Music festival is about entertainment and education

To anyone who's ever listened to Bob Dylan, Fiona Apple or another brilliant wordsmith in action, the question "How do they do that?" may come to mind.

Coming up at Sage Hill School next month may be an answer of sorts.

As part of the Laguna Beach Music Festival, singer-songwriter and composer Gabriel Kahane will lead a free class titled "How to Write a Song" at the Newport Beach private school. The session, which begins at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 4, is intended for students and open for public observation.

Is it possible to teach someone how to write a song? Kahane, who grew up on a diet of Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell and the Beatles, stopped short of claiming there's an actual formula, but he said a good instructor may be able to inspire a few ideas.

"Certainly, as with any art form, there is this question that comes up frequently," he said. "In creative writing, can we teach someone to be a writer? There are certainly technical things that one can teach. There are sort of classic song structure, verse, chorus, bridge, and sort of components of song and storytelling in songwriting, rhyme scheme, harmonic techniques.

"There are certainly tools you can offer. In general, I think it's more about drawing out of a student what is uniquely theirs."

Plenty of learning — and listening — should take place at the 12th annual festival, which is presented by Laguna Beach Live! and the Philharmonic Society of Orange County and encompasses events at the Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Playhouse and elsewhere.

From Feb. 3 through 9, Kahane and his father, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra director Jeffrey Kahane, will be among the featured performers. The public will get a chance to meet the artists, watch a rehearsal up close and hear about the state of the music business.

Also on the docket is a preview of music from Gabriel Kahane's upcoming "25 Addresses in Los Angeles." The song cycle, co-commissioned by the festival and the Brooklyn Academy of Music, paints a musical portrait of some of the city's most famous sites.

This year's festival theme may seem like an unlikely one for a Laguna Beach event: Brooklyn. Gabriel Kahane and members of yMusic, one of the featured groups, hail from the New York borough, and some pieces in the program are by Brooklyn composers. The event's official title is "From Brooklyn With Love."

Carla Neuss, the director of this year's festival, called the theme a tribute to a part of the country that's grown recently as a musical hub.

"Brooklyn at the moment is such a sort of cultural center, I think, in the country," she said. "And that was exciting for us in terms of theming."

If You Go

What: Laguna Beach Music Festival

Where: Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Drive, and elsewhere in Laguna Beach and Newport Beach

When: Feb. 3 through 9

Cost: Events range from $25 to $200; some are free

Information: (949) 715-9713 or

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