CSUF Dance: In Memory fo Brian Sepel


A statement from our Dance Program on the life of a wonderful colleague and friend:

“Our dear Brian Sepel lost his battle with cancer on November 24, 2016.

For over a decade, Brian Sepel brought music, humor, and his generosity in helping us discover more of the dancing within each of us. As our fulltime professional musician here at the Theatre and Dance Department at Cal State University Fullerton, he was a unique force of support and collaboration and music. He fed all of us with his contagious pleasure of making rhythm, melody and atmosphere, and helped us all find inspiration and meet the challenges of our days. Although it always seemed to simply pour out of him, Brian worked tirelessly to keep his music rich and meaningful whether drumming for a modern class or on the piano for a ballet class. I know that we have all greatly missed him this last year and will always cherish having had him as a colleague and as a friend.

In Brian’s memory, we plan on creating the Brian Sepel Dance Major Scholarship.  It is something we can do to honor him, his music and to help continue his warm support of our dance students.

Brian was born in South Africa and started his musical life playing in a variety of successful original rock and jazz bands, he built and ran his own recording studio, writing and producing audio for radio and TV advertising. After moving to America he free-lanced as a dance accompanist, playing piano for ballet, and percussion for modern dance classes at UCI, Chapman, IVC, Fullerton College, Santa Ana College and a number of smaller private studios, before settling down at Cal State University Fullerton. Some of the ballet luminaries he worked with include: Mignon Furman (AAB), Barbara Arms (Ballet Russe), Glenn Eddy (Nederlans Danse), Stephanie Saland (NY City Ballet), Brian Loftus (Sadlers Wells). The modern luminaries he worked with include: Donald McKayle, Risa Steinberg, Colin Connor, Louis Kavouras, Bonnie Oda Homsey. Together with his sister Merle Sepel-Wagner, Brian combined all his skills as an accompanist, composer and recording engineer to produce The Enchanted Doorway series. This educational series includes five titles of narrated story with music and instruction, for teachers to use as a dance class for children ages 4 to 6.”

We send our regards and keep his family in our thoughts.


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!

CSUF Theatre: Anna in the Tropics

(Left to Right) CSUF students, Shellie Sterling (Conchita), Wyn Moreno (Juan Julian), and Eric Stevens Flores (Palomo) in Cal State Fullerton’s Anna and the Tropics, directed by Fidel Gomez. Photo by Jordan Kubat.

Cal State Fullerton’s 2016-2017 season opens with the 2003 Pulitzer Prize winner Anna in the Tropics, written by Nilo Cruz and directed by Fidel Gomez. Anna in the Tropics runs September 23-October 9 in the Young Theatre on campus. This poetic play is set in a Cuban-American cigar factory in Florida in 1929 where cigars are rolled by hand while lectors entertain the workers and divert them from their monotonous jobs. The arrival of a new lector is a cause for celebration, but when he begins to read aloud from Anna Karenina, he unwittingly becomes a catalyst in the lives of his avid listeners, for whom Tolstoy, the tropics, and the American dream prove a volatile combination.

Award-winning Cuban-born playwright Nilo Cruz moved to the United States in 1970. A decade later, Mr. Cruz gained an interest in the theatre as an actor and director. After being invited to join Intar Hispanic Playwrights Laboratory, he began his playwriting journey. He is best known for Anna in the Tropics which was selected by a panel of judges who had never seen a production and awarded it solely based on the strong script. Mr. Cruz became the first Latino to win the Pulitzer Prize for playwriting. Some of his other plays include Night Train to Bolina, Two Sisters and a Piano, Lorca in a Green Dress and The Beauty of the Father.

Director Fidel Gomez, an East Los Angeles native, attended Los Angeles High School for the Arts before making his way to the East Coast to attend New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. He also trained with the American Academy of Dramatic Art, Stella Adler Conservatory (NY), Stonestreet Studios and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He is a co-creator and founding member of The Vault Ensemble based at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. Mr. Gomez is an actor and playwright as well. He wrote and directed The Vault: Bankrupt and The Vault: Unlocked and co-wrote and acted in Melancholia, which toured internationally to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Television credits include NCIS, Walkout, Grey’s Anatomy, Undercovers, and 7th Heaven.


(Left to Right) CSUF students, Wyn Moreno (Juan Julian), Shellie Sterling (Conchita), and Eric Steven Flores (Palomo) in Cal State Fullerton’s Anna in the Tropics, directed by Fidel Gomez. Photo by Jordan Kubat.

The cast of Anna in The Tropics includes Miguel Torres as Santiago, Joseph Daniel Zavala as Cheche, Tina A. Burkhalter as Ofelia, Lauren Villalobos as Marela, Shellie Sterling as Conchita, Eric Flores as Palomo and Wyn Moreno as Juan Julian.

Scenic Design is by Kristin Campbell, Lighting Design is by John Favreau, Costume Design is by Kaylynn Sutton, Sound Design is by Devon Swiger and Hair/Makeup Design is by Vanessa Cortez.

Anna in the Tropics plays at 8pm on September 23, 24, 29, 30, October 1, 6, 7, 8 and at 2pm on September 25, October 1, 6, 7, 8, 9. General admission tickets are $14 ($12 with advance Titan Discount purchase for students, seniors or with a CSUF ID). All tickets are $14 at the door. Tickets are available by calling (657) 278-3371, 11am-5pm, Monday through Friday and online at this link here!