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Calhoun looks to strengthen choir

James Calhoun, the new director of choral activities, said he hopes to promote a thriving choir by giving it stability and focus. He has played the piano since he was a young child and worked as an organist for the oldest African American congregation in Southern California for 24 years. /Photo by Warren Bessant

Jason D. Cox
Staff Writer

The music department hopes new choir director James Calhoun will be a magnet for students, attracting them to the choir program.

Calhoun has spent most of his life around and involved in music, starting from an early age.

“For now we are building on the foundation laid by previous conductors, and look forward to developing the voices we have and attracting new students from local high schools and colleges,” Calhoun said.

Calhoun was selected from roughly 100 applicants after a committee’s close examination of his qualifications.

“What caught my eye was not just his musicianship – because he is a great musician – but also how he is with people,” Reed Gratz, music department chairman said.

Calhoun also came with a recommendation from one of his former teachers, ULV’s previous director of choral studies, Stephen Gothold.

Calhoun spent 24 years in charge of the Second Baptist Church of Los Angeles choir program. His teaching experience reaches across Southern California.

Calhoun’s degrees in music come from the University of Southern California, where he earned his bachelor’s master’s doctoral degrees in musical arts, specializing in organ performance and church and sacred music.

He has taught gospel choir at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and music appreciation at Rio Hondo Community College in Whittier.

Calhoun also spent six years directing one of the largest gospel choirs in Southern California at UC Irvine, comprised of more than 350 members.

“As a choir director, one not only needs musical competence, but also needs personal skills to motivate and to teach. And James Calhoun has those,” said Jonathan Reed, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Calhoun started taking piano lessons at age 8.

After graduating from Verbum Dei High School in Los Angeles, he decided to take his proficiency with the piano and apply it to the organ.

Although Calhoun has just begun his work at ULV, he looks forward to strengthening the foundation for the choir program.

This year’s influx of new students has been helpful in bringing new interest to the choir program, and Calhoun hopes to expand further by networking and developing relationships with local high schools.

For now, though, his influence is already being felt.In December, the choir will perform its first Christmas concert at the La Verne Church of the Brethren, across the street from ULV.

In the spring, local high schools will be invited to come and join ULV’s choir for a workshop concert.

And in spring semester, Calhoun has plans for a “just for fun” concert, including pop hits by Natalie Cole, Queen and Stevie Wonder.

Calhoun also plans to develop a gospel choir next semester, open to all students without audition. And he hopes to work with the theater department on projects.

And he added: ’We are always looking to expand the University Chorale.”

The Chorale is open to all students, faculty and staff.

Jason D. Cox can be reached at

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