Q&A with New Director of Choral Activities T.J. Harper

Welcome to LMU! I hope you enjoyed your time so far and are hitting your stride quickly as you enter your 2nd semester!  Tell me about yourself. What brought you to LMU?

I’ve known about the LMU chorale program for a long time. I’ve been a choir member my whole life. Plus, while in high school in Sacramento, at Fresno State for undergrad, teaching middle and high school in Central Valley, then getting my Masters at California State University Northridge and doctorate at USC; I’ve always known about the LMU Chorale program.

I was not looking to leave my last position in New England, but when the opportunity for this position opened up, I leaped at the chance to interview and meet students, and it just really fell into place in terms of what I thought I could offer and where the program was going. Plus, mine and my wife’s, family are here on the West Coast.

I heard that you spent a lot of time getting to know key stakeholders, and especially alumni, before starting this past fall.

Yes! Dean Alexander and the previous chorale director, Mary Breden, invited me out as a guest to attend Mary’s final concert last spring. From the very first time I stepped onto campus, everyone was so friendly! Though they understand that the program is rigged with tradition, a standard of excellence, they were so welcoming and excited for what was going to be the future of the program.

In October, alums Dustin ’98 and Katie Balderrama ’98, J.D. ’02 hosted a reception for chorale alumni with Lisa Farland from Alumni Engagement. They were very helpful in creating a level of communication that allowed for a wonderful social conversation as opposed to a Q&A evening with the new person.

Is it true that you don’t have to be a student to sing in the chorus?

I was not aware of this when I came in for the interview/audition last spring, but we have alumni, students, faculty, staff, high school and community members. The high school students participate through LMU Extension.

Is that the same as the Young Choral Scholars program?

No. The Young Choral Scholars program was born out of the knowledge that we had multiple youngsters who love choir and perform alongside their family in the LMU choir, including one of our current freshman who performed last year as a high school senior. This excited me that we don’t just have alumni community members, we have the next generation filled with local students who are excited and passionate about music.

I proposed creating something where we have high school students come in and participate with our choirs, sing-along with and learn from more experienced older singers that they could then take the experience back to their high school programs. Additionally, we could match them with a current LMU student to create a mentor/mentee kind of relationship. Then, each semester, those young chorale scholars, together will create and propose service projects through the LMU Family of Schools and go out and find projects at the high school, middle school and elementary levels to teach, to educate, to open that pathway and bring students here.

If you could invite anyone to LMU to perform with the LMU chorus or take the LMU chorus to any dream venue, who or what would it be?

I know that we would benefit so greatly from some of these choirs that I’ve been able to meet from my travels to Indonesia, Kenya, or Thailand.

For example, the choirs from Indonesia, so much of their folk traditions are based in rhythm. They’re based in these really energetic expressions of vocalism that just don’t exist in western choral art – whether it’s eastern European or American. So to hear those sounds and to learn how to recreate those sounds would be really exciting. In the same way, to take our kids to Kenya or to Indonesia would be wonderful as well.

There’s a small bucket list item coming up June 5, 2021. I’ve been invited to conduct at Carnegie Hall so I’ll take the LMU choirs there.

Last words?

I’m happy to be here and I’m excited to learn and grow along with the students.

This article was originally published here