Santa Barbara Nature Scenes Inspire Local Composer in Latest Project

By Cody Westheimer

Wisdom of the Water, Earth, Sky
Premiering November 19 7:30pm, November 20, 3pm

How lucky are we? As we stare towards the Pacific at sunset, a pod of dolphins surfaces. As we walk the foothills deer cautiously observe. As we picnic in the park agroup of squirrels hop from branch to branch. And as you look to the sky a hawk soars above. 

Animals and nature have been the core of my human experience. It’s what brought me back to Santa Barbara after spending over 20 years in Los Angeles. When I was asked to write a new orchestral work for my hometown symphony I knew it would be focused on the wilderness. I humbly asked my friends Ernestine and Marianne if they’d be willing to collaborate with me – in sharing the stories of our animal co-inhabitants – their stories of wisdom. And how their people – the Chumash – the first humans on this land enjoyed a more harmonious relationship with nature.

“Wisdom of the Water, Earth, Sky” will premiere on November 19 and 20 at the Granada theater along with a loaded program of Mozart, Schumann and Sibelius. Marianne and Ernestine will present my piece – which opens the show – and they will introduce each movement. As a multidisciplinary exercise, I’ve spent hours outside with my camera capturing the footage that will be projected over the orchestra.

Marianne, Ernestine and me (Photo: Cody Westheimer)


I grew up out in Goleta when it was still cattle country. My dad introduced me to Ellwood – my first real exposure to nature and I fell in love. In adolescence I started writing music. All of my work seemed nature themed “Pacific Northwest: Keiko’s Theme,” “Santa Barbara Shores,” “Wilcox at Dawn.” While I was finishing high school my dad and I fought arduously to save Ellwood from development. But it was soon time for me to leave for LA – to study music at USC and pursue my dream of becoming a film composer. 

After a long 23 year stint in our big city to the South we packed up our house and moved into the San Roque area in 2020. I’m still honeymooning with this place! Mountains, ocean – wildlife! 

In 2021 I joined the fight to save the San Marcos Foothills from development. I made short form videos depicting the land as highly unique – and as a refuge for wildlife. We won. Through this battle I met Marianne and Ernestine, who are both of Chumash descent and who were pivotal in accomplishing what this community did. I knew when the Nir, the conductor and artistic director of the Symphony, approached me about a piece honoring the Chumash that they were the ones to make this happen. They were so generous and gracious with sharing their short stories and providing feedback. Ernestine’s idea of adding a visual component was key – as it will enhance the experience for the audience as it also enhanced my experience composing the piece!

I started putting pencil to paper in August and the piece was complete by the end of September. A two month stint writing my most ambitious piece of orchestral music to date. As a film composer I’m used to tight deadlines and epic soundtracks – but I hope this piece will move the listeners in a different way. I hope they’ll be thinking about the Earth and how we must bond together as humans to save her.

Tickets are still available:

If you’d like to see a teaser of the project, visit:


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