Writer's Symposium By The Sea 2009, Interview with Dean Nelson

Now in its 14th year, the Point Loma Nazarene University Writer’s Symposium By The Sea has become a great resource to learn about the craft of writing from some of the country’s premiere authors. Host Dean Nelson gives up the inside scoop on 2009’s theme of “Writing Beyond Boundaries.”

UCSD-TV: The focus of the 2009 Writers Symposium is “Writing Beyond Boundaries.” How do the authors featured this year exemplify that idea?

DEAN NELSON: They all take a different approach to something that is pretty common and universal, whether it be life and death, or national borders, or traditional music genres, or faith or politics. Each writer in this series took a familiar topic and turned it so that we saw it differently. That’s what writers do — the good ones don’t just perpetuate what we already think about something. They turn it and make us see it differently and challenge our ideas about how things are.

UCSD-TV: How do you define where the boundaries are in creative endeavors?

DN: I suppose boundaries are cultural constructs that, when repeated often enough, get accepted as the truth. Creative people by definition don’t accept that proposition, and push the boundaries out.

UCSD-TV: Can boundaries be helpful to the creative process?

DN: Maybe at first, in that they can define the arena we’re in. Boundaries such as good grammar and syntax are helpful, but then a writer like a David Eggers comes along and writes sentences that are impossible to diagram, and you know what? They communicate very well! Why? Because we have something for this new work to bump up against. We understand things essentially because we can say, “compared to what?” The boundaries are what we compare new ideas to. I think boundaries are crucial initially because they teach us forms and patterns. Wallace Stegner said that we live by forms and patterns, and if they are bad, then our lives are bad. But that doesn’t mean we can’t create new ones.

UCSD-TV: Are boundaries in the arts created for critics or artists?

DN: Critics need boundaries so that they can say something they’re evaluating is “like this,” and “not like that.” It’s a measurement tool for them. Artists need them at first so they can know when they’re breaking those boundaries. Jazz is the greatest example. It might sound like chaos to some, but jazz musicians know music theory — a very important boundary within which most musicians work. Jazz is so great because it knowingly turns music theory upside down. There is an order to that disorder.

UCSD-TV: Was there a common thread that drives these writers to push the boundaries?

DN: Maybe in that they all, in their own unique ways, said “there is another way to consider this.” Pauline Chen’s writing says there is another way to think about death and dying and proper medical practice. Luis Urrea’s writing says there is another way to think about identity and race. Richie Furay and Greg Laswell’s music says there is another way to think about love and life. Brian McLaren’s writing says there is another way to think about God and faith. Christopher Buckley’s writing says there is another way to think about traditional politics and the structures it perpetuates.

UCSD-TV: Several of these authors work in strict systems with well-defined expectations – Pauline Chen in medicine, Christopher Buckley as a political speech writer. Is it harder to push beyond with those types of constraints?

DN: It is harder for them, I think, because the traditional views of medicine and politics are so entrenched. All the more reason why we need Chen to make us see an alternative — somewhat spiritual — view of what we assume is strictly physical, and why we need Buckley to make us see how laughable these gasbag politicians really are.

UCSD-TV: The past few seasons have featured musicians. How do they fit into the landscape of creative writing?

DN: Good writing is good writing, whether it’s music, drama, screenwriting, fiction, poetry, journalism or creative non-fiction. We’ve had hip-hop poets perform at our Symposium. That’s a kind of music. It’s not really a departure from what we try to celebrate — good writing. Last year we had Jon Foreman of Switchfoot, and I believe he is a true poet. Put his poetry/lyrics with Richie Furay’s and Greg Laswell’s, and you’ll understand better what the human experience means. That’s what any great writing does. If we can inspire, encourage and model great writing in our audiences, we’ve pushed out some of their boundaries, too. That makes us all better.

Interview with Producer Shannon Bradley for Quarry Falls

UCSD-TV: What sparked your interest in Quarry Falls?

Shannon Bradley: I heard a story about the San Diego River Park Foundation getting a donation of 17 acres right on the river in Mission Valley and I couldn’t believe it. How in the world does a non-profit get a gift like that? Land that was zoned for a 30-story hotel? So that’s where it started. Then I found out the landowners also owned the 230-acre quarry across Friars Road that was slated for development. And when I looked at the plans for the site, I was impressed by what they wanted to do there. So that became our story: how the landowners would go about building support for their plan to turn the quarry into a mixed-use development and in the process, donating the 17 acres to the River Park Foundation.

UCSD-TV: When you hear the words “sand and gravel mine,” a livable space is not
usually what comes to mind. What makes this site ideal for development?

SB: Because the quarry site is in the exact center of San Diego! Literally the heart of Mission Valley! It’s close to everything. And the whole mantra of smart growth is to reduce the distance people must travel between home, work, school, and recreation…

Read the Entire Interview

Photos from the 2008 Season of SummerFest

Enjoy these behind-the-scenes photos from the 2008 Season of La Jolla Music Society SummerFest.


From Summerfest 2008: Commissions


From Summerfest 2008: Commissions


From Summerfest 2008: Vladimir Feltsman


From Summerfest 2008: Vladimir Feltsman


From Summerfest 2008: Legends and Rituals


From Summerfest 2008: Legends and Rituals


From Summerfest 2008: Beethoven’s String Quartet in F-Major


From Summerfest 2008: Beethoven’s String Quartet in F-Major

Interview with Christopher Beach, President and Artistic Director, La Jolla Music Society from the 2008 Season of SummerFest

UCSD-TV: What sparked your love of chamber music?

CHRISTOPHER BEACH: My grandparents and great grandmother would have dinner parties where they and their friends would play chamber music, so as a child it was the very first music I heard. I have loved it since before I could remember.

UCSD-TV: Do you have a favorite composer?

CB: Every day my favorite composer changes, sometimes two or three times a day. The Goldberg Variations is always one of the pieces at the top. A month ago I was fixated by John Ireland. Elgar reminds me of my grandfather. Liszt and Chopin remind me of my great grandmother and my mother loved Sibelius. Grieg and I share a birthday (June 15th). And then there is opera. I worked for various opera companies for more than 15 years and Rigoletto, all Verdi, Strauss, Strauss, Strauss…you see, it is impossible to answer this question.

UCSD-TV: What piece of music could you listen to over and over?

CB: All of the above, but I love the three Mozart/DaPonte operas. They tell the story of life. Having just heard again the Vingt regards sur L’Enfant Jesus by Messian, I know it is one of the great works of the 20th Century.

UCSD-TV: What is your favorite Summerfest moment from seasons past?

CB: Last summer’s performance by Jimmy and Hai-Ye Ni and John Bruce Yeh, and Christopher Taylor of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time…although Jacques Loussier’s performance and the Milone Piazzolla Suite were unforgettable.

UCSD-TV: What is the biggest challenge in putting on Summerfest every year?

CB: It is like a triple decker chess game. Artists’ availabilities, repertory artists would play well, who would play well together, what would sell tickets, and what can challenge the audience and yet not challenge them too much.

UCSD-TV: Summerfest is not just about great performances. So many of the events focus on educating the audience and sharing knowledge. Could you tell us a bit more about these activities and why they are so important to the chamber music community?

CB: Chamber music has more layers and more depth than any other instrumental music and yet, at the same time it is so transparent because it is so intimate. We have open rehearsals with the artist, Prelude lectures, artist workshops, and Encounters during the day that provide a context for all of the performances. I guarantee any of our audience members that if they partake of these free offerings they will leave the concert hall richer and with an even more memorable performance.

UCSD-TV: What can the viewing audience expect from the new season of Summerfest programs?

CB: Mendelssohn, Handel, Haydn and Purcell all celebrate anniversaries in 2009.

UCSD-TV: 2009 marks the 40th anniversary of the La Jolla Music Society. How will you celebrate?

CB: With Gustavo Dudamel, four great international women pianists, more dance than ever, and champagne.