John Anderson

john-head-shot-colorBy Scott MacClelland

IT TAKES about eighty minutes to drive from Cupertino, where John Anderson was born, to Monterey, where he works. Easy, right? But John’s path to Monterey was vastly longer and more convoluted.

Music is his life—as it is with his wife Cheryl, both teachers and performers. He was the only child to a couple who were not musical, “not in the slightest,” he says. His parents met during the war when his father was a shipyard welder and his mother an assistant tasked with tempering the welds with water. (After the war, he went into the grocery business while she remained a homemaker.)

Anderson was hired to teach music at Monterey Peninsula College in 1989. At the time, he was a sabbatical replacement at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and shopping for a permanent position. Cheryl was teaching choral music at Atascadero Junior High School. “For a couple in music the hardest is to find jobs in the same place,” he says.

Once settled in at MPC, “things were coming along all right, but they weren’t gratifying my appetite to perform. Because of the strike or lockout that resulted from an earlier conflict between the Monterey Symphony, and a newly competing orchestra, several local musicians were left with nothing to do. So I got together with John and Jane Orzel and we organized a performance of Mozart’s Gran Partita for large wind band. Everyone we asked said yes. That first time was so much fun, we decided to do another, and the foundation for Ensemble Monterey was laid. And it morphed into what it is today, really out of the enthusiasm of the musicians themselves.” (At that same moment, Cheryl Anderson secured her choral position at Cabrillo College; the couple now make their home in rural Watsonville.)

Anderson attributes his career in music to “really good teachers.” In the third grade, a violinist came to class and invited the students to meet her in the gym. “There, she asked me what instrument I would like to play. I said bagpipes. She agreed and said that the bagpipes were already ordered, but while I waited for them I needed to play flute.” Soon, the flute took center stage and he has spent much of his musical career playing it. “My high school music teacher would teach all day then, at night, give private lessons to everyone for free. I fell in love with performing.” He continued his studies under a scholarship at UC Los Angeles where he took his BA. “My flute teacher there, George Drexler, was a stickler on rhythm.” Anderson studied conducting with Clarence Sawhill and sang in the opera workshop with Jan Popper. He began his masters-degree studies there, then went into the Army as a second lieutenant at the Armed Forces School of Music at Norfolk. (He had prepared for this move in the ROTC.) “Discipline and training were rigorous.” While there, he met Cheryl who was teaching in elementary school.

“When I got out of the Army, in 1975, Cheryl and I got engaged.” They lived in the Los Angeles suburb of Reseda. “I finished my masters, and we both got public school, junior high teaching jobs in the inner city.” He taught in East LA, “on the border between the barrio and the ghetto,” he says. She taught at Pasteur Junior High.

In 1977, with the help of his teachers, Anderson was accepted into the doctorate program in conducting, at Greeley, Colorado. “They really stressed performance and playing and I did a lot of flute and conducting.” In 1980, “I got my first college job at Lexington, Kentucky, at Transylvania University, a small liberal arts college. It took some getting used to because initially they couldn’t understand me and I couldn’t understand them,” he says. “But we got along fine.” He remained there for five years, conducting and teaching theory and music history. That was followed by three years at Indiana State University, Terre Haute. “Cheryl was doing course work in Cincinnati and was called out twice for sabbatical replacement work at Colorado State College and at the University of Northern Colorado. We traded weekends getting together, one on the plane one week, the other on the next.”

Then came San Luis Obispo and finally MPC, where, for the past 16 years, he has also served as chair of the Division of Creative Arts. “Now we have a flourishing orchestra and concert band, plus the jazz band. For a small school, I think we do a good job serving the community.”

In reflecting back on twenty-five years of Ensemble Monterey, Anderson began by commenting on “the ineffable spirit of the group, which I hope is still somewhat playfully unconventional.” In an early season, they did an organ and brass concert at Carmel Mission. “I have a memory of then-principal trumpet Charles Old walking back from the organ position after playing the Purcell Trumpet Tune and Aire. It was dead-on perfect! As he was returning to his orchestra seat, to a standing ovation, he had a look of satisfaction on his face. I knew then that we were on to something.”

Anderson also recalls a time when the lights went out in the MPC Music Hall. “We were doing a Mendelssohn string symphony that night. Suddenly we were in total darkness. We kept on playing for a few bars but then had to stop. After a few moments I noticed that many, if not most of the audience had turned on their flashlights. Obviously they had them in order to find their way to their front doors in Carmel, which has no street lights. I asked them to come down and surround us, which they did. We completed the concert with our illuminated audience. Everyone who was there still remembers it vividly!”

And he has “fond” memories of JS Bach’s B-Minor Mass in Santa Cruz with Ensemble Monterey and Cheryl’s Cantiamo! Chorus. “As we reached the intermission the audience leapt to their feet in a prolonged standing ovation. I took a bow and went off stage, but they continued for a good five minutes. But it was only the intermission! The reason, of course, was not me or the performance, although I thought it was quite good. The reason, as always, was Bach. Great music always wins!

Our interview gave Anderson pause to think back over his entire career, which included several summers as principal flute at the Breckenridge Music Festival in Colorado during the early and middle 1980s. “My last, and related, recollection is of my beloved conducting teacher Clarence Sawhill, and his final lesson. ‘You will have great power,’ he told us, ‘but never think for a second that it comes from you!’ We have revered the music ever since.”


Christian Grube

Grube Katzprints-SCC-08

By Scott MacClelland

RENAISSANCE MUSIC and Stravinsky together strikes me as a winning program. Santa Cruz Chorale conductor Christian Grube says “In theory,” then admits, “we will find out.” This weekend Grube conducts the Chorale in two performances at Holy Cross Church. Some of the pieces include instruments, others are a cappella.

Grube is sure of one thing: how to train and conduct a choir. He is emeritus professor of choral conducting at the Berlin University of the Arts in his native Germany. His longstanding artistic goals include impeccable intonation, a broad range of dynamic expression, an ability to interpret diverse styles—as the program at hand attests—and beautiful sound.

So how did he wind up with the Santa Cruz Chorale? “I’m not really sure,” he told me. “The board president, Niel Warren, called me and when we met he talked me into it.” That was in 2006.

Grube was born in Hanover in 1934. As a child of the war, he was sent to live in a small Austrian village far away from the Allied bombing raids. “I started school there.” His guardians “had lost a son and they wanted to keep me.” After the war, “My mother had a hard time getting me back. I was ten or eleven.” Near Hamelin, Grube met “my first American. He was a black person, and he gave me chewing gum. He was very nice. He tried to tell me to chew but don’t swallow. I didn’t know any English and he had no German.”

It was Grube’s mother who laid the foundation for his life in music “by singing to me every night.” He studied at the Hochschule für Musik and at the Kirchenmusikschule in Hanover where he majored in conducting, voice, flute, organ, and Renaissance instruments. “I also learned a lot from Nikolaus Harnoncourt, when I invited him to do workshops at the Hochschule in Berlin when I had begun teaching there. We were colleagues.” (Harnoncourt, 1929-2016, had a worldwide reputation as one of the greatest conductor of the 20th century.) “I heard Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau sing live.” He explains, “When most singers heard him they became discouraged. But it had the opposite influence on me. I had to sing.”

In 1964 Grube was chosen for a new position at St. Michael’s Church, Hildesheim. He held a dual teaching position at the Gymnasium Andreanum until 1973. His reputation there earned him an invitation to the Hochschule der Künste—later the University of the Arts—in Berlin. “In the ‘70s I organized workshops for Harnoncourt.” In ’73, Grube was made a professor of liturgy, hymnology and choral conducting there, along with related musical activities for both government and church, including official state functions and travel to other countries.

Under his leadership, the two choirs, Staats- und Domchor, frequently toured North and South America, the former Soviet Union, Egypt, Israel, Korea, Taiwan and Africa, in addition to all of the European countries. These tours included lectures and workshops, as well as radio and television productions. His choirs have performed with such major conductors as Herbert von Karajan, Seiji Ozawa, Zubin Mehta, Riccardo Chailly and Mauricio Kagel, and with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the Deutsche Oper Berlin, the Berliner Ensemble and the Komische Oper. They also collaborated with Fischer-Dieskau, Edita Gruberová, and Thomas Quasthoff, who began his singing career in Grube’s children’s choir in Hildesheim.

In 1975 Grube founded the Chamber Choir of the University of the Arts in Berlin. In 1989, “My boys’ choir was the first to visit Moscow from Berlin. It was part of a benefit tour to support the survivors of the 1988 Azerbaijan earthquake.” Cold War tensions were constant,” Grube said. “I never lived in such an intense culture. So much insecurity.” As a symbolic gesture Grube brought along a piece of the by then torn-down Berlin Wall. Also in 1989, Arvo Pärt dedicated his new—and now well-known—Magnificat to Grube and his boys’ choir after they won the first prize in the German National Choral Competition.

In 1964, in Switzerland, Grube met and married his wife Karen, a San Francisco native who now writes program notes for the SC Chorale and “is my best critic.”

Today the couple divides their year between Berlin and Santa Cruz—including other musical activities around the San Francisco Bay Area. A list of Grube students who have gone on to fully professional musical careers is very long.

The program for this weekend includes Renaissance pieces by Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli, Jacobus Gallus, Heinrich Schütz, Heinrich Isaac and Hans Leo Hassler. Music by Benjamin Britten and others will also be heard.