Some years ago I heard a local speaker whose subject was self improvement. I recall that she enumerated a small litany of facets, facets that really separate civilized society from the rest, among them such things as physical, mental and social development. The one that I would label as most important, however, was culture. In most nations culture, that is, an appreciation of the finer things in life, is a determining factor in how that society is judged. This attribute can take many forms, the visual arts, for example, the literature that comes from that society, and one very important, the aural arts, that is, music.
Last week we wrote of a local orchestra, Brass, Key and Wind and related how we had another group to report on this week. This one is the music program at Southwestern Community College, more particularly, the Southwestern College Choir.
I went over to the college’s music department the other day and had a pleasant talk with Dr. Terry Russell, the choir director at the college. Dr. Russell and the choir had just returned from an engagement in New York where they had performed at Carnegie Hall. This was the second such performance in that Mecca of music having gone there five years ago. She was still showing signs of the experience, excited and exuberant, and making long range plans for a reprise.
For Dr. Russell the Carnegie engagement had taken an unexpected turn. As it turned out she was one of the principal conductors. She had been asked to replace the main conductor, Dr. Lee Kjelson, who had turned ill and was unable to perform. Her responsibility in this respect was to lead a combination of 10 choral groups accompanied by a full orchestra, the New England Symphonic Ensemble. She relates how they had only three opportunities to fully rehearse the groups being separated by long distances. Some were from California and some from Florida. The program was eclectic, running the gamut from Handel to Bernstein, with a bit of Mozart and Thiman thrown in. The Mozart piece was the “Te Deum” one that I have heard before. It has a number of haunting melodies. It is said that Mozart wrote this piece when he was 13 years old, attesting to the genius of this man of culture.
Dr. Russell was educated and received her doctorate in choral music from the University of Miami in 1988. The aforementioned Dr. Kjelson was her mentor in her doctorate program. When asked what brought her to Southern California she had an interesting tale to tell. She had put out feelers for employment and was considering them. Her husband, a marine biologist, told her that she could go to any college that had an ocean nearby. He, too, had to become employed. On considering her options Southwestern College in the San Diego area was the only one with an ocean so here is where the family settled. Her son, by the way, a senior at Point Loma High School, is in the music program and made the New York trek.
Dr Russell is highly excited about the Southwestern College music program. She anticipates that within a year or so there will be a full string orchestra at the college. Such an addition would open up a vast opportunity for many of the gifted musicians in the South Bay. She is, of course, mostly excited about the coming choral offerings in the fall. One of her colleagues in the Southwestern music program, Clare Delto, will be giving a concert to satisfy the requirements of the master’s program at San Diego State University. Dr. Russell will be assisting her in this endeavor.
Dr Russell is particularly proud of the concert choir. She tells me that most of the musicians in this program are Southwestern College students who are interested in music and go on to higher learning. There is, however, a small group of community members who have been members of the group for many years. They are merely individuals who love to sing and who have a talent for the art. An example of this type of singer is soprano Carmen Clifton. She had been a member of the group for 10 years, and has made the New York journey and others as well.
The music that emanates from Southwestern College—and from the Sweetwater School District—is the principal part of the culture that this community must have. The South Bay is, therefore, not only fortunate that it is there, but that it is growing each year. For that we thank the Terry Russells of the area.