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Music Department History at PCC

Facts assembled by Paul Kilian, April 2008

In the year 1924, following passionate community dialogue, a $2,994,000 bond issue was passed (by a 2 to 1 margin) to build John Muir Technical High School, and to enlarge Pasadena High School. This would allow for the establishment of Pasadena Junior College on the PHS Colorado Street campus, giving PHS the 11th and 12th grades, with the new junior college comprising grades 13 and 14.

And so, in the fall of 1924, the incipient college music program began—initially as an expansion of the high school program—under the energetic and creative leadership of the choral director, Miss Lula Claire Parmley. She was assisted by the Glee Club director, Abraham Miller, and Hubert Parker who conducted the orchestra and the ROTC band. The spring production that year, which in the ensuing years would grow into school-wide extravaganzas involving hundreds of students, was the operetta The Student Prince.

In 1925, with the addition of the 14th grade, the boy’s and girl’s glee clubs were joined by the new men’s glee club, conceived to accommodate college level students. A women’s glee club was added the following year. Now in its second year, the college music curriculum already included courses in harmony, music history, piano, and individual help in instruments and voice.

From its early days, performance has been an important aspect of the music program. In 1929 the Oratorio Society was formed, the high school and junior college orchestra were combined, and new band uniforms were purchased for participation in the Tournament of Roses Parade. Audre L. Stong became band director in 1930, and by virtue of his entrepreneurial gifts as promoter and showman par excellence, band membership exploded to include 135 students and contained within itself eleven smaller sub-ensembles that also performed widely throughout the community. Because the band was primarily an all-male group, a separate girl’s band was formed in 1932 which existed for several years. By now the choral organizations included not only the men’s and women’s glee clubs, but also the Voice Choir (a preparatory glee club), and the eleventh year mixed chorus. Additionally there were two select choirs: the Nysaean Singers for women and the men’s Euterpean Singers. Rounding out the vocal ensembles was the new A Capella Choir.

Typical of the grand performances given by the department during those years was their traditional Christmas Gloria. The1935 production involved some 400 students including singers, instrumentalists, dancers and dramatists. The following spring’s rendition of Mendelssohn’s Elijah featured over 300 students. The department also put on spring musicals, operettas, and the like. Held in either Sexson Auditorium or at the Pasadena Civic, it was not uncommon for them to run three to four performances with over-flow crowds at each. In those days, before the influx of television and other home media, local communities looked to their schools to provide much of their musical entertainment. Therefore all of the college ensembles were heavily deployed throughout the area, performing at schools, churches, service clubs, and even on the radio. In the school year 1939-40, for example, the five vocal ensembles gave over 86 performances, the separate male quartet 45, the Melody Maids—a female string ensemble—gave 46, the Bulldog Band, 50, their smaller band ensembles another 27, and the orchestra 9 concerts, for a grand total of 273 performances for the school year!

This remarkable profusion of performances by a junior college music program ensued from the philosophy of the music chair, Miss Parmley—a philosophy that continues to this day—of providing music, when feasible, to whomever asked for it, in the belief that the Music Department was a natural agency to represent the college in the community and, in the process, assure the taxpayers that their dollars were being well spent. Additionally, these concerts provided PR for the department while supplying a variety of performance training experiences for the students.

A sensitive issue arose, however; one which also continues to this day. Faculty in the more “academically-oriented” courses began complaining that the performing students were missing so many classes that their work was suffering and grades were declining. Finally Miss Parmley had to issue a directive encouraging ensemble directors to be more selective in accepting performance requests.

Due to increased enrollment at the college, coupled with languishing enrollment at the Muir Technical High School, in fall 1938 the Muir campus became the PJC “West Campus,” forcing the Music Department to deal with the scheduling and transportation problems of teaching at both campuses. As it turned out, the West Campus offered mainly ensembles, piano, voice and music appreciation classes, while the music major curriculum stayed at the East (Colorado) Campus. In order to facilitate the complexities involved, the annual operetta was replaced by a spring concert, with all the groups from both campuses combining for the event.

The Kantela Club, run largely for and by the students, was formed in 1939. Among its varied activities, the club sponsored student and guest performer recitals and provided field trips to professional concerts. They also held a number of social events for music students.

Even though the PJC Music Department was widely recognized as one of the finest among the California junior colleges, it was not without its problems. Facilities were a grave concern. The department was housed in two inadequate buildings: the failing old Music Hall and the barely remodeled Hunter House. Appreciation classes shared a classroom in the C Building, and there was also a sometimes band room, but usually the ensembles usually had to rehearse on the stage, when they weren’t being displaced by other college events. After the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, organ classes had to be discontinued due to damage in the auditorium, although occasionally local churches were used. When one considers the dependence upon technology in today’s classrooms—CD and video players, synthesizers, computers, recording equipment, and the like—it is hard to imagine that the early department’s ”technology” consisted of several Victrolas and a stack of 78 RPM records.

World War II brought another problem: decreased enrollment as young people went into the military service or the defense industry. The loss of young men affected all the ensembles, especially the men’s choruses. It became difficult to fill instructors’ loads. Performances were sharply curtailed as audiences shrank due to the public’s being much more focused on the world situation.  In order to fully staff the spring production, The Music and Dances of the Allied Nations, four local church choirs were included in the chorus. In spring 1942, when Miss Parmley was president of the Southern California Junior College Music Association, PJC hosted the association’s music festival which was attended by students from nine junior colleges. And, a la George Bailey, the department put forth its own energies towards the war effort by performing at military bases, participating in clothing drives, and other such activities

When the war ended the college was inundated with those returning from the service and industry, so once again overcrowding became a challenge. This time the Muir campus became its own school, John Muir College, engendering new logistics hassles and misunderstandings between the two campuses. Among the most painful irritations was the competition for performance invitations and venues, with the aggressive Muir faculty securing the best ones. Through it all, however, as Miss Parley noted, the department still enjoyed an excellent reputation, drawing students even from other states. And once again, the Christmas Festival played to overflow crowds.

In the fall of 1950, upon the retirement of Miss Parmley, Carolyn Weersing became the chair of a music department that included six full-time instructors and a number of adjunct faculty. By now the guest concert artist series in Harbeson Hall was a weekly event. Pal Day was initiated whereby each entering music student was assigned to a continuing student in order to help him/her become acquainted with the program. Mrs. Weersing inaugurated a Monthly Music Events Bulletin which listed musical events in Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley, and the Listening Hour became an official class open to all students.   A survey determined that PJC had more music major courses than most of the other JCs. Audre Stong had retired, the band having suffered lower and lower enrollments, and the new band director abandoned Stong’s “showman” approach and undertook rebuilding the ensemble as a more musical organization. Also new that year was the Music Lab comprising four turntables with headphones and a shelf of study scores, and the First Annual Awards Tea, which was held with 250 in attendance.

Robert M. Fleury became the Music Department Chair in 1954 and ushered in a new era of excellence and growth. His three-pronged philosophy included a major revision of the curriculum, improving student-teacher relationships, and promoting public relations. Among other things, he initiated Music Department convocations for all music students, the reorganization of the Music Student Council, a music patron list and alumni file, a department brochure, choir tours, drum major clinics, a Military Ball, student composition recitals, and the Hi-Liter jazz band.

The Music Department moved into its new building (the present “K” Building) in 1956, although for a number of years the third floor was occupied by the Foreign Languages Department. Mr. Fleury defined the three primary purposes of the department as (1) enriching the college community, (2) offering music classes for the general student, and (3) providing specialized studies for the vocational and semi-vocational music students. Although a strong supporter of performance classes, he stressed that performance was not the primary objective of the department.

During the 1960s the department continued to grow and excel. Advisory committees comprised of music faculty, community musicians, and high school teachers advised students in the areas of Theory, History & Appreciation, Choral/Vocal, Piano/Organ, and Instrumental. An intense study was done of university transfer requirements and proficiencies demanded.  Music scholarships were expanded. Piano and Voice Class syllabi were developed. The Music Hour Series was recorded and then aired on the campus radio station KPCS. The Opera Workshop was instituted. The Lancer Band gave “Pops” Concerts beside the mirror pools. The Community Orchestra and Adult Concert band were founded. The department’s entertainment troupe, the Sandpipers, was established and performed extensively throughout the community. A local newspaper boasted that “No other junior college, nor, in fact, many four-year collegiate institutions, maintain the rich offerings of performance experiences which are available in this department.”

During the 1970s the full-time faculty expanded to fifteen members including prominent musicians in the areas of theory, keyboard, voice, music history, and jazz. Professor Milan Zirovich, former assistant director of the San Francisco Opera, was interim department chair for the year of Dr. Fleury’s sabbatical.

Dr. Fleury retired in 1981 and was succeeded by Michael Wilson whose unhappy task it was to guide the department through some rough waters. The passage of California’s Proposition 13 in 1978 had greatly reduced local revenues, and the California Community Colleges converted from relying on local funding to becoming a state system. Ultimately, massive faculty layoffs occurred throughout PCC which included five of the music department’s fifteen full-time instructors. A number of courses had to be cut, and campus morale was at an all-time low.

Paul Kilian assumed the chairmanship in the spring of 1985 and set about rebuilding the department by reestablishing an affirmative focus, rehiring the laid-off instructors, and seeking ways to meet the changing worlds of music education and the music industry. Believing that the department’s most important mission was to enable its students’ development, both as musicians and as human beings, he sought to foster a culture of trust and encouragement, to provide the best possible instructors, to develop a comprehensive curriculum, and to supply abundant opportunities for performance. Additionally, he believed that the faculty and staff were the core of the program, so he allowed them to excel in the domains of their personal strengths and to explore new arenas of instructional support and creative expression.

By the early 1990s the weekly Music Hour had been reestablished, the music laboratory exponentially expanded, and individual instruction on instruments and voice instituted. In recognition of the student body’s increasingly multi-ethnic constituency, the existing Afro-American Music course was joined by Latin American Music, Asian Music, and Music Cultures of the World. And, as interim department chair in 1996-97, Robert Eaton added the African Drumming class and the Chinese Music Ensemble.

During the next decade the choral/vocal offerings were augmented by new programs in opera and jazz/studio voice, along with the Madrigals ensemble and the Gospel Choir. Traditional instrumental music added six chamber ensembles. The guitar program expanded to include a classical guitar sequence and ensemble, with classes in jazz, Pop, Rock, and Flamenco guitar. The jazz/commercial music program saw the addition of jazz history, Rock history, songwriting, the music business, Latin jazz and Dixieland combos, and studies in, among other things, electronic music, multi-media, and audio post production. Music for Early Childhood Education enlarged to become a certificate program of four courses. Specialized courses were created in piano accompanying and the Equal Interval System of harmony.

In 2002, after a year of planning and discussion, the college re-aligned some of the academic departments, and the Music Department became a member of the newly created Performing and Communication Arts Division, which also encompassed Theater, Dance, Speech & Forensics, and Telecommunications (Radio, Television, and Recording Arts). Dr. Kilian became the Dean of the new division, and Dr. James Arnwine became the Music Department chair. This new arrangement provided many natural opportunities for inter-departmental cooperation, as both faculty and students discovered the rich possibilities of expanding their knowledge and competency by experimenting within these six related disciplines. When Dr. Kilian retired in 2005, Dr. Arnwine took over as division dean and Donald Brinegar assumed chairmanship of the Music Department.

Throughout out its eighty-plus year history, the PCC Music Department has been recognized as a leader, both in excellence and in innovation. Among members of the Music Association of California Community Colleges, in which PCC has played an active role since the Robert Fleury (a MACCC founding member) era, PCC Music has been seen as one of the flagships of the community college music departments. Music school deans of the five major Los Angeles area universities all cite PCC as sending them among their finest transfer music majors. Former PCC music students are active in all areas of professional music, from classical, jazz and popular performance to education and the music industry. Currently its more than seventy-five full- and part-time instructors are among the finest in the field. And there is no end in sight.

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