Annual Report of Giving

Arts and Letters

Festival hits the right notes

Arts and Letters
“Some years we don’t get money from the National Endowment for the Arts, and this money from Sutter has really helped us out,” says Festival of New American Music director Steven Blumberg. Pictured is a performer at the 2011 Festival.

Sutter Neuroscience Institute sponsorship keeps music playing

For 34 years, the Festival of New American Music has been a Sacramento State institution and one of the longest-running festivals in the nation dedicated solely to the presentation of contemporary American music.

And in recent years the Festival, fondly known by insiders as FeNAM, can list the Sutter Neuroscience Institute as a factor in its successful offerings, which include 10 days of concerts, lectures, seminars and master classes.

Professor Stephen Blumberg, co-director of this year’s FeNAM, says the Sutter gift was special because FeNAM’s funding usually comes by way of grant-writing. “This year was unusual where we actually had a business partner in the community,” he notes.

With increased competition for grants at national, state and local levels, that community connection has been a big boost to the program, he adds. “Some years we don’t get money from the National Endowment for the Arts, and this money from Sutter has really helped us out.” The main emphasis of the Festival is on visiting artists presenting a wide range of concerts, which are free and open to students as well as the community. Over the 10-day festival, the artists also give master classes and lectures, providing valuable educational opportunities to Sac State students, Blumberg says.

This year’s Festival also had the added bonus of a significant infusion of alumni participation. Artistic director Keith Bohm is a 1995 graduate and several former students performed including four members of the group Citywater—violinist Charles Spruill IV (’10), cellist Tim Stanley (’08), pianist Jennifer Reason (’07) and percussionist Ben Prima (’09)—as well as composer and pianist Sunny Knable.

Showcasing graduates is one way the Festival and the music department represent the University to the community. Blumberg also sees FeNAM as bringing “entertainment, education and enrichment to the whole Sacramento area.”

Besides the professional performances, featured student ensembles perform and students can participate in two competitions: one for student composers, and one for student artists.

Started by Sacramento State music professor Gene Savage in 1978, FeNAM has grown into a showcase of remarkable talents in new music. Several other faculty members have picked up the reins to keep the Festival moving forward, including percussion professor Daniel Kennedy, current music department chair Ernie Hills and this year’s co-directors Blumberg and Bohm.

It wasn’t always an easy sell. On the Festival’s 25th anniversary, Hills noted that in the early years audiences needed some convincing that contemporary American music was important music. But the Festival has risen to national stature.

He added, “We try to incorporate all the colors of the musical spectrum at the Festival. FeNAM provides audiences in the Sacramento Region a fantastic opportunity to hear the wonderful, fresh, exciting music being written today.”

Blumberg concurs, noting that the primary purpose of the Festival is to draw artists from all over the country for the benefit of students and the community. And they have consistently carried out that ideal for more than three decades.