Music Alumni of the Year Paves the Way for Arts Leaders
By Teresa Monaco
As the year comes to a close, the School of Music and Dance has named another group of outstanding students and alumni. Their many accomplishments will be celebrated with at an Honors Convocation ceremony, and topping the list as Music Alumni of the Year is Dr. Carmen Cortez Dominguez, an accomplished conductor, music educator, and arts advocate.
Inspiration in unexpected places
Dr. Dominguez currently serves as Dean of Visual and Performing Arts at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, CA. She has one of the most amusing responses yet when asked to describe her SDSU experience, “I didn’t want to go there.” Dominguez says, going on to explain that she originally wanted to play jazz, and at that time the best jazz programs were at CSU Northridge or Long Beach. “I got a scholarship to SDSU and that’s where I went. Then I met three people who changed my life.”
Dominquez names the late Merle Hogg, with whom she studied and proctored for, as a very special person in her life. She also cites Jim Rötter, classical saxophonist, as the person who taught her to create musical lines and understand the level of detail she needed as a performer. Then she calls out Terry O’Donnell.
“The most important and lasting teacher, mentor, and friend is Dr. Terry O’Donnell. He taught me the importance of being a good person to be a good musician. He helped open the door to conducting with musical theatre and opera, and set me on a career path that I was really passionate about. In a time where Hispanic women were not seen as obvious musical leaders, he did not care. He looked at my ability and potential,” Dominguez shares.
As a brief aside to her kind words about O’Donnell, she tells an anecdote about the time Dr. O’Donnell gave her an “F” in Marching Band for failing to return a hanger. Although she returned the hanger and begged him to change the grade, it was past the deadline and the “F” still remains. “I’ve had to explain that ‘F’ in almost every interview I’ve taken,” Dominguez laughs.
Life after SDSU and beyond
Dominguez earned a Bachelor of Arts in Music and Master of Music in Conducting from SDSU. She continued on to earn a Doctor of Musical Arts in Conducting from Peabody. She notes that her three most influential SDSU teachers helped to prepare her for the next leg of her journey, recalling that Terry O’Donnell allowed her free reign of his bookshelf. “When I read Score and Podium by Frederik Prausnitz, I knew I wanted to study with him. And he taught at Peabody. I wanted to study at the doctoral level not only with a great musician, but a great human. He was this demanding old school German maestro, with a really scathing English tongue. The resilience I learned with Merle, James, and Terry strengthened me for that kind of musical training.”
In her current role at College of the Canyons, Dominguez united previously-divided arts programs, allowing easier arts accessibility to the entire surrounding community through their performing arts center. The department also participates in “Partners in Education,” (in partnership with the Kennedy Center), in which professional development is provided for non-artistic, non-musical elementary school teachers to encourage them to use art integration techniques to teach all subjects. Involvement with this program draws a direct parallel to Dominguez’s teaching philosophy, “Everyone should have access to the arts and arts education.”
Dominguez is an exemplary alumna representing SDSU through every phase of her career. When asked how she feels about being awarded Music Alumni of the Year, she replies “I was surprised, immediately giddy, then really humbled. It sinks into me daily. I just get up and work really hard. I’m living and doing what I like to do, and now I’m at a college that lets me take a chance to do that.”
In addition to Dr. Dominguez, other Music and Dance students and alumni will be honored at the 2017 Honors Convocation.