Forget everything you know about the Ojai Music Festival.

While that may be difficult to do, given the backdrop of timeless beauty that has graced the Ojai Music Festival for the past 67 years, the underpinnings of classical music for which the Festival is so rightly known are changing.  Perhaps the venerable presence of the avant-garde all these years has been the spirit under which advance technology has been ushered into the Festival — this May, the online initiative called OjaiU was launched.

Its stated intention: For audiences to “listen smarter and gain deeper insights into music.”  On its surface, this might be in keeping with the perceived snobbiness of classical music, but in fact it is a way to mesh the technological with the organic; the movers and minds behind the festival discuss and investigate the concept of listening itself. 

These ruminations on “how to listen,” something much more involved than simply pricking up one’s ears, are available on the Ojai Music Festival website.  Much like the music, these seminars are available in perpetuity, which makes perfect sense given the fact that concepts of listening and hearing evolve alongside the actual physical capacity to hear. The 18-year-old you will hear music much differently than the 50-year-old you.

 “Festivals are more than just a bunch of concerts stacked in a row,” promises OjaiU course leader and editor Douglas McLennan. This is an important distinction made clearer by the advent of YouTube, through which the OjaiU content is hosted.  Other guest instructors making appearances for the ages include artistic director Thomas W. Morris and 2013 music director Mark Morris, composer John Luther Adams, pianist Jeremy Denk, critics such as John Rockwell and L.A. Times classical music critic Mark Swed, and even filmmaker Eva Soltes, in a nod to the inescapable intertwining of sound and vision that comes with cinema.

The classes — “Ideas and the Power of Music,” “Music in its Place” and “Dance and Music, a Love Story” — are divided into eight to nine video talks and exercises by instructors.  They can be experienced in any order. One of the hallmarks of the Festival has always been the avant-garde’s willful casting-off of the status quo.  It’s a way to experience the essence of the Festival for years to come, years that will doubtless see the reflections of the commentators being improved upon and further evolved in time.

The effect of the videos isn’t so much that of a teacher talking to a bored class as it is that of a learned friend imparting wisdom that you can think about over days or a lifetime.  The ideas imparted are important without ever being self-important, and while the philosophy can come off as a bit touchy-feely, it’s in keeping with the freedom of art and its creation and, admittedly, the essence of Ojai, which has always been a bit touchy and feely. 

Director Morris, who speaks of the world “Beyond the Notes,” brings the Festival into historical perspective by showing how the music reflects the tenor of its time, while Swed gives a primer on composer Lou Harrison immediately preceding a recording of Harrison’s intricate, otherworldly gamelan performances. 

Showing and telling. That’s what OjaiU does incredibly well, acting as both a primer for the sights and sounds encountered during the Festival as well as a time capsule for audience emotions and experiences at the Festival they attended.  By bringing people closer to the Festival even though they may be thousands of miles away, the merging of knowledge and understanding courtesy of OjaiU might be one of the most underrated creative triumphs yet from the Ojai Music Festival. 


Press play Online courses at OjauU give festival attendees new ways to appreciate and understand classical music.


The 67th Annual Ojai Music Festival, Thursday, June 6, through Sunday, June 9. Classical concerts, dance, film screenings, talks and more. Live streaming of the event will also be available through the Festival website. Tickets to individual concerts are $50-$120, and most concerts take place at Libbey Bowl. For more information about the festival and OjaiU, visit or call 646-2053.