Music and Dance celebrates its 75th year

by Samantha Hirsch

Courtesy of Polka Dot Images
Courtesy of Polka Dot Images

Although the San Diego Normal School was founded as a training facility for elementary school teachers, one of the first seven faculty members hired was a music instructor. Forty years later in 1937, San Diego State’s School of Music was formally established. The School of Dance was created 56 years later, and the two combined to create the School of Music and Dance. The program will be celebrating its 75th anniversary by offering a number of performances throughout the spring designed to honor alumni and showcase student talent.

While much has changed during the past 75 years, students face many of the same challenges as when the School of Music first opened. Donna Conaty, the department’s director, said the world economy and stability was a lot like it is today. “There was a war brewing in Europe, the U.S. was in the midst of the Great Depression and students faced the same uncertainty then as they do now,” she said. “Yet, they still chose to pursue a degree in the arts. It is testament to the importance of the arts, reflecting the essential truths about what it is to be human in a given time and place.”

Conaty said each year the school offers more than 300 performances of a variety of types of music and dance. With everything ranging from traditional classical chamber music to electro-acoustic, jazz to Javanese gamelan, opera to contemporary dance, there are, of course, bound to be a variety of memorable performances within the past 75 years. Some of these highlights include massive choirs of more than 600 students performing large masterworks with an orchestra during the 1960s, renowned visiting artists in various world music traditions, jazz greats and even a 1980s performance by the New York Philharmonic orchestra.

However, Conaty said the school goes beyond performances; it likes to give back to the community as well. Some of this philanthropy includes faculty and students playing orchestra concerts each spring to more than 600 elementary school students free of charge, as well as working with at-risk youth and veterans using music and dance to aid in recovery. The School of Music and Dance is one of the leading music education programs and its track record proves it.

“Nearly 100 percent of our music education students are hired upon graduation (and) 65 percent of all music educators in San Diego County are SDSU alums,” Conaty said.

The 75th anniversary of the School of Music and Dance is important for Conaty because it allows the school the opportunity to share the talents of its faculty, students, alumni and emeriti with the community. To commemorate the anniversary, the school is presenting specially designed events to commemorate the past, provide a sample of current music and dance practices and look forward to the future.

“Through these events, (SDSU reengages) many alumni and (highlights) the talents to the region,” Conaty said. “Regardless of your interest, whether it be opera, dance, jazz, orchestra or choir, that there is a 75th anniversary event for you.”

The opera “The Magical Flute” begins at 7 p.m. this Friday, continuing through the weekend. The Hausmann Quartet and SDSU Symphony Orchestra both have performances later in the month. For more information on the details and dates of these performances, visit