OU music professor Christina Giacona has only been on red dirt a fraction of her life. The LA native received her Doctor of Musical Arts degree here but the earlier part of her academic career was all out of state. Giacona’s time in Oklahoma has been long enough to give her a fascination with our rich musical heritage. That will be demonstrated in a new version of a venerable standard as part of her Clarinet Studio this Tuesday at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.
“This is a very exciting concert for me because I’m in the process of recording an Oklahoma album,” Giacona said. “We have all these blues, jazz and folk artists who developed their styles here but with little credit to the state.”
The names of Charlie Christian, Oscar Pettiford, Woody Guthrie and Jimmy Webb rolled off her tongue in a rapidly mellifluous stream.
“I want this album to be traditional Oklahoma music that changed the music scene across the world,” she said. “I’m gathering with Oklahoma artists to re-invent this traditional music.”
Specific songs are being collected that have contributed to forming the state’s distinctive aural imprint near and far.
Giacona collaborated with composer Patrick Conlon on the Clarinet Studio’s finale, an original arrangement of “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” for solo voice and violin. “That doesn’t have clarinet but everything leading up to it will,” she said. Those include three clarinet solo pieces by Igor Stravinsky and a Giacona and Conlon selection with 21st century vibe for clarinet and electronics.
The clarinet is a relatively modern instrument dating to the 18th century that’s often misunderstood. It’s found a home in genres as diverse as classical, klezmer, samba and Bulgarian wedding music. While Bennie Goodman comes immediately to mind, Sly and the Family Stone’s “Dance to the Music” may not, but there’s a prominent clarinet in there.
“Some people think it’s a smaller saxophone, because it looks like a soprano sax” Giacona remarked. “What I’m doing with this concert is featuring the clarinet as a solo instrument just as virtuosic as any stringed instrument.”
She intends to dispel the notion that her woodwind horn is not just a bit player and can hold its own with the high and mighty violin and other instrumental stars of the concert stage.
“Big jazz bands always used to have a clarinet but the players often doubled on flute or saxophone,” she said. “Somehow composers just phased out the clarinet in that setting.”
Personally Giacona finds herself most drawn to contemporary classical clarinet music. “Fusing that with jazz is an attractive idea to me,” she said.
Giacona’s love affair with the clarinet goes back to 5th grade. Her early resume including high school study with Los Angeles Philharmonic principal Kalman Bloch indicates she was a child prodigy. Naturally, all three of her higher education degrees are in clarinet performance. Giacona’s attitude and philosophy about playing for live audiences has changed in the time she’s been doing it.
“When I first was doing concerts everything was so serious,” the attractive, vivacious and blond Vespa-rider said. “I learned that it doesn’t need to be that way all the time. Music entertainment should be something that’s fun and you should have a good time while you’re performing.”
It’s a fundamental but magical formula; if the artist is having a good time it follows that the audience will too.
“Even with serious music I try to have the element that the audience is allowed to enjoy it,” she said. “What I want to create is an inviting atmosphere.”
Giacona’s artistic inspiration is gleaned from a variety of sources. “It often comes from collaboration,” she said. “I also draw a lot from non-music art forms.”
She recently created and submitted a bike rack design for the competition sponsored by the Norman Arts Council. She described a whimsical idea to be rendered in steel that’s specific to this town and natural surroundings.
“Working with artists from other mediums inspires me to find that energy and bring it into music,” Giacona said. “I’ve done that with dancers, painters and experimental film makers. It’s amazing how many people want to collaborate with musicians.”
While still a California resident she often found herself called to work in the motion picture industry. “When they were doing the preliminary music I worked on super hero action movies such as Spiderman and its sequels along with Jurassic Park,” Giacona said.
If You Go
What: Christina Giacona Clarinet Studio
Where: Oklahoma University’s Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, 555 Elm Ave.
When: Tues. Oct. 28, noon.