Oxnard Piece Plays to Rave Reviews

Times Staff Writer

If the average composer were to set Oxnard to music, he might wind up with a measure of mariachi and a couple of bars of country-Western.

But not Larry Cansler, a composer whose credits include the music for the 1975 hit “Wildfire” (“and she ran calling, “Wiiiiiildfire!”).

Now an exponent of New Age music--he also wrote the New Age symphony “Mojave"--he has composed a five-minute meditation called “Take a Break in Oxnard” that has landed on the desks of 300 travel agents and convention planners across the United States, courtesy of the Oxnard Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The piece mingles natural beach sounds such as crying sea gulls and crashing waves with piano melodies that are as soothing as the hum of traffic on U.S. 101.


Cansler, 48, an Oxnard resident for seven years, said the music was inspired by the seascape across from his Mandalay Bay condominium.

“You put it in your car,” he said, “and suddenly you have five minutes of Oxnard.”

Tourists Take Note

The visitors bureau, which commissioned Cansler to write the piece, hopes that it will inspire tourists and conventioneers to experience the real thing.

Although quite short, “Take a Break” is recorded on both sides of the tape so that owners of a cassette deck with automatic reverse can listen to the piece for hours on end.

“To me, it’s a relaxing piece, and that’s what I like to sell about Oxnard,” said the bureau’s director, Rob Varley. “You come to Oxnard to do nothing.”

The bureau’s staff last month sent tapes of the New Age recording far and wide. So far, however, no one has jumped at the invitation, although several cassette recipients have called with rave reviews.

Among them was the director of the California Academy of Physicians’ Assistants, a trade group that before receiving the tape had already decided to hold its 1989-90 annual convention in Palm Springs, as it has done since 1983.


“You get some things--like a calendar or a pen--and you go, ‘Big deal,’ and just lay it there,” said the director, Gay Breyman. “This was different enough that you sat up and paid attention.”

Breyman probably had no idea how unusual the piece was. Varley believes that only one other tourism organization, in Dodge City, Kan., has tried to drum up business with a recording. It featured the sounds of cattle.

Individuality came with a price. Cansler, who commutes daily to Burbank where he works as music director of “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” had to get up at 3 a.m. to record the beach’s natural sounds.

“During the day,” he explained, “you get power boats, airplanes and motorcycles.”



For all his efforts, however, the composer has not written the first piece of music about Oxnard or its sea gulls.

That honor goes to Clark Maffitt and Brian Davies, an Oxnard duo who in 1978 wrote and performed “October in Oxnard.” A snide spoof on “April in Paris,” it was popularized on the nationally syndicated radio program “The Dr. Demento Show.”

“Sea gulls up in the sky,” the pair sang, “were dropping little bits of joy on you and me in our lovely Oxnard-by-the-Sea.”


But what Cansler’s assignment lacked in notoriety, it made up for in inspiration. He said it gave him the idea to write and produce his own album.

Before “Take a Break,” Cansler, who performs the piano section of the work, had only worked for other artists such as Kenny Rogers and the First Edition.

Cansler’s new album, “Pacific Dreams,” released last fall, is an entire album of New Age music written, of course, in sea major.

Unlike “Take a Break,” “Pacific Dreams” combines beach sounds with not just piano, but with guitar, bass, percussion and synthesizers.


“The mood is very effective,” the composer joked. “People have actually gotten seasick and thrown up on the couch.”