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More DownBeat Awards For CSULB

Published: August 21, 2017

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CSULB took home four awards this summer in DownBeat Magazine’s 40th annual Student Music Awards (SMA). In addition, director of vocal jazz Christine Guter saw the performance of the Missouri All-State Jazz Choir, which she directed, recognized with another award.

Established in 1976, the DownBeat Student Music Awards are the most prestigious awards in jazz education. Announced in DownBeat’s June edition, the SMAs are among the highest music honors in the field of jazz education. Recordings from all over the world are submitted to the magazine to be reviewed by a panel of professional jazz artists.

“This is the eighth year in a row that Pacific Standard Time (PST) has won an award,” said Guter, a member of the Cole Conservatory of Music since 2002, who was recently awarded tenure. “It’s overwhelming. I submit every year but I never expect anything. It is such an honor to be recognized for almost a decade by the top jazz magazine in the world.”

PST, CSULB’s top vocal ensemble, won an award for a large vocal jazz ensemble from a graduate university. Graduate student Jaime Van der Sluys was honored as a jazz vocalist and fellow graduate student Loren Battley was recognized for rhythm and blues pop vocalist. Lia Booth won for undergraduate jazz vocalist.

“I do a lot of all-state conducting throughout the year in different states and I always submit recordings from all the state performances I direct,” she said. “This year, I was recognized for directing the Missouri All-State Jazz Choir.”

Guter has a bachelor’s degree in choral music education from Western Michigan University and a master’s in studio music and jazz from the University of Miami.

Guter believes the quality of CSULB’s students explains the consistency of Pacific Standard Time’s recognition.

“When the Cole Conservatory was founded, it began attracting an even higher level of student,” she explained. “The best of the best are accepted then the best of those get to perform with Pacific Standard Time.”

PST has been invited to perform at the American Choral Directors Association’s national and divisional conferences, as well as the Monterey Jazz Festival and the Newport Beach Jazz Party. In addition, it’s had the honor of performing at multiple Jazz Education Network conferences.

“I work hard to make sure our students have a high level of responsibility and passion for the music as well as integrity about what they do musically,” she said.

According to Guter, PST’s success has as much to do with her direction as it does the quality of its performers.

“I count them off and I walk away. I come back and I cut them off. The reason for that is I really want the students to have ownership of the music,” she said. “I don’t want them to depend on me because I want them to develop the musical muscles to stand on their own. These fabulous young professionals will reach as high as I set the bar. I feel the students we have are truly angels. There is no feeling of cutthroat competition. They are sincerely supportive of each other and celebrate their peers’ success.”

The Oscar-winning 2014 film “Whiplash” told the story of an ambitious young jazz drummer who meets an instructor known for his terrifying teaching methods, but the instruction style at the Cole Conservatory is quite different.

“I expect the students to come in and behave as professionals,” she said. “At the same time. I try to nurture them and try to bring out their best. Being an artist is about more than technique. It is just as much about what is in the students’ hearts and minds. I teach people, not music.”

Another key to PST’s success is its programming, with material the group performs at the national level at the leading edge.

“I am constantly searching for new music,” said Guter. “I go to jazz festivals. I commission arrangements for us. I have written a couple myself. Students write. We might sing something in Portuguese because Brazilian music is such a strong influence. We may do something pop rock a Capella. Many things come into play and I obsess about all of it.”

Upcoming play dates predict more success for PST.

“Any time we are invited to an international venue, it is humbling,” she said. “The International Jazz Education Network recently invited us to perform next year at their international conference in Dallas. We recently opened for the Playboy Jazz Festival where we sang onstage at the Hollywood Bowl. It was thrilling. It is an opportunity to network with jazz professionals. If all we did were home concerts, their experience here would not be nearly so fulfilling.”

One of the biggest strengths of the Cole Conservatory is the diversity of its enrollment.

“Jazz, by its nature, requires diversity,” she said. “I love the fact that CSULB is such a diverse campus. It is really cool to have so many students from so many different socioeconomic, religious or cultural backgrounds. They all bring something to the table that enhances the music.”

And Guter predicts more success for Pacific Standard Time.

“It is more than my teaching,” she said. “It is a collaborative effort, and a perfect campus learning environment. I see our students continuing to perform at national and international conferences. In the future, I would like to bring the group overseas to perform. I feel this would be a wonderful experience for the students, bring international recognition to CSULB’s Jazz Studies Program and advocate for jazz education abroad.”