OCEANSIDE — When discussing music with songwriter and composer, Christy Coobatis, something interesting happens — the conversation quickly dissolves into his enthusiasm for teaching. Talking about one subject invariably leads the music and recording arts instructor to touch upon the other, as if crafting music and teaching music completed his creative circuit.
“My job as a teacher of music and sound,” Coobatis said, “is to have people clear out their ears, and open up the pathways directly to their brain, and realize how precious the sound is.”
Coobatis’ respect for sound began in Dearborn, Mich., when he first picked up a guitar at age 7. Years later, after receiving a bachelor’s in psychology, he flirted with the idea of becoming a psychologist, only to switch gears and pursue his passion instead. It was a choice that led him to Hollywood and eventually helped him, after many years, to become a music teacher.
He credits television composer John Cacavas (“Kojak,” “Hawaii Five-O”) for his break and for demonstrating the importance of teaching.
“John Cacavas gave me my start in L.A. by placing my music in various films, and NBC movies-of-the-week…It was this type of outreach that cemented the mentor/student relationship in my career that is so important to helping out newcomers in the industry,” he said.
Last Friday, Coobatis debuted “The Journey,” a two-hour musical event, at MiraCosta College, where he teaches. Inspired by his career in the music industry, the concert included nine orchestral works in its first half, followed by 15 songs in its second. Performed by over 50 MiraCosta students, the presentation also incorporated choreographed dancing and original movies, both designed to evoke and emblemize the deeper “layers” within the music.
In MiraCosta history, it was the largest event of its kind.
“There were all these layers, and people say you’re not supposed to have too many. And to me those layers provide something for everyone,” said Coobatis. “The videos were a link for those who didn’t understand the words to the songs…and so many people said ‘thank you, for having the dancers help me to feel the music.’”
The genesis of “The Journey” began in spring of this year, when Coobatis took the semester off to focus on writing. He describes his sabbatical as a period of “reflection” – where the “soul searching bit…was to replay the emotional film that corresponded to different segments” of his life. During this period, Coobatis said his senses were seized by a musical energy that deprived him of sleep, disrupted his social life and divorced him from a rigid conception of time.
“My sleep cycles were destroyed,” he said. “I’d wake at two in the morning, and write to seven, and take a nap, wake up at noon and write till two again. There were days when I’d write 16 hours. And honestly, I didn’t want to take a break or go anywhere.”
Location, too, was instrumental in his writing. According to Coobatis, the rooms in his house assumed various roles in his creative fever, agitating different memories and emotions, and lending themselves to specific modes of production. Switching between each space became a reward system for the work he had previously done by having something new and different to write. Coobatis believes this facilitated the creative process.
“The house is dedicated to different types of writing…the piano to concert music and the studio to songs, and it was as if I couldn’t get between those two stations fast enough.”
In the end, the seasoned songwriter emerged from his sabbatical with an impressive 34 songs and 10 orchestral works under his belt. By his own admission, it was the most he has written in 20 years.
On the face of it, the idea of writing an autobiographical concert may strike some as self-indulgent, but, for Coobatis, the process symbolized a battle against complacency. During his sabbatical, the desire to encourage others — especially his students — to embark on their own journeys, became his primary motivation. Stagnation, complacency and despondency became inertial evils to Coobatis that could only be overcome through community, shared experience and the willingness to attain knowledge even in the face of personal loss.
“‘The Journey’ is not all about me,” Coobatis clarified. “It’s about being able to relate to others through feelings…putting your arm around them and saying ‘It’s okay’ without knowing the particulars…to stimulate them to take their own journeys.”
A glance at “The Journey’s” program reveals universal themes garbed in the specifics of Coobatis’ life. Above all, his faith in the expressive nature of music, the consoling power of love and the communal transfer of knowledge expose a core philosophy of hope.
“For the first time in my life,” said Coobatis, “I created a total work — it’s all integrated, and you can’t extract any of the pieces. It really is something like a gem. And they all fit together to make this work that is one living, breathing cosmos of music.”