"Community-Services" Music in California's Community Colleges

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Several sections of the California State Education Code, that awesome mountain of print in whose shadow the state's 94 community colleges must operate, provide for a wide range of other-than-academic activities to be sponsored by those colleges for the benefit of their communities. This is a recognition by lawmakers that the unique nature and position of the community college gives it the opportunity and probably the obligation to do more for its community's citizens than provide instruction in academic disciplines.

These activities serve the needs of various segments of the community for continuing involvement in things which, while probably educational in effect, go beyond and are not enmeshed in the strictures of the academic establishment. Experience in the more successful of such programs is making a strong case that this kind of function may well have as much impact on the over-all cultural growth of our society as do the most specialized scholarly degree programs or exacting performance training in a conservatory. The communities of which these colleges are integral parts are, after all, where the people are. Activities which nourish the needs of those people must surely leave a lasting imprint.

This concept is well established in California's community colleges, and is supported in the Education Code by a permissive tax of up to .05¢ per $100. It is true that this tax and its resulting programs are unevenly used across the state, for various local reasons. Districts which are hard pressed to find tax support for the instructional programs of the college may be reluctant to add the extra pennies to the tax rate, particularly since they are pennies over which the voter has no control.

The Code provides wide latitude as to the kinds of activity for which these funds may be used. One provision states that a District may use its facilities for

public, literary, scientific, recreational, educational, or public agency meetings, or for the discussion of matters of general or public interest upon such terms and conditions as the Board deems proper.

Most of these categories are more fully explained in other sections, as for example that which describes recreational activities as

any activity, voluntarily engaged in, which contributes to the physical, mental, or moral development of the individual or group participating therein, and includes any activity in the fields of music, drama, art, handicraft, science, literature, nature study, nature contacting, aquatic sports, and athletics, or any of them.

With this broad mandate, directors of community services at several colleges have been stimulated to mount a wide and imaginative panorama of activities, including planetariums, scientific displays, museums, art galleries, short courses, workshops and seminars in an astonishing variety of subjects (ranging from aquatic sports to Yoga), dramatic and little theater endeavors, public lectures, films, film festivals, cooperation in the presentations of civic groups and enterprises, and, of particular interest to this report, the underwriting of extensive programs in music, both in presenting concerts and supporting performance activities in the college and the community.

This report gives highlights of successful community services music programs in three leading California community college districts: The Foothill District, which includes De Anza and Foothill Colleges in Cupertino and Los Altos Hills (near San Jose), El Camino College, in Torrance (Los Angeles area), and Cabrillo College, in Aptos (near Santa Cruz). These schools are chosen because they have become known statewide for the scope and impact of what they are doing in this area. Many other colleges' efforts in particular activities might be cited for equal vigor and success, although few schools attempt such a complete range. These three have demonstrated that they have the happy combination of deep public interest and support, physical facilities, and imaginative leadership which makes a viable program possible. De Anza and El Camino Colleges each possess auditoriums ranking among the largest in the state (2600 to 3000 seats).

It is well to remember that even in the case of these three successful programs, music activities are viewed by the colleges as being only one facet—albeit a brilliant one—of the entire community services program for which the institution wishes to be known. It is the arm of the college's program which reaches out to one specific kind of need in the community: the musical. It can easily be shown that while in order to be successful such programs must be run with insight, competence and imagination, their real strength lies in the extent to which they fill those musical needs with quality and continuity. Concerts in 2700-seat halls languish if the seats are empty because the citizen doesn't understand or value what is being presented. Civic and college-centered performance groups wither away without a steady pressure from competent citizens who wish to take part because they have found from experience that those groups make real music of quality and discipline. The abundant health of many of the activities cited below can be taken as clear evidence of burgeoning community interest resulting from the service having directly met and filled the need.

In order to fit something of the thrust of each school's program into a composite picture of community services music activity as a whole, four principal types of programming will be examined briefly.

 

Professional Programming. The most eye-catching programs are those involving the presentation of professional events, with artists and groups drawn from virtually any realm of the musical world. Such events are presented either under the direct sponsorship of the office of community services, or by contracting with outside promoters. El Camino and Foothill Districts are among the acknowledged leaders in this kind of endeavor, as may be judged by examining representative single seasons at each of the two schools shown below. Many other community colleges are also involved in this type of activity to the degree that there exists a separate inter-college association to assist in cooperative booking of major artists.

El Camino De Anza
  London Philharmonic Orchestra   Stuttgart Ballet
  The Tyrolerfest   Los Angeles Philharmonic
  Eugene Istomin   San Francisco Symphony (10 concerts)
  Claudio Arrau   Cleveland Symphony
  Alicia de Laroccha   Vienna Choir Boys
  Teiko Maehashi   Andres Segovia
  Netherlands Chamber Choir   Van Cliburn
  Byron Janis   Fiesta Mexicana
  Royal Canadian Opera   Royal Winnipeg Ballet
  I Solisti di Zagreb   Concord String Quartet
  Cleveland Symphony   Broin Czech Folk Dance Group
  Royal Winnipeg Ballet   "Promises, Promises" (Broadway Company)
  Clann Gael, Folklorica   The Tyrolerfest
  The Romero Family   The Vienna Opera
  Count Basie and Orchestra   Osipov Balalaika Orchestra
  Nelson Freire, Pianist   Carlos Montoya
      Andre Watts
      The Young Americans
      Several Rock groups (all sellouts!)



Community-sponsored Programming. Each of these three schools is active in fostering musical programming developed by college-community cooperation. Often, the function of community services in relation to these events is simply to provide the environment in which they may flourish, but in several cases actual co-sponsorship is involved.

The most famous example is the Cabrillo Music Festival, whose conductor and music director is the internationally renowned Mexican composer, Carlos Chavez. Since its inception in 1963 this annual summer festival has grown, through adversity to strength, to be one of the acknowledged "events" of the California summer scene. The 1971 Festival presented nine concerts, including repertoire in all major eras from Bach to Varèse. The event is a monument to the hard work and cooperation between the Cabrillo Guild of Music, a civic organization directly in charge of the Festival, and the Cabrillo College Office of Community Services.

Cabrillo also sponsors regular seasons of the Santa Cruz Symphony (six concerts), the Santa Cruz Youth Symphony (seven concerts), and many concerts by the Crown Chamber Players of the University of California at Santa Cruz.

El Camino College sponsors a series of programs for juniors in grades 3 through 8, in which complete stage productions for children are given by various community, college, and semi-professional groups; a majority of these actively involve music.

The Foothill District plays host to concerts by the Peninsula Symphony, the famed California Youth Symphony, summer productions of the Junior Artists Guild, as well as the El Camino Youth Symphony and the Foothill Symphonic Youth Band.

 

In-house Performance Organizations. One of the most valued functions of community services music is its ability to foster its own performance organizations of real quality and skill. Communities which contain many persons with training and experience in music, but who now are engaged in other means of making a living, profit from the existence of such organizations because they serve relatively sophisticated musical interests, both in performance and as potential audiences.

The three groups sponsored by the Foothill District are widely-acclaimed cases in point. The Schola Cantorum, a symphonic choir of 160 voices, is now in its eighth season, and has become recognized as one of the outstanding choirs on the West Coast. During its first season it appeared with the San Francisco Symphony under Josef Krips. The organization has commissioned new choral works from Alan Hovhaness and Kirke Mechem, and presented the United States premiere of the Boris Blacher oratorio, Der Grossinquisitor.

There are two orchestral groups which are companions for The Schola. The Nova Vista Symphony of 90 players represents the broadest community involvement, while the Master Sinfonia of 30 players has become known as a group of specialists, playing at virtually a professional level. All three groups present their own seasons, and on some occasions work together. Each has received high critical praise, both for the musical quality of its performances and for its impact on the cultural life of the many suburban communities it serves.

The success of these groups can be attributed to several things. First, they are selective. Admission to membership is by audition, and there is always a waiting list. As one prospective member of The Schola exclaimed: "What a pleasure to find a choir that it's hard to get into!". Second, continued membership is based on competence and enthusiasm. Capable people become involved because they find there is something there to challenge their capabilities. Third, they involve the adults of the community. While each group contains some college-age students, the majority are adult citizens who by this means become involved with the best the college has to offer, and assume a natural proprietary interest. And fourth, the presence of these groups in their communities exerts a tangible, positive influence on standards of musical performance and acceptance in those communities.

Similar groups and activities are supported by many California community colleges. El Camino College, for example, fields a community chorus, band, and orchestra, each of which has its regular season of concerts.

 

Instructional and Student-activity Programming. A fourth area of musical activity is either assisted or wholly sponsored by community services efforts. This involves musical performance directly related to instructional programs, as when choirs, bands, orchestras and ensembles which carry academic credit in the music department present their regular concerts as part of the college's over-all approach to the community. It also involves the presentation of famed artists under the sponsorship of a student body or some student organization, and can be extended to include faculty series which present major artists or groups in concert.

Community services funds and effort usually have little to do with the actual staging of such events, but the existence of an organized community services program both receives assistance from and lends weight to them. The technical distinction as to exactly who is paying the bill for any one event tends to fade in importance in the presence of an active, attractive, and varied over-all program. The whole college, in its academic and community services functions, benefits mightily from the image which is projected of an institution which by various means is deeply involved in its efforts to serve community needs. The more varied the fare, the wider the influence of this image. When the list includes Rock groups and jazz artists as well as symphonies, ballets and concert artists, "serving the community" is seen as "serving the communities", those varied shadings of interest which comprise the entire population, rather than an elite group interested in "serious" music only.

 

Summary. The purist or dweller-in-the-ivory-tower may scoff that this broad approach merely weakens a strong music program by exposing it to debilitating floods of kitsch. Yet it should be noted that experience in these California colleges seems to show that the more there is breadth and variety in the entire music program, the more surely will "serious" music events draw full houses. Rock concerts at the new Flint Center at De Anza College have, of course, invariably overflowed the hall, and even to its physical detriment. But the presence of this 2600-seat hall, coupled with the active schedule of musical events in all areas of style, has also meant that this year, for the first time in its ten-year history, the entire ten-concert season of the San Francisco Symphony under Ozawa was sold out in advance, leaving no tickets for the box office. This is an advance sale of 26,000 single admissions for a major orchestra and conductor, which hardly makes it seem that the market for "serious" music has been weakened by proximity to Rock and jazz.

The presence of rich musical fare on the same campus naturally strengthens every effort in the academic training provided for students of the college music department. The availability of fine performance groups toward which students may aspire imparts purpose and depth to the training given in the college choirs, orchestras and bands. Many community colleges in California are finding that their entire mission of providing academic education combined with services to their community in other less-definable ways is made much more possible because of their successes in community services organization. The community involvement and pride of accomplishment which such programs entail lend a fine aura to the whole college, which is viewed by its citizens as an institution of worth and stature.

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Last modified on Tuesday, 13/11/2018

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