Music department has 'a lot to smile about'

For James Martin, chair of the music department at Santa Monica College, the music program is only as strong as the success of its students.

Looking back at the year 2013, Martin said that the applied music program has played a significant part in why the program is held in such high regard.

"We're very proud in developing our applied music program," he said. "It has grown in the quality and even in the numbers, which are right up around 30 [students]."

The program, which started in 2001, allows certain students who pass an audition process to join, train with a school-provided teacher, and make it easier for those students to transfer to four-year universities.

"We're very happy with these students," Martin said. "They're working hard. They get very good instruction, and they are transferring very successfully over to four-year schools all around Los Angeles and California. A lot of them even go to the east coast."

However, Martin said joining the program is not easy, as they only look for the best.

"For us, we're very picky," he said. "We don't like to let people into that program unless we think they really have a chance to be a good performer in the music world."

Musicians for the program range from vocalists to classical artists and even popular music artists, which Martin said is a necessity given the growing desire for popular music within the industry.

"Hip-hop is just as fresh as Bach," he said.

The ensembles at SMC are another part of the program Martin was proud of.

"We have 14 ensembles now, and they are very interesting programs that they're putting on," he said. "The sophistication level has gone up a lot."

Martin explained that the musical theory entry-level classes of the program are a major part in preparing students for the next level.

"One of the ways we can measure success is when they go off to the next school, they're always examined again," Martin said. "They have to run through the valley of fire, and they are passing all of their exams so they don't have to take these classes again, and that makes us happy."

Aside from the department itself, SMC's Broad Stage has been home to many memorable shows and concerts throughout this year.

"We've got a terrific theater here, one of the best theaters in Los Angeles," Martin said, also praising the Madison Project, a program meant to provide cultural variety and programming to students and other members of the SMC community.

"We worried when we moved over here that we would be forgotten, [that] everybody on the main campus would just move on and forget that music even existed, but that doesn't seem to be happening," he said.

The department, which Martin said moved in 2008 from SMC's main campus to where it is now, has been flourishing in its new location.

"We moved over here, and it turned out good for us," he said. "I can say for sure that the art department wishes they had said yes because there is a lot of space here, and we can grow here."

Martin also spoke of a new wing currently being developed for the east side of the campus. The new two-story wing would allow for more performance development as well as instruction. Martin said he hopes for construction to begin as early as February.

On Sunday, members of the SMC music department collaborated with the Westside Ballet for a sold-out production of "The Nutcracker" with a live orchestra at The Broad Stage.

Perhaps the biggest production, Martin said, was the Madison Project's original opera "Dulce Rosa" held at The Broad Stage in June.

"I think overall, the production was successful," he said. "As a lot of things, it may need reworking, but [there were] so many good things about it, and it really shows that the theater can do it."

Martin said that another project set for spring semester will be the first Spanish opera at SMC.

"That should be a big deal," he said. "We feel there is a big Hispanic community, and we want to appeal to them."

Some of Martin's goals are playing live music for productions of SMC's dance department, as well as maintaining relevancy with SMC's student body.

For all of the music department's endeavors, Martin said he feels optimistic about this year, as well as the program moving forward.

"There's a lot to smile about," he said. "Don't think we're out there blowing trumpets or anything, but we're smiling."