Before the questions, there were songs.
In early December, about 50 music students gathered in a rehearsal room at CSUN’s Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts, for a Q&A session with Samara Joy, 24, one of the brightest stars in jazz. Joy opened by performing “Reincarnation of a Love Bird” and “Can’t Get Out of This Mood,” her rich voice permeating the room.
The session was billed as a master class, though Joy humbly pushed back on that label. CSUN students, most from the Mike Curb College of Arts, Media, and Communication’s Jazz Studies Program, were eager to hear what she’s learned in the past few years, as she rose from a New York college student to winning two Grammys in 2023, including Best New Artist.
Students asked Joy for advice on breathing techniques, and holding a mic to capture changes in sound dynamics. It can be intimidating to work in a genre with more than a century of history, she said, but it’s OK to ask for help when you need it. She encouraged the aspiring artists to be their authentic selves. She also emphasized that the best way to overcome challenges in singing or writing is by continually doing. College is an incredible opportunity to practice, she said.
“There are so many opportunities for up-and-coming musicians,” Joy said. “If you’re not preparing for it now, using the time that you have now, then you might not be ready for it at that moment.”
Joy’s Q&A session was part of The Soraya’s ongoing series of artist master classes for students in the Mike Curb College. Multiple times each semester, students in a wide range of artistic fields — including theatre, vocal arts, strings, jazz studies and media composition — get the rare opportunity to learn from the national and international stars who perform on The Soraya’s stage. For two nights in December, Joy performed a holiday show with talented members of her musical family.
The master classes highlight the integral and ongoing link between the academic programs of the Mike Curb College and The Soraya, a connection that began with a $5 million gift toward the construction of the performing arts center in 2006 from music industry mogul, alumnus and former California Lt. Gov. Mike Curb ’09 (Hon.D.).
“The students receive unique and helpful professional advice from each of these amazing artists that we have, and there is a high degree of learning potential in the classes,” said Anthony Cantrell, The Soraya’s director of arts education.
LaKeisha Mondy, a junior jazz studies major who transferred from American River College in Sacramento, enjoys the interaction with professional artists — and the opportunity to hear their experiences and their stories, she said.
“It’s one of my favorite parts of being a student at CSUN,” said Mondy, a vocalist who noted that it was especially valuable to hear from a young singer like Joy. “I think it’s as important as going to class.”
The shape of The Soraya master classes depends on the artist. Sometimes it’s a Q&A session, with students gleaning insights into the lives of professional musicians. Other times, students perform as vocalists or instrumentalists and get on-the-spot, constructive feedback.
Composer Marco Beltrami, who scored the films “Scream,” “A Quiet Place” and “Logan,” among many other films, gave feedback to media composition students in March 2023.
Broadway stars have worked with CSUN vocal and theatre students, including actor and singer Javier Muñoz, who starred in the lead role in “Hamilton,” in 2019.
The acclaimed Jazz Studies Program has benefitted often from The Soraya’s master classes, as artists from the annual “Jazz at Naz” series frequently participate.
“We’re so fortunate, being able to interact with artists at this level,” said Tina Raymond, director of jazz studies in CSUN’s Department of Music. “It really means a lot.”
The Soraya is planning two more master classes for Mike Curb College students for the spring semester. Details are still being finalized.
The master classes are an incredible learning opportunity for Matadors. After graduation, learning should be a lifelong endeavor, Joy said. She ended her December session with the Mike Curb College students with advice and words of encouragement:
“Keep being curious, keep being creative, you’re awesome.”