May, 1963—Mount St. Mary's College

The Contemporary Musical Symposium

"Music Sets the Mood For May at the Mount," The View, Mount St. Mary's College, May 8, 1963

At 1 p.m. on May 4 in the Little Theatre, the Mount presented its fifth annual Contemporary Music Symposium. The first two hours were devoted to a concert and discussion of works of eight Southland student composers. Two of the composers were Mount students; Barry Brisk and Victor Sleinhardt. At 3 p.m. the symposium heard works by Southern California professional composers and a lecture by Dr. Aurelio de la Vega.

Carlos Hagen, KPFK, January 8, 1974

The year was 1963. I was a newcomer in Los Angeles and I was avidly looking for feeling, sensing the avant-garde in Los Angeles. And I was also producing my very first programs for KPFK, the Pacifica Foundation outlet in Los Angeles.

[...] And that is how I was attracted to the 5th Annual Contemporary Musical Symposium that was held in the spring of that year at a small but very open-minded Catholic liberal college of West Los Angeles, Mount St. Mary's College.

And that was virtually the only place in Los Angeles that opened its doors to Frank Zappa and his novel musical and visual experiments of you may call experimental aleatory electronic visual music.


The KPFK Recordings and Broadcasts

FZ, interviewed by Den Simms, Society Pages, September, 1990

The event was recorded by KPFK [Los Angeles]. I think they've run [the tape] few times.

Carlos Hagen, KPFK, January 8, 1974

I became very fascinated with these early experiments of Frank Zappa and I recall that I brought to KPFK all of the tapes of that festival.

Well, KPFK in the early 60s was very much what you may call a sort of liberal establishment institution. Musically for example the only accepted music was classical, jazz, folkloric and a few well known electronic composers. Other kinds of music were not proper, you may say, and were seldom if ever played.

Well, those tapes I made in the festival that contained chamber, baroque or conventional classical music were played on prime time. But the tapes of Frank Zappa were shelved. Only after my constant requests, my constant pressure, finally but very grudgingly they agreed to play them. But it was aired in the worst time and with all of the comentaries deleted.

Duke Of Madness Motors, The Natural Disaster Telethon, Firesign Theatre

From an email, 6/26/2001 [...] On a shelf somewhere [Carlos Hagen has] got a recording he made on open reel in 1963 of a contemporary music festival held at Mount St. Mary's College above Santa Monica, where a young avant-garde composer named Frank Zappa had hired a pickup ensemble to perform some of his classical compositions for the very first time. [...]

July 1, 2001 [...] Discovered programs for Frank Zappa concerts at Mount St. Mary's college in 1963: Zappa performed one piece on May 4 as part of an afternoon concert, and then did a full concert of his own works on May 19. The May 4 concert was on the shelf right where it was supposed to be. The May 19 concert is still missing. [...]

From an email to "The Vaultmeister" at Barking Pumpkin Records, 2/10/2003 Glad the Mount St. Mary's package made it into your hands. Here's how I happened on the tapes: I work with the Firesign Theatre, and in 1999 I was at KPFK digging through their archive for old airchecks. I found a Radio Free Oz aircheck labeled "From the collection of Carlos Hagen." I figured he could be a resource for more Firesign, so I tracked him down. Carlos is a multidisciplined academic chap—a recording engineer, geographer, anthropologist, and documentarian. He was born in Chile in the late 1930s and he came to the U.S. to study geography in the Pacific Northwest. In the early 1960s he came to L.A. to work in the UCLA map library. He's always been a scholar of music and when he arrived he decided to preserve the local avant-garde music scene with the only means available to him: his own Ampex open reel deck, which he used to make audience recordings of many concerts including Zappa's concerts at Mount St. Mary's in May 1963.

Hagen joined the staff of KPFK around the same time. In the following decade he produced hundreds of hours of music documentary programs...

Charles Ulrich, August 10, 2013

Hagen produced the documentary in January 1974.

Known available sources

Apparently all available recordings come from KPFK broadcasts, though there are some edit differences. The Carlos Hagen 70s broadcast misses the last 5 seconds from Collage #1, at 3:25, available on the Drew ZRP Archives version at 1:49. Drew ZRP Archives Archives misses 4 seconds from Opus 5 at 1:28, which are available on the Carlos Hagen 70s broadcast at 2:57. "Mount St. Mary's Concert Excerpt" from The Lost Episodes (1996) and "Opus 5" from We Are The Mothers And This Is What We Sound Like have 11 seconds of dialog at the end not available on the other versions.

Drew ZRP Archives Carlos Hagen 70s broadcast WATMATIWWSL The Lost Episodes (1996)
  (1. 00:00-12:59)    
1. 0:00-1:31 2. 0:00-1:32    
2. 0:00-6:16 2. 1:32-7:43    
3. 0:00-2:13 2. 7:43-9:54    
4. 0:00-0:57 3. 0:00-0:55    
5. 0:00-3:37 3. 0:55-4:29    
6. 0:00-1:40 4. 0:00-1:38    
7. 0:00-1:49 4. 1:38-3:25    
7. 1:49-1:54      
7. 1:54-2:11 4. 3:25-3:44    
8. 0:00-1:52 5. 0:00-1:49    
9. 0:00-3:55 5. 1:49-5:41    
10. 0:00-1:32 6. 00:00-01:30    
11. 00:00-00:23 6. 01:30-01:53    
11. 00:23-00:34 6. 01:53-02:04   0:00-0:11
11. 00:34-01:28 6. 02:04-02:57    
  6. 02:57-03:01    
11. 01:28-01:48 6. 03:01-03:21    
11. 01:48-03:02 6. 03:21-04:34 0:00-1:13  
11. 03:02-04:27 6. 04:34-05:57    
11. 04:27-04:33 6. 05:57-06:02 1:13-1:19  
11. 04:33-05:36 6. 06:02-07:05 1:19-2:22 0:11-1:13
11. 05:36-11:59 6. 07:05-13:22    
11. 11:59-12:47 6. 13:22-14:09 2:22-3:10 1:13-2:00
11. 12:47-12:50 6. 14:09-14:12    
11. 12:50-12:55 6. 14:12-14:17 3:10-3:15 2:00-2:05
11. 12:55-13:20 6. 14:17-14:42    
11. 13:20-13:33 6. 14:42-14:54 3:15-3:27 2:05-2:17
11. 13:33-13:47 6. 14:54-15:09    
    3:27-3:40 2:17-2:28
12. 0:00-8:56 7. 0:00-8:52    
  (8. 0:00-0:38)    


The Compositions Performed (And Their Names)

Carlos Hagen, KPFK, January 8, 1974

The compositions you will hear are, first, Piece #2 Of Visual Music (1957) For Jazz Ensemble And 16mm Projector, then, Piano Pieces From Opus #5, then, Collage #1 For String Instruments, then, Two Fragments Of The Prepared Tape To Be Used In Opus 5, and finally his then very controversial composition, Opus 5 For Piano, Tape Recorder And Multiple Orchestras.

Charles Ulrich, August 10, 2013

The first piece on the tape, "Piece II Of Visual Music (1957) for jazz ensemble and 16 mm. projector", together with FZ's explanations before and after, is from the first concert (May 4). The rest is from the second concert (May 19).

The Program, reproduced on Greg Russo, Cosmik Debris: The Collected History And Improvisations Of Frank Zappa (The Son Of Revised), 2003, p. 31




Sunday, May 19, 1963
8:30 p.m.

Little Theater

Mount St. Mary's College


I. Variables II for Orchestra
II. Variables I for Any Five Instruments


III. Opus 5, for Four Orchestras

IV. Rehearsalism

V. Three Pieces of Visual Music with Jazz Group

Question and Answer Period

FZ, Mount St. Mary's, May 19, 1963

The next piece we're gonna perform, instead of Variables I For Any Five Instruments, will be a group of piano pieces taken from the Opus 5 For Four Orchestras.

[...] The next piece we're going to perform will be Collage 1 For A String Group Accompanied With Woodwinds.

[...] The next piece that we're going to play [is] called The Collage 2, and it was written last Thursday.


The Money

FZ, Discoscene, May, 1968

In fact I did pay once to hear my music played a long time ago. I scraped up about $300 to put on a concert at Mount St. Mary's College. It was a student group. I had to pay those damn kids to rehearse the music. They hated my stuff. But I didn't do any of that with the prospect of making money.

FZ, interviewed by Don Menn, Zappa!, Guitar Player Presents, 1992, p. 33

Actually, the first time I had any of [my "serious" music] performed was at Mount St. Mary's College in 1962.

I spent $300 and got together a college orchestra, and I put on this little concert. Maybe less than a hundred people showed up for it, but the thing was actually taped and broadcast by KPFK. Last year a guy in England, who somehow got a copy, sent me a cassette of it, but I haven't bothered to listen to it.

[...] By the time I graduated from high school in '58, I still hadn't written any rock and roll songs, although I had a little rock and roll band in my senior year. I didn't write any rock and roll stuff until I was in my 20s. All the music writing that I was doing was either chamber music or orchestral, and none of it ever got played until this concert at Mount St. Mary's.

It was all oddball, textured weirdo stuff.

In fact, this concert even involved sounds on tape. I was doing tape editing of electronic music, and part of all the pieces had this little cheesoid Wollensak tape recorder in the background pumping out through mono speakers—sounds that were supposed to blend with the acoustic instruments. And there were sections of improvisation and a lot of different experimental techniques.

By that time, I had already heard Stockhausen. I had already heard Boulez.

FZ, interviewed by Don Menn & Matt Groening, "The Mother Of All Interviews, Act II," Zappa!, 1992, p. 55

Mount St. Mary's was the first time I had a concert of my music. As with most of the other concerts of my music, I had to pay for it.

That was 1962. That was a bargain, though, because it was only $300. It was a student orchestra. There were probably about fifty people in the audience, and—for some strange reason—KPFK taped it, and I got a copy.

There was one thing called "Opus 5," and there were aleatoric compositions that involved a certain amount of improvisation, and there were some written sections that you actually had to play. Some of the things were graphic, and there was a tape of some electronic music that was being played in the background with orchestra, and I had some 8mm films that were being projected.

Den Simms, Eric Buxton & Rob Samler, "They're Doing The Interview Of The Century—Part 3," Society Pages, September, 1990

DS: What can you tell us about the [Mount St.] Mary's College [in Claremont, California] performance of tapes and stuff that you did?

FZ: Well, I can tell you that it was the first time that I was forced to spend my own money to hear my music performed. That concert cost me three hundred dollars. Three hundred 1962 dollars, which was a lot of money then.

DS: Yeah.

FZ: The event was recorded by KPFK [Los Angeles]. I think they've run [the tape] few times.

DS: How many people attended that?

FZ: Maybe . . . two hundred.

DS: It was, like, a college type thing.

FZ: Yeah, it was a small college auditorium thing.

DS: D'you have any remembrances of what their reaction to it was?

FZ: A combination of amusement and bafflement, (laughter) which was totally appropriate.


The Audience & The Venue

Greg Russo, Cosmik Debris: The Collected History And Improvisations Of Frank Zappa (The Son Of Revised), 2003, p. 32

The presentation that Frank Zappa gave on May 19, 1963 took place at The Little Theater at Mount St. Mary's Chalon Campus in Brentwood, CA.


The Musicians

FZ, KPFT-FM Houston, October 11, 1975

There were some people who were in that orchestra that I've used on other albums where I used orchestral musicians. Appeared on Lumpy Gravy, a few of 'em. And I still keep in touch with 'em.

Dr. Matt Doran

Greg Russo, Cosmik Debris: The Collected History And Improvisations Of Frank Zappa (The Son Of Revised), 2003, p. 31

Frank's appearance with Steve Allen also got the attention of Dr. Matt [Doran], music professor at Mount St. Mary's College. Dr. [Doran] thought it would be a good idea to bring Frank Zappa in to demonstrate new methods of creating music to the students. [...] One of the nuns that had to be convinced was Sister Maura Jean, who still shakes her head when she thinks of the event!

"Matt Doran," Jeanne Inc.

Matt Doran has composed 220 works. They include ten operas, six symphonies, six concerti, various songs, choral compositions, chamber pieces, and 70 works that involve the flute. [...] An interesting sidelight is that he gave Frank Zappa his first concert at Mount St. Mary's College! At present he continues to compose and give piano, magic and flute lessons privately in Vancouver.

Charles Ulrich, November 20, 2013

[Matt Doran] said that FZ called him on the phone, wanting him to facilitate a concert.

Dr. Doran had not seen FZ on The Steve Allen Show. In fact, he said that the TV appearance was after the Mount St. Mary's concert. (But he still didn't see it. FZ called him afterwards and told him he had been on television.)

He said that he himself put together the ensemble for the concert. He thinks he got students from UCLA (MSMC not having many students). He knows who Joseph Wagner was, but said that Wagner had nothing to do with the concert.

Barry Brisk was the only participant he could name. When I listed the three musicians I know of, he remembered Philip Barnett, but not Peter Arcaro. (It figures he'd remember the woodwind player.)

He mentioned that at the concert FZ "did a thing with rocking chairs that was just too crazy to talk about."

The Conductors: Peter Arcaro and Barry Brisk

FZ, Mount St. Mary's College, May 19, 1963

I'm conducting the tape recorder, the strings and the piano, and Barry is conducting the woodwinds, and— What's your name? Pete is conducting the brass.

Charles Ulrich, August 4, 2013
"Music Sets the Mood For May at the Mount," The View, Mount St. Mary's College, May 8, 1963

Two of the composers were Mount students; Barry Brisk and Victor Sleinhardt.

That must be the third conductor of Opus 5! Peter Arcaro told me that Barry (whose surname he couldn't remember) was a conducting student and thus really knew how to conduct.

Charles Ulrich, August 8, 2013

Barry Brisk confirms that he was the conductor and that the all-FZ concert was not part of the symposium. He said that the audience was thirty people at the most. He couldn't remember any more of the musicians.

Malcolm McNab, Trumpet

Malcolm McNab, Wazoo (Vaulternative Records, 2007), liner notes

In 1963 I performed in a concert at Mount Saint Mary's College in Brentwood where he performed a piece, supervising several sub-conductors and fronting the ensemble with an amplified zither played with a soup spoon.

Malcolm McNab, interviewed by Chris Wade, Zappateers, May 6, 2016

I first met Frank Zappa at Mount Saint Mary's College in Brentwood on May 4, 1963 He was studying in the music department and one of his teachers was composer Matt Doran. In a program at the Little Theater at Mt Saint Mary's, Frank wrote a piece for orchestra with multiple conductors. Very free and avant garde with Frank fronting the orchestra with an amplified zither played with a soup spoon. There had been a reception earlier in an adjacent room and on the table were some decorative plastic trumpets. Frank insisted that we play them during the concert. Also he was very excited about having the English horn player suck through the bell of his instrument, creating quite a unique sound.

Philip Barnett, Oboe

Malcolm McNab, in correspondence with Charles Ulrich, February 27, 2008

About the Mt St. Mary's concert—I was playing in the college-community orchestra part time and I can only remember 2 other musicians, both friends of mine and students at MSM. Peter Arcaro, trumpet and Philip Barnett, oboe & english horn. There were multiple conductors and the musicians were encouraged to get other sounds out of their instruments by any means possible. Front and center was Frank, playing an amplified zither with a soup spoon, in a solo role. I really can't remember who else was in the orchestra. I guess it was a student orchestra.

Don Christlieb?

Bulletin of Mount St. Mary's College 1963-1964 (1963)


[...] Bassoon—Don Christlieb, Ralph Lee

Lucy Shelton, Flute?

David Scott, on personal correspondence with Charles Ulrich

Lucy Shelton [Pomona student who graduated in 1965, now a professional soprano] told me that she played flute on something that Frank recorded in Little Bridges; he was up in the balcony directing things. Lucy recalls, "We had little scraps of paper with notes on them in front of us. Frank called down, 'I want you to improvise. We're kind of in the key of E, but don't play any Es.'" Lucy also performed with Frank in the late 1970s or early 1980s [4/17/81 Varèse tribute in New York].

Dr. Pattee Evanson

David Sherr, "Zappa," Bel Air Jazz

I got a call from Manuel Compinsky asking me to audition for a scholarship to Mt. St. Mary's College. My flute teacher, George Drexler (principal in the LA Phil.), had recommended me, apparently more impressed by my capacity for work than any talent. Translation: I was a pretty raw beginner. I got to the audition to find Mr. Compinsky, Sister Maura Jean (the outgoing chair of the music department) and a huge guy with a nice smile, Pattee Evanson—Dr. Evanson, although the degree hadn't yet been completed. Sister Maura Jean had been a student of Arnold Schoenberg and a classmate of Leonard Stein at UCLA. She taught electronic music among other subjects. Evanson took command and had me play a few orchestral excerpts. It wasn't going too well when Compinsky stepped in. He asked me to play a low c "as softly as possible." That's pretty much the only way a beginner can play a low c. I did it and he said, "fantastic control." I never found out if that was some sort of put-on. Evanson said, "young man, we want to invest in you" and I was offered a scholarship.

Evanson's nice smile didn't last. The guy was a lunatic [...] He was probably the worst teacher I have ever had but he did do two things (and only two) right. One was to bring to our music history class a guest lecturer, one Murray Shapinski, who wove fascinating tales of his long career in music and claimed that Bartok had written a solo sonata for him. (Others have disputed this claim and there is no mention of it in any document I can find.) He played his bass for us and actually sounded quite good. [...]

Evanson's only other positive accomplishment was to bring to the same class a clean-cut young man in a checkered blazer and a snappy bow tie (I'm not making this up), name of Frank Zappa. He introduced him as a composer and turned the class over to him.

Frank had managed to get permission to use the school auditorium for a concert and was trying to recruit musicians. He described his music and it sounded pretty far-out: flutists playing just the head joint (the top part of the flute, before you get to the keys), other unconventional techniques, random improvisation, etc. Someone asked him why.

"Because I think that's the way music should be," he said.

"What about Brahms and Schubert?" someone wondered.

"They're part of the evolution of music. I'm the culmination," he answered.

The combination of the pompous Evanson ("upon whom the shoe fits, let it be worn," he used to say) and the iconoclastic Zappa was a pretty weird one and I never found out how it came about. The way he described the concert it sounded as if it might have been fun but I had an exam that night and had already missed a class session because of a gig. I could hear it faintly while we took the test but it ended around the same time as the class.

Anybody else?

Don Preston, January 28, 2002

I have never heard that Zappa used tapes and film projections with that concert. What I remember is that he wrote a score for 4 orchestras to be performed at the same time using 4 conductors in that concert. I was not involved in that concert.



Research, compilation and maintenance by Román García Albertos
This page updated: 2017-11-08