California dreamin’ comes full circle in new ‘art’ album

By Jenna Jay


California stereotypes might vary by latitude, but several cities’ cultural and societal labels from around the Golden State unfold in the classical song cycle “The Dream Gallery: Seven California Portraits.”

The latest release from local composer Mark Abel, “The Dream Gallery,” (69 minutes) features seven extended tracks that convey (and even satirize) quintessential Californians varying by region.

“Art is a mirror on life and society,” Abel said. “I felt that California was a sufficiently fascinating place that would make a good piece of art, so to speak, by going up and down the state and depicting its people.”

Each song in “The Dream Gallery” features a different vocalist as a character based a city — ranging from metropolises like San Diego and Los Angeles to lesser-known towns such as Taft, Arcata and Soledad.

Theatrical, operatic and recording artists from across the state took on powerful personas for tracks on “The Dream Gallery,” including two vocalists rooted in the La Jolla community — Janelle DeStefano and Martha Jane Weaver.

Weaver, a soloist and section leader at St. James-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church and part-time music instructor at The Bishop’s School, transformed her robust style from a mezzo soprano into a contralto for her part in “Luz,” which depicts a migrant worker’s wife and her hardships living in Northern California’s Soledad area.

On the transformation, Weaver said, “The whole range of the piece, it was very, very low, and I think I’m really, really proud of how well it turned out for me vocally. It was a real challenge to just sort of come out of that really deep chest voice and get the effects that Mark wanted.”

DeStefano sings a more biting and satirical piece for the montage. Her mezzo soprano voice depicts the character “Naomi” in a piercing track about Berkeley that exposes a sense of elitism and the double standard that exists in a demographic of upper middle class residents who boast tolerance but cease to practice it. Consider the lyrics: “My heart bleeds, truly. / Life’s not fair, but it’s not my fault. / I wish the best for all, isn’t that enough?”

DeStefano, who attended college at UC Santa Cruz, revisited Berkeley for her role as “Naomi.”

“When I first saw the lyrics I thought, ‘Oh, this a little harsh on them,’ ” DeStefano said. “I have a lot of friends in that area, but I could appreciate that sort of irony.”

Each track in “The Dream Gallery” supports Abel’s view that the album is just as much a psychological work of art as it is a musical entity.

“Life is complex and appearances can be deceiving,” he said, “and you really have to check out people and places on a micro-level to understand them.”

In addition to Weaver and DeStefano, “The Dream Gallery” also features vocalists Carver Cossey, Delaney Gibson, Mary Jaeb, David Marshman and Tom Zohar.