemporary percussion music as a performer and teacher, by commissioning and premiering more than 100 new works for percussion. Schick is a music professor at UCSD and a consulting artist in percussion at the Manhattan School of Music.

In 2008, Schick received the “Distinguished Teaching Award” from UCSD. He was the percussionist of the Bang on a Can All-Stars of New York City from 1992 to 2002, and from 2000 to 2004 served as artistic director of the Centre International de Percussion de Genève in Geneva, Switzerland. Schick is founder and artistic director of the percussion group, “red fish blue fish,” and in 2007 assumed the post of music director and conductor of the La Jolla Symphony & Chorus.

Schick recently released three publications. His book on solo percussion music, “The Percussionist’s Art: Same Bed, Different Dreams,” was published by the University of Rochester Press. His recording of “The Mathematics of Resonant Bodies” by John Luther Adams was released by Cantaloupe Music. And a three-CD set of the complete percussion music of Iannis Xenakis, made in collaboration with “red fish blue fish, “was issued by Mode Records. Schick has appeared as a percussion soloist in Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, The Royal Albert Hall (London), Centre Pompidou (Paris), The Sydney Opera House and Disney Hall (Los Angeles) among many other national and international venues. He lives in Bird Rock with his wife, Brenda.

What brought you to La Jolla?

I came to La Jolla in 1991 to be a professor of music at UCSD.

What makes La Jolla special to you?

That’s an easy one. I love living at the edge of the continent. As a child, I was mesmerized by the unbroken horizons of Iowa farmland. In a similar way looking out at thousands of miles of ocean reminds me that there are many things in the universe bigger and more important than me. Beyond that, I love the people I work with here. My percussion students at UCSD make me grateful to be a teacher. Every day. And being music director and conductor of the La Jolla Symphony & Chorus allows me to make great music with excellent area musicians.

If you could snap your fingers and have it done, what might you add, subtract or improve in La Jolla?

I would burnish the impression that La Jolla (and San Diego) is home to great art-making. Look at the level of theater and visual arts made and exhibited here. In music, the La Jolla Symphony & Chorus, the UCSD Music Department, and the La Jolla Music Society are superb. And yet there is a lingering perception that anything of real quality in the arts must certainly be made in New York or Europe. Nonsense! I would ask La Jollans to listen to the music and see the art of this place.

Who or what inspires you?

My wife Brenda inspires me. She was trained as a lawyer and works now in land conservation for the Trust for Public Land. She believes in the worthy cause of wilderness protection and the creation of public spaces, but she doesn’t just mouth platitudes - she rolls up her sleeves and makes it happen. I admire visionaries, but I love the ones who don’t mind breaking a sweat in the service of making visions into realities.

If you hosted a dinner party for eight, whom (living or deceased) would you invite?

My wife Brenda and Harmon Killebrew. Would it be wrong to fill in the rest with yes-men and sycophants?

What are you currently reading?

I always read a few things at once. By my bedside right now are Ken Kesey’s “Sometimes a Great Notion,” Wendell Berry’s “The Path of Ignorance,” and Romeo Dallaire’s “Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda.”

What is your most prized possession?

My ticket stub from the first game of the 1965 World Series. That game was the third happiest moment of my life.

What do you do for fun?

I love sailing, hiking, National League baseball, jazz LPs and first-rate single malt whiskey.

Describe your greatest accomplishment.

Two years ago, I walked from the Mexican border to San Francisco. Is that accomplishment or folly? I don’t know. We live in such a beautiful state. To see 650 miles of its coastline in solitude at 3 miles per hour was breathtaking.

What is your motto or philosophy of life?

I borrow mine from Kurt Vonnegut: “We are on earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different.”