UCSD music man Scott Paulson plays it ‘off’ beat

Scott Paulson is an award-winning soundscape artist who has been heard on radio, television, and film. His performance ensemble, the Teeny-Tiny Pit Orchestra, provides live music and sounds for silent film screenings, ballet, radio dramas, operas, and theatrical productions.

At many of his live shows, Paulson asks the audience to assist: Strike a thundersheet! Use exotic wooden birdcalls! Roll out an elegant harp glissando! Play a Theremin, if you dare!

In addition to his slapstick and experimental music activities, Paulson is an orchestral oboist, and also is the University Carillonneur at UCSD, performing live on Geisel Library’s rooftop chimes (yes, he takes song requests!)

Paulson serves as the Outreach Coordinator for the UCSD Arts Library for which he founded and directs various festivals: The Short Attention Span Chamber Music Series, the annual Toy Piano Festival, The Not-So-Silent Film Festival, and a Paper Theatre Festival.

What brought you to La Jolla?

School. I was accepted at UCSD in 1980 as a teenage New Englander and was so happy to be on the West Coast! While in school here, I was lucky enough to get cooking gigs at some huge La Jolla homes. Now, almost 30 years later, I am still doing errands for some of those La Jolla families.

I learned a lot about La Jolla working for those families in the 1980s. One of the favorite people I cooked for was Roger Revelle.

Oh, and I wasn’t really a cook at all, I bluffed my way into those gigs — but all those homes had cookbooks in their kitchens and buying fresh ingredients at Jonathan’s was helpful. There was one scary night when I had to cook for a formal house dinner party for guests like Pierre Salinger and Bill Moyers and other literati and glitterati ... but I didn’t panic and it all turned out fine.

What makes this area special to you?

La Jolla Music is very special to me — a delightful old school, full-service music store. I rely on them for advice and service on many of my musical instruments and it’s fun to just browse and spend time with the staff there. Unfortunately, I can never seem to leave that store empty-handed. For example, did I really need that sitar?

What else? Knowing the secret shortcuts to La Jolla Cove is very special and having a major university up the hill is also a great feature.

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

I wish there was still a movie theater in the village proper.

Who or what inspires you?

Knowing about the immediate history of the area that I’m in is a great inspiration. I’ve done several silent movie shows featuring early 1900s films shot in La Jolla and San Diego featuring local talent, and showing these films with live music brings this past back to life and gives people an appreciation of the landmarks and landscape.

I’ve done several exhibits at the UCSD Arts Library that call attention to the history of La Jolla. One of my favorites was a Black La Jolla exhibit. Knowing which house jazz great Charles McPherson called “grandma’s house” is a great inspiration to me when I’m walking down that block in La Jolla. We all need to inspire people to share that kind of information so that we can better appreciate our neighborhoods.

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

Sculptor Louise Nevelson; sound effects pioneer Mrs. Ora Nichols; early experimental television star Ernie Kovaks; irreverent percussionist Spike Jones; stage/screen/radio-drama legend Orson Welles; superstar Josephine Baker; ballet star Maria Tallchief; and great American cowboy Nat Love.

Tell us about what you are currently reading.

I do a lot of reading for the exhibits I curate at the UCSD Arts Library. I’m installing a Black Radio exhibit for Black History Month this coming February and this book has been a great resource:

“Swingin’ on the Ether Waves: A Chronological History of African-Americans in Radio and Television Broadcasting (1925-1955)” by Henry T. Sampson.

Also, I’m writing a period radio drama script for two of my favorite actresses, Annie Hinton and Linda Libby. For that project, I’m getting in the mood by reading “Private Eye-Lashes: Radio’s Lady Detectives” by Jack French. I should probably tell Annie and Linda that I am doing this …

What is your most-prized possession?

My harpsichord. When I was 5 or 6, I saw the first network broadcasts of “The Addams Family” on black and white television and when Lurch the butler played the harpsichord, I had to have one. I was 39 or 40 when I finally got around to it.

What do you do for fun?

Most of my outreach projects at the UCSD Arts Library are presented as “fun,” but with a heavily veiled educational component. The most fun part of that job is watching the audience let go and have fun, but my joy is knowing this: When they leave, they have learned all the things that I wanted them to learn. (They might not know ‘til later that they learned anything at all ... but they did!)

Please describe your greatest accomplishment.

It was playing in San Diego’s chamber orchestra, Orchestra Nova, for a dozen or so years! I was so proud to be in that group and loved performing at Sherwood Auditorium and their other venues.

This is the first year that I’m not with them. I suffered a hand injury early last season and am recovering slowly. But things have an odd and wonderful way of working out, so many high-profile opportunities have come my way since I closed that orchestra door and I wouldn’t have been able to accept those offers if I was still under contract in the back row of that orchestra.

What is your motto or philosophy of life?

Make the most of the immediate opportunities presented to you. The little things that you have to do daily can make a difference if done well. There is a warning here, though. You may end up being a late bloomer, like me, if you spend so much time doing the little things well.