Faculty Feature: Robert Istad – Outstanding Professor 2015-16

CSUF School of Music – Director of Choral Activites, Dr. Robert Istad

“I’m so proud of you”

CSUF choral students are familiar with this phrase from Dr. Robert Istad. Whether it is after a successful recital of ambitious music or before a performance of a major choral-orchestral work, it serves to validate that they are meeting or exceeding the standards set by the School of Music’s faculty. It is also their sign that they living up to the legacy that has been long established by the CSUF Choral Program.

For the past five decades, CSUF’s choral program has been a major artistic force in Orange County. Professor David Thorsen founded the choral program in 1960, and maintained a national reputation for musical excellence until his retirement in 1995.  In 1996, Professor John Alexander joined the faculty at CSUF and initiated a long-standing relationship between the School of Music and the Pacific Chorale, one of the United States’ most highly acclaimed choral organizations. CSUF’s choirs under Maestro Alexander performed nationally and internationally at major conferences and concert venues.  During his tenure, John Alexander reestablished the nationally recognized graduate program in choral conducting, and founded the Elliot and Kathleen Alexander Memorial Scholarship which provides financial support for outstanding choral conducting students at CSUF.

CSUF Students receiving the Elliot and Kathleen Alexander Memorial Scholarship


Each summer, Pacific Chorale and Cal State Fullerton collaborate to offer the Pacific Chorale Choral Camp which offers local high school students the opportunity to strengthen and expand their skills as choral singers. Two-year veteran of the summer camp and current sophomore in vocal performance in the School of Music, Danielle Pribyl, explains that “(The camp) gives you an enriching vocal experience over the summer break… you are given theory lessons, work on your musicianship and get the opportunity to sing in a barbershop quartet, mini opera scene, or even mini musical theatre scene.” James Gjurgevich, an incoming freshman and also participant in the choral camp highlights that the camp “allowed me to explore and gain real experience in conducting, barbershop, solo performance, and many more areas of music not generally touched on at the high school level.”


Pacific Chorale Summer Choral Camp 2016


In 2006, John Alexander retired from academia and Dr. Robert Istad, one of John Alexander’s former students at CSUF, assumed leadership over the choral program. Through Dr. Istad’s commitment to academic excellence and rigorous training, CSUF continues to prepare singers and conductors for further study in performance and teaching positions. With the assistance of Dr. Christopher Peterson, the School of Music boasts a 100% job placement rate for choral music education students in the credential program. With the support of the voice faculty, the vocal program emphasizes the importance of two major skills to their students: Professionalism and Musicianship. These standards earn the students singing opportunities they would not often receive at other institutions.

In the past year, Dr. Istad has championed the superb standards of his mentor’s choral program in performances of Lauridsen’s “Lux Aeterna,” Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms,” and CSUF’s Christmas celebration, “Deck the Hall” with our University Symphony Orchestra in Meng Concert Hall. The choral program also shared the stage with alumna and international opera star, Deborah Voigt, for the School of Music Gala last fall. Our highest level choral ensemble, the University Singers, sang a full performance of Handel’s “Israel in Egypt” with the Horizon Music Baroque Orchestra and were hired to sing the “The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddess” at Segerstrom Hall. This summer, Dr. Istad prepared members of University Singers and Concert Choir to participate in professional performances with Andrea Bocelli and in the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra’s production of “Star Trek Live,” both at the Hollywood Bowl.

In addition to local touring, CSUF’s University Singers traveled to Carnegie Hall to perform the music of composer, Tarik O’Regan, and 110 singers traveled to Paris, France with our University Orchestra to perform Poulenc’s “Gloria” and Fauré’s “Requiem.”


(Top) – Dr. Robert Istad conducting the music of Tarik O’Regan in Carnegie Hall, Fall 2015 (Bottom) – Dr. Robert Istad conducting Fauré’s Requiem in La Madeleine in Paris France, Summer 2015

During the 2016-2017 season, the choral program will collaborate with opera star, Kathleen Battle, film composer, John Williams, Andrea Bocelli and the Pacific Symphony Orchestra. The University Singers will tour Scandinavia, the Baltics, and Russia in summer 2017.

Dr. Istad was selected to be CSUF’s Outstanding Professor of the Year, in recognition of his accomplishments with the students of the School of Music. CSUF’s tradition of high standards and demand for excellence in the School of Music’s choral program continues, and Cal State Fullerton’s wonderful choirs remain a major artistic force in Orange County.

Dr. Istad’s Outstand Professor Lecture will be held on Tuesday, October 4th, 2016 at 4:30 PM in Meng Concert Hall and it is open to the public. For more information on his lecture, check out the link here!


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