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A John Williams Experience

On a bright Wednesday morning, eighty of my colleagues and I walked into a performance hall warmed up and ready to sing. Not an odd thing for Cal State Fullerton choirs to do but this time was different. This time, it wasn’t our conductor up at the podium but John Williams himself along with some of the finest musicians in Los Angeles. It was a humbling and honoring feeling to realize that we had been invited to this session too.

As we took our places, the orchestra was just finishing up a rehearsal of the noble “Hymn to the Fallen” from Saving Private Ryan, one of the pieces we would be recording. After giving some musical notes to the orchestra, Maestro Williams turned his attention to us to give a warm welcome. Quick and efficient we ran through the piece once then recorded and that was done. What amazed me was that the recorded run through sounded like we had been rehearsing together for weeks, not five minutes.

My favorite piece was the one up next, “Dry Your Tears, Afrika” from Amistad. The brass section is so exciting in this piece and the use of a children’s chorus makes it unique and special. It always feels joyful and I don’t know anyone in our ensemble that can sing it without smiling by the end. Again, we did one full one through, received some notes about the music, learned how to say certain words and then recorded. In what was probably thirty minutes total, we were done and escorted off.

As wonderful as it was to sing under the baton of one of our time’s greatest film composers, singing two of his iconic pieces, my favorite memory from this experience has to do with someone equally as famous. During “Dry Your Tears, Afrika,” I noticed someone out of the corner of my right eye recording on their cell phone right next to us on the stage. I was instantly irritated because we had been threatened within an inch of our professional lives if even a hint of a cellphone or any other recorded device were seen in our hands. Once a break in rehearsal happened, I looked over to give a disapproving glance when the man pulled the cell phone down from his face and I almost jumped out of my skin. It was Steven Spielberg himself! He caught my eye, kindly smiled then tapped his phone with his hand in silent applause at our run through of the piece. My next instant thought was, “Well, cell phone or not, he can film whatever he wants!”

Turns out they were legitimately filming the recording for a behind-the-scenes segment on the CD release. The day of the release and the following week I kept getting the same screenshot attached to my social media outlets with various friends and colleagues asking, “Is this you!?” Biggest lesson taken away, anytime you think there is even slight chance they will be filming, don’t go with two-day-old hair.

While this seems like a once in a lifetime moment and will always be a cherished memory, this kind of experience is not an uncommon one for members of the Cal State Fullerton choirs. Being just forty minutes away from Los Angeles and about thirty minutes away from anywhere else in Southern California, Cal State Fullerton is in prime position to have access to all sorts of professional opportunities. In my three years at Cal State Fullerton, I have performed with industry icons like Andrea Bocelli, Kathleen Battle and Deborah Voight. Performed at most major performance venues in Southern California such as Segerstrom Performing Arts Center, the Honda Center, the Hollywood Bowl and more internationally known places such as Carnegie Hall in New York and La Madeleine in Paris. At every one of these engagements, though still students, we are treated like professionals and are held to that standard. I appreciate this treatment because if this is the expectation of the field I want to be in, why shouldn’t I be treated that way?

Being a part of this choral program and choir in general leads to more than just learning music as a skill or art form. Through the music I learn, I sing in different languages, which leads me to learn about different cultures and their histories. Music has allowed me to travel all over the world and experience different ways of life. Choir is primarily a social activity, which teaches patience and compassion toward fellow musicians. This program specifically led me to my second passion, public relations. After working with Deborah Voight and speaking with her personal assistant, I researched a little bit into the artist management side of music and will be finishing up both my degrees in Music and Communication –Public Relations this spring. I would not be on the path I am now, or be the person I am, if not for my involvement in this program.


Lauren Graham is a college senior at Cal State University, Fullerton and will be graduating this spring with her degrees in Music and Communications. She is originally from Atlanta and was raised in Las Vegas. As a cancer survivor and amputee, Lauren has always been passionate about using her talents to keep beauty in the world as a source of hope. Music has been this outlet for her and she hopes to combine her degrees to help ensure music is always there for the people who need it. 


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