CSUF Symphony Orchestra and Rob Kapilow


For over 20 years, Rob Kapilow has brought the joy and wonder of classical music – and unraveled some of its mysteries – to audiences of all ages and backgrounds. Characterized by his unique ability to create an “aha” moment for his audiences and collaborators, whatever their level of musical sophistication or naiveté, Kapilow’s work brings music into people’s lives: opening new ears to musical experiences and helping people to listen actively rather than just hear. As the Boston Globe said, “It’s a cheering thought that this kind of missionary enterprise did not pass from this earth with Leonard Bernstein. Rob Kapilow is awfully good at what he does. We need him.”

Kapilow’s “What Makes It Great?” (WMIG) made its auspicious debut on NPR’s Performance Today over 20 years ago, and with its accessible ten-minute format it quickly attracted a wide base of fans and followers. Snowballing in popularity, it developed into a full-length concert evening and was soon snapped up by presenters looking to build new audiences. What Makes It Great?® has sold out regular subscription series in places as diverse as Kansas City, MO, Cerritos, CA, as well as at New York’s Lincoln Center, the Celebrity Series of Boston, and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC and the National Gallery of Canada.

Since Spring 2013, our School of Music’s University Symphony Orchestra has worked with Kapilow in his “What Makes It Great?” program to present Ludwig von Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with violinist, Bella Hristova, Franz Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony No. 8, and Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 “From the New World.” This Wednesday, they join him for the fourth time for George Gershwin’s “American in Paris.”

Unlike normal orchestral concerts, the “What Makes It Great?” program focuses on one piece. The first part of the presentation features Kapilow breaking the piece down for the audience using examples from the score with the orchestra playing and his own compositions answering his question “What if the composer wrote it this way?” “He does a great job of breaking down pieces to the smallest motives so that the audience can understand and connect with the music,” explains senior cello performance major, Emily Balderrama, “He also will involve the audience by having them sing with him or clap a rhythm.” The second part of the program features a full run through of the piece with a question and answer session with the audience that both Kapilow and the orchestra members answer. Unlike any other orchestra concert at CSUF, the orchestra is trained to be flexible to try whatever Kapilow asks them to do.

The unique experience of the concert/presentation allows for a broad audience of children and adults seeking enrichment in classical music. Emily Balderrama explains that “Kapilow does a great job breaking the fourth wall and welcoming everyone to learn and participate in the world of classical music. It’s great for the performers as well since we learn more and look at our pieces in a new light.” Many of our students use Kapilow’s teaching style and model for their own presentations on music!

For more information on our School of Music’s Symphony Orchestra with Rob Kapilow, check out the link here!


Clayes 10th Anniversary Community Open House


Last year, the School of Music held its 50th Anniversary with their Dedication Celebration which featured performances by the Symphonic Chorus and University Symphony Orchestra with Titan alumna, Deborah Voigt. Since 2006, the Joseph A.W. Clayes III Performing Arts Center has been the beacon for training the next generation to mold the arts landscape. In it’s 10th year, Dean Dale A. Merrill and the College of the Arts invite students, alumni, supporters and community members to come “behind the scenes” and discover what makes the Clayes Performing Arts Center an amazing resource for arts students and audience members.  Step into a variety of performance and rehearsal spaces where students will be showcasing their talents, join a backstage tour that highlights students’ work in our Scenic and Costume Shops, an art exhibition, refreshments and more!

Save the date for Sunday, November 6, 2016 from 2 PM – 6PM. A special Jazz performance will be held in Meng Concert Hall at 4pm and will feature the School of Music’s Jazz Orchestra students alongside with guest artist, Doc Severinsen, and other invited guests.

Here are more events happening during our open house!:


Scene from Pride & Prejudice
James D. Young Theatre
2:15pm, 2:45pm, 3:15pm

Scene from Drowsy Chaperone
Jerry Samuelson Musical Theatre Room
2:30pm & 3:00pm

A Conversation with Emeriti Chair of Theatre & Dance Susan Hallman
A conversation about the history of the Clayes Performing Arts Center, from A to Z.William J. McGarvey Family Dance Studio
3:15pm – 3:45pm

Dance Presentation featuring dance students from the Department of Theatre & Dance
Selections from Fall Dance Theatre
William J. McGarvey Family Dance Studio
2:15pm, 2:45pm

Cello Performance featuring students from the School of Music
Kathryn T. McCarty Grand Foyer
2:00pm – 3:30pm

“A View From Above” Canopy Tour
Guests will see what 5 tons of tuning looks like (aka “The Acoustic Canopy” that hangs in Meng Hall) from the unique perspective of the choir loft behind the stage.
Vaughncille Joseph Meng Hall (Upper Level entrance)
2:15pm – 3:00pm

Sound Design: An Evolution from Studio to Stage
A look into the process of creating and designing theatre production cues which begin in a recording studio and are completed on stage.
Douglas R. Young, Terry Forrest Young, and Megan Forrest Young Audio Studio
2:00pm – 3:45pm

Throughout the afternoon…

  • Guided backstage tours will depart from McCarty Grand Foyer and will feature stops in the Lois M. Brockett Costume Shop and the Lee & Nicholas Begovich Scenic Laboratory
  • Exhibition of art by students in the Department of Visual Arts in the Millie and Dale Hallberg Theatre
  • Doors will open for the concert at 3:45 pm – general admission seating

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!