When you think of a world-class orchestra, you think big sound, classical music. But add a tiny word, a phrase like “pops,” and anything becomes possible. At least that’s the goal of Ojai Pops Orchestra director Stan Weiss.
Weiss. Anybody from the 1960s and onward recognize that name? That’s right. Scott is the son of Larry Weiss, longtime music director at Ventura High School.
Weiss’ father would be proud of his son’s musical accomplishments. He has played trumpet for many orchestras and jazz bands. He also grew up playing with Phil Salazar, world-class fiddler and Frank Salazar’s son. Frank, of course, was the first director of the former Ventura County Symphony.
“Phil and I lived about six blocks away from each other,” said Weiss with a smile. “In the third grade, we got together and tried to play music. We didn’t realize that the trumpet and violin were in different keys until then.”
They figured it out, and both have become outstanding musicians in their own right.
In 2016, Weiss decided to start a new orchestra. All volunteer. All free concerts. All played at the Libbey Bowl in Ojai. What led him to make such a momentous decision? Well, as he tells it, he likes to play all kinds of music. The word “pops” gave his orchestra the freedom to do just that.
“My music background is broad,” he stated. “I have a fair amount of background in Dixieland and jazz and I’ve also played in symphony orchestras, so I have this gamut of things. When I thought about an orchestra, pop fits the genre of music that I like to do and that I have experience with.”
Most important, Weiss would like his orchestra to be entertaining. “Pops allows for a fair amount of freedom. We’re not strictly a symphony orchestra. We’re not a chamber orchestra, but we do play chamber orchestra pieces, and then we can also play show tunes and TV songs.”
And anything else that suits his fancy. Classical included. For instance, in the works for the orchestra’s next concert: Concertino for Flute, Op.107, by Cécile Chaminade. Also themes from the movie Batman.
The fact that it’s free is a plus for both the musicians and the audience. “The music is geared for musicians to have a good time and for that to translate to the audience,” he said.
Where does he get his musicians? It helps that he has a broad network of friends to work with and that Weiss chooses music that’s enjoyable for audience and musician alike. But there’s also a higher purpose to his music selection.
“The orchestra is very sensitive to the world we live in,” he said. “We have made the John Williams composition ‘A Prayer for Peace’ our theme song. The violent events in Charlottesville, the threat of war with North Korea, and the recent flooding and hurricane damage touch the members of the world, our community and the orchestra deeply. Orchestra music is an outlet for healthy expression, which is important in these stressful times.”
Weiss would like to put the local back into what he calls the “Real Ventura County Symphony.” As he admits, however, staying local is one of his biggest hurdles.
“The goal was local players,” he remarked, “but we wanted to fill the chairs, too. The string players are harder to come by than the other players. That’s the challenge.”
So his musicians come from across Southern California, including Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, plus schools like Cal Arts. He also includes some local student musicians who have been referred by their teachers. All in all, he has about 30 volunteers who are regulars, but he’s always on the lookout for new talent, especially in Ventura County. Local musicians take note!
The Ojai Pops Orchestra will play at the Libbey Bowl on Sunday, Oct. 22, at 3:30 p.m. For more information about the Ojai Pops, visit its website at www.ojaipops.com.