California State University, Long Beach
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Recruiting Trips That Sing

Published: April 15, 2011

Recruiting trips aren’t just important to big-time college athletic teams. Just ask Jonathan Talberg.

“That’s a big part of my job,” said Talberg, CSULB’s Bob Cole Conservatory of Music’s director of Choral, Vocal, and Opera Studies, of his recruiting trips. “When we go on trips we talk about our program to high school students and their parents. Our students talk about their majors, our productions and their course work. And, in our concerts, they sing some operatic, jazz or musical theater solos so the high school students get a feel for what it is we do here at Long Beach State.”

Talberg’s most recent “recruiting” trip took place over the winter break, when he and CSULB Vocal Jazz director Christine Guter led 54 students, on one bus, on a week-long trek north to places like Bakersfield, Clovis, Redding and San Francisco.

“We scheduled clinics in each city where we visit a high school and we sing for their kids and they sing for us, then Christine or I offer them some suggestions,” said Talberg. “It’s an exchange between our ensembles and in the evening we present a concert, free of charge, for each community we visit.”

On this trip, CSULB students performed in Bakersfield High School’s beautiful art deco-style auditorium, the Clovis Performing Arts Center, the Redding Performing Arts Center, a high school in Danville, and finished up with a clinic at the San Francisco Center for the Performing Arts.

It was the sixth such trip and first in five years for Talberg, who recognizes that it also serves as a great public service outreach program for the university.

“I call it a recruiting tour because what it really does is get our name out there across the state,” he said, noting that in the voice area, about 300 students will audition for the 30 available spots at CSULB that will make up next years’ freshman and transfer class. “At each one of our venues we have lots of teachers coming in from all over to attend our clinics and the concerts. It gives them a chance to see what is going on at Long Beach State. That’s important because the high school choir directors and local voice teachers are the ones recommending prospective universities and conservatories to their students.”

“The ultimate purpose of the trip is to recruit potential students for CSULB,” said Guter. “It’s also a wonderful outreach to visit schools that may not have a large budget to tour themselves, or may not have opportunities to hear top level university choirs.”

Students who apply and who are accepted into the university must also audition at the Bob Cole Conservatory. Some actually audition prior to getting into CSULB.

“I had a few students contact me ahead of time so they could audition in Bakersfield because traveling to Long Beach would be difficult for them,” said Talberg, “and I actually accepted two students on this trip, but they still have to be accepted into the university.”

So, how do you get 54 college students to give up a big chunk of their holiday break to travel by cramped bus for a week?

“It’s not really optional for them,” admitted Talberg, who has also taken groups to Europe three times and will be leading a group in 2012 to compete in the Eisteddfod Choral Competition in Wales, the most famous choral competition in the world. “It’s on their audition sheet. I say ‘If you want to sing in Chamber Choir this year, you’ll do this.’ Christine has the same requirement for Pacific Standard Time. If they want to tour, to sing with the top musicians, and perform in CSULB’s most prestigious vocal ensembles, outreach is a requirement of the job.”

Guter has toured with the university choirs, top jazz band, and with her own ensemble. The CSULB Concert Jazz Orchestra and Pacific Standard Time participated in the Monterey Next Generation Jazz Festival this month, the later taking top honor in the College Vocal Ensemble Division.

She sees the trips as a wonderful opportunity for the groups to improve.

“You get better by doing,” she said. “Not only were we able to recruit for the university, but they reached a new level of performance and excellence through being able to perform two or three times a day for a week straight, so it was wonderful and valuable experience for my students.”

The trip not only benefits performance majors, but education majors as well since they get an opportunity to see what’s it’s like in the trenches and are able to ask questions to high school instructors who are out there teaching music every day.

“It’s a valuable experience for the students to see what’s it’s like and get some hands-on experience observing what high school programs are all about,” said Guter.

The experience CSULB students received was not just in performing, but by observing as well. It was emotionally moving for many of them.

“It was an incredible experience witnessing firsthand the power of choral music in the lives of others, and especially the young people we met,” said junior Melody Tibbits, a music education major from Caro, Mich. “I recognize that it is unusual to be able to be a part of something that inspires people in such a personal, real way, and even has the potential to alter someone’s course in life. Several beautiful moments from this tour will remain with me for a lifetime, many in which high school students exclaimed then and there that they will choose to pursue music as a career and will be auditioning for CSULB’s conservatory as soon as they can.”

“Both our Chamber Choir and Pacific Standard Time enjoyed a highly successful and enriching tour. Our groups improved their products literally every single time they took the stage, which is musically rewarding not only for our audience, but from a personal and group standpoint as well,” said Ian Brekke, a first-year graduate student, and a Jazz Studies-Vocal Performance major from Minneapolis.

“The talent levels of the students and directors we witnessed throughout California schools were extremely inspiring and encouraging, and have given all of us at the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music a renewed hope in the success of the art programs in this state. The ability to share the common language that is beautiful music with complete strangers is part of what makes touring so fun, and because of this, both of our groups very much enjoyed singing for and with all of the vocal ensembles along our tour stops.”