October 22, 2001 Vol. VI, No. 5

Members of The Northridge Singers (top) gather outside the Music Building prior to their
Emmys rehearsal, with AMC Dean William Toutant at far right. The ensemble (bottom) in its formal group photograph.

Northridge Singers Make Their Mark on the Music World

This Year Includes Hollywood Bowl Performance, Emmys Invite and Nov. 9 Kodak Theatre Opening

Take it as a sign of just how high Cal State Northridge's premier choral music ensemble, The Northridge Singers, has risen lately in the music world.

When conductor Paul Smith told his students this month that they had been invited to sing "America the Beautiful" as part of this year's Emmy Awards finale on Sunday, Oct. 7, no one thought Smith was kidding. Indeed, the unprecedented invitation was as real as the growing reputation of the Northridge program.

Although the planned Emmys ceremony was ultimately postponed because of the start of U.S. bombing in Afghanistan, the rehearsal tape of soloist Daniel Rodriguez, a New York police officer, backed by student choirs from Northridge, USC and Loyola Marymount was broadcast that night on national television.

The rehearsal became the closing segment of an expanded "60 Minutes" news program aired on CBS in place of the Emmys, with anchor Dan Rather saying the performance proved "the voice and spirit of America still rings loud and clear."

(Although the Emmys now have been rescheduled once more for Sunday, Nov. 4 at the Schubert Theatre in Los Angeles, it is not clear if The Northridge Singers will participate in the show.)

The Emmys invitation capped a year in which several choruses of The Northridge Singers had just performed for the first time ever at the Hollywood Bowl, helping jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and the Los Angeles Philharmonic stage the West Coast premiere of his "All Rise" composition in mid-September.

The performance-just two days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the East Coast-included a rousing rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" that was broadcast nationally and internationally on cable news network CNN. Smith called the song's performance "the most moving version I've ever heard."

This spring, The Northridge Singers also were one of only six university choral groups from across the nation invited to perform at the national convention of the American Choral Directors Association-considered the absolute pinnacle of choral music-receiving standing ovations for each of their three performances.

Looking ahead, The Northridge Singers have been selected to accompany opera sensation Russell Watson and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra for the Friday, Nov. 9 opening of the new Kodak Theatre in Hollywood. The new fine arts, theater and concert venue is slated to become the future home of the Academy Awards.

On Saturday, Dec. 8, Smith will conduct The Northridge Singers for a concert in Northridge's Performing Arts Center. Then in January 2003, Smith has been invited to conduct at New York's historic and prestigious Carnegie Hall, and expects to make The Northridge Singers part of the event, another first for the ensemble.

"These events have been a great opportunity to demonstrate to worldwide audiences the quality that exists at Cal State Northridge," said William Toutant, dean of Cal State Northridge's College of Arts, Media, and Communication. The college houses Northridge's Music Department, which is ranked among the best in the nation.

"This is an outstanding university, and the Northridge Singers are one fine example of that," Toutant added. "In his own right, Paul Smith is launching an international career as a choral conductor. He is becoming a major force in choral conducting."

Smith came to Northridge in 1995 as an assistant professor of music after completing his master's in music at USC. In his long performance career, Smith has been a featured soloist with such notable ensembles as the Roger Wagner Chorale, and served as assistant director of the Albert McNeil Jubilee Singers.

While the modest-speaking Smith says The Northridge Singers "are on it. They're really sharp," it is also true the professor's professional background and personal connections helped bring the university and its ensemble the Emmys show invitation and the Hollywood Bowl performance.

"I think it's a wonderful lesson that we have committed ourselves to work so hard, and as a result, we're getting these tremendous calls," Smith said. Not only do the Northridge students sing with power and grace, but they also have the versatility to move from traditional to avant-garde to multicultural music.

The Northridge Singers are a 66-member ensemble selected at Cal State Northridge each year by audition. The group represents some of the most talented voice majors in the Music Department, and notably remains comprised mostly of undergraduate students. They meet with Smith as a class twice a week.

"The Emmys invitation was an honor and it was really great, because we've been working really hard," said Bryant Mills, a 22-year-old tenor music major who has been a member for almost four years. "The program is flourishing and is getting better every year," said Mills, who aspires to be a professional singer.

"I think The Northridge Singers are an incredible example of what the Northridge campus is all about" in terms of students having exposure to great opportunities, added T.J. Harper, who is pursuing a master's degree in music/choral conducting while serving as professor Smith's graduate assistant.

Harper added, "The fact The Northridge Singers are so accomplished and so professional-and have proven themselves time and again-is a testament to what's happening in the Music Department and to Dr. Paul Smith. The opportunities here are just incredible."

@csun | October 22, 2001 issue
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