Public Affairs, The California State University

CSU Choirs Perform with Rolling Stones

by Elizabeth Chapin

The CSULB and SJSU chamber choirs

Students from two of the CSU’s prestigious vocal arts programs recently performed with one of the biggest musical acts of all time.

When the Rolling Stones needed some vocal backup for their recent California tour dates, they tapped the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), and the organization’s president recommended talented student choirs from CSU Long Beach and San José State.

Dr. Jeffrey Benson, director of SJSU’s Choraliers, says he found out via a phone call from London.

“Obviously, it’s not really an offer that you are going to turn down,” Benson said. “The students were ecstatic. We were all on cloud nine.”

Benson and Dr. Jonathan Talberg, director of CSULB’s Cole Conservatory Chamber Choir, would lead their student performers to sing the classic “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” alongside Mick Jagger and Keith Richards at the band’s gigs in Oakland, San José and Los Angeles.

The Cole Chamber Choir and the Choraliers are not strangers to a big stage. Long Beach’s choir regularly takes the stage at Disney and Carnegie Halls, and the Choraliers recently performed with Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli in front of 20,000 people.

However, this stage was still a little different.

“The noise from the 21,000 screaming fans at Staples Center was so loud that we couldn’t even hear ourselves in our in-ear monitors,” said Talberg. “After we watched the video, we were thrilled to find out that we had been in tune; we just couldn’t tell on stage! It was one of the most incredible performing experiences of my life and something I know my students will never forget.”

The CSULB and SJSU groups are known as chamber choirs, which typically contain 20-40 elite singers. And while the two got the opportunity to sing with the ‘Stones, their counterparts in the CSU are also some of the best.

The CSU Northridge Singers were crowned the “Choir of the World” in a well-known international competition in 2003; CSU Fullerton’s choir was invited to sing at the ACDA’s 2013 conference in Dallas; San Francisco State made an award-winning appearance at the ACDA conference in 2008. An invitation to sing at the ACDA’s national conference is one of the biggest honors a choir can receive.