Springtime at Stanwood

Sounds Of Our Time
Dec 10-11 2022

Springtime at Stanwood
Laura Mihalka

Springtime at Stanwood was inspired by watching hang gliders and paragliders fly overheard and land in Parma Park in Santa Barbara, which is situated next to my house. As a spectator, I’d imagine the emotional rollercoaster these brave souls must experience. The early-spring lush green mountains provided a backdrop, and my aim was to capture it all with chords, melody and instrumentation. 

1. Gibraltar Road

Jumpers drive about 3000 feet up Gibraltar Road to the launch point. The horns and flute start with a quiet prayer-like tune to set the intention for the day. Next, the strings, timpani and brass lead an excited and determined charge up the mountain with a stern musical march. The seriousness becomes whimsical because the same journey is also a bit ridiculous. The ¾ waltz starts with a playful bassoon melody and soon all the woodwinds dance in and out. This section ends with a solemn celli solo that signifies a realization that, even though friends are nearby, one is alone in this endeavor and in this world. But that is okay. It is now the moment of truth where bravery is key, and the entire brass section is there to help with a compelling line above a brand-new set of chords to shake things up. The movement ends with a long 7th chord, an exhale, and a peek over the edge. And that little prayer again. 

2. Rising Air

I imagined flying – the sensations, the pastoral views, and the quiet joy. The flutes play a peaceful theme that is passed to the oboe.  A gentle wind kicks in and the first violins burst into a sweeping melody with a flurry of scales beneath for support. The ride down takes longer than expected and the orchestra retunes for a new perspective. It is now pure fun, like being a kid running full speed during hide and seek. The oboe and flute echo each other playfully with the clarinet tagging along. The full-of-wonder vibe intensifies and becomes surreal, like background music at a carnival.  A tempo change and a shift back to the original theme, now with a persistent rhythmic motif, signifies the gravity of the situation and well, the gravity. 

3. Parma Park

Descending scales seemed like an obvious but good choice to represent the approach to earth, which is often characterized by wide circles. Each time the scale repeats, it shifts up 3 notes. The landing happens with a long E major chord. Immediately after, there is a sense of relief and community, since there are typically many other gliders hanging out at Parma Park. I imagined this to be a first-time jump and therefore a swelling of pride at this moment.  Most of the chords stay in a happy (major) key because the stress and manic excitement are gone. A trumpet solo marks a sense of triumph and accomplishment. Suggested in the ending section (the coda) are feelings of exhaustion, reflection and satisfaction, which is not unlike how I felt after writing this music. Here is a good example of counterpoint, two independent melodies working together nicely. The music starts to drift away, and the sun is setting. The trumpet plays a quiet taps-like tune in case there is any confusion that this is the end of the piece. 

Laura Mihalka

A native of Santa Monica, Laura Mihalka has been involved with music since the age of four, at which point her piano teacher discovered she had perfect pitch. Laura soon began studying the cello and participating in honor orchestras and competitions. 

While majoring in sociology at UCSB, she continued to play in their symphony and Middle Eastern Ensemble.  Upon graduation, she hit the road for two years with rock band Liquid Sunshine, playing lead guitar at college towns along the West Coast.  

Laura enjoys creating string arrangements and has performed on cello for various music and film projects. She has released two full-length singer/songwriter albums, Spell of the Light Pink Pearl (2010) and Feels Electric (2021).  Springtime at Stanwood is her first composition for a full orchestra, and she is elated that CHICO is performing it.

She draws inspiration from her grandmother, Adelaide Onaitis, who wrote music in the 1930s – piano nocturnes, string trios, and art songs.  Laura says of her grandmother, “I’m inspired by her drive to create and her beautiful chords progressions and melodies. When I listen to her dreamy songs, I romanticize that she drew inspiration from ‘sounds of HER time’ – perhaps from Ravel and Rachmaninoff.”

Laura was a cellist with CHICO from 2010-2018 and continues to serve on their board of directors. When she is not writing or performing music, she works with her husband, Shayne, in their media business and is mom of two adult daughters, Erin and Alli. 

You can learn more about her albums and grandmother’s music at www.lauramihalka.com