One word to describe the way California State University, Northridge distinguished alumna Shigemi Matsumoto ’68 (Music) conducted a Master Class on March 3 for vocal arts students is “masterful.”
In two hours, she taught music in CSUN’s Nordhoff Hall. But she did it in a way that incorporated physiology, philosophy, history and — in a sense — biology and botany.
“The first note of any piece is your nucleus,” she explained. “It’s your seed.”
Six students sang, uninterrupted, as the opera legend sat and observed. Then, she approached each budding classical music vocalist, asked them to sing parts of the pieces they had performed and gave each personal vocal coaching. Sometimes she would place her fingers on the nape of their necks, making sure their spines were in perfect alignment. She would gently tap some students on their arms, a cue to stay calm as they sang. Matsumoto gave each an honest evaluation.
“I was triple nervous, but she was so nice,” said Ji Yun Choe, a soprano who performed a selection from Claude Debussy’s Quatre Chansons de Jeunesse. “She reminded me of another teacher I have and put me at ease.”
It was a golden opportunity for the students, as Matsumoto gave the already top-tier students advice on how to continue elevating their performance. But it was also an opportunity for Matsumoto to share part of her story.
She closed the Master Class by telling the students, “May the journey you take be rewarding. … And do this as long as you love it.”
Matsumoto was honored in 2016 with a CSUN Distinguished Alumni Award. She was the first star of the university’s opera program and went on to achieve international fame in a performing career that spanned more than two decades. Since the late 1980s, she has devoted her work to music education, having taught at Cal State Long Beach and the University of Southern California.
This was Matsumoto’s second trip to teach at CSUN in the past year, and it was her first master class.
Her own years as an undergraduate at what was then San Fernando Valley State College were incredibly impactful, she said.
“I wouldn’t have had a career if it weren’t for the guidance and mentorship that David Scott, [CSUN’s first full-time voice teacher], gave me,” Matsumoto said.
To continue that impact and a establish a lasting legacy for CSUN’s Mike Curb College of Arts, Media, and Communication, Matsumoto and her husband, Marty Stark — whom she met while both were students at Valley State — have created the Matsumoto Scholarship for undergraduate vocal arts students. This month, they bequeathed an estimated $1 million to CSUN through their charitable remainder trust.
“I am so blessed and happy that Marty and I could leave something for the students, so that maybe somebody could [have the same] opportunity I had,” Matsumoto said. “I know that a university’s strength is from their alumni base. Those are the people who felt good about being there, so when they left and succeeded in some way — they came back to want to share that [success].”
Stark, who served as vice president at Columbia Artists Management, agreed and reflected on their CSUN history — as a couple and as young professionals.
“Our life together started here in this very building,” Stark said, referring to Nordhoff Hall. “Our job — we look at it as a job — is to pass along to the next generation all the benefits we gathered. And one of the things that we know is [important is] knowledge and the ability to get it. Our gift will help kids gain knowledge by coming to a school like this.”