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Memories of SSU

Joann Feldman

Professor of Music, 1966-2002

            I remember the experience of being hired as a faculty member in 1966 as though it happened yesterday. With the passing years, hiring a faculty member became an increasingly complicated, rigorous and wide-searching endeavor; in the sixties it was far easier.

            I was a graduate student at UC Berkeley in the spring of 1966 looking for a college teaching job for the fall when the Music Department Chair, Professor Larry Moe, got a call from Fred Warren, the Music Department Chair at Sonoma State College. “Do you have someone in your latest crop who is good and who has a sense of humor? We need someone here who has a sense of humor!” The Berkeley chair, to whom I had spoken about my job search, recommended me. What good luck! He had sent Peggy Donovan-Jeffry to SSC two years ago, and he told me that she was doing a great job, energetically launching an opera program at Sonoma State. “It would be a job for a pioneer,” he went on to say. He thought I had the requisite sense of humor.

            Sonoma State. I had never heard of it, or Rohnert Park, and had barely been across the Golden Gate Bridge. I certainly had never applied for a job at Sonoma State or inquired if a position were available. But, a day or so later, a call for me came into the Berkeley Teaching Assistant office from Fred Warren, inviting me for an interview a few days later. The Greyhound buses were on strike it turned out and I had no car, so I begged a fellow graduate student to drive me up to the “outback” for the interview. Fred had given me directions and told me to be sure to be on time since he had an appointment after the interview.

            I recall not having too many choices for “interview clothes” living on a TA’s pitiful salary, but I did my best and climbed into my friend’s little Triumph and off we went. We saw a sign for Sonoma near Petaluma and decided to get off the freeway – a mistake that cost precious time and made me late for the appointment. Arriving at the garden apartments, I could not believe the sign and wasn’t at all sure that this was really a college. But I climbed upstairs and noticed some scenery on the catwalk, which seemed to belong to an arts and humanities program (it turned out to be an opera set), and so I entered the room.

            It was an informal setting and an equally informal interview. Peggy Donovan-Jeffry sat at a desk, grading some papers while I was interviewed by Fred Warren and Marion Nielson, then the Division Chair. They were very friendly and asked me questions off the top of their heads – or so it seemed to me. At one point, I was asked if I would consider obtaining a DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) degree. Spouting the Berkeley “party line” I said that I wasn’t sure I respected that degree (Stanford was one of the few universities to offer it and the rivalry between the two departments was keen.) “Dr. Donovan has just received her DMA from Stanford,” Fred Warren informed me. “Oh no, there goes the job,” I thought. (How young I was! To this day, Peggy assures me that she doesn’t remember, or didn’t hear, my offhand comment.)

            But no, the job was not lost. I was still being considered at the end of the interview. Fred told me that he had to be in Berkeley for a meeting with jazz critic and later part-timer at Sonoma State, Ralph Gleason, the next week, planning a jazz curriculum. He invited me to come to Ralph’s house after their work was done for further conversation about the job. Getting to Ralph’s house was far easier than finding Sonoma State, and I easily arrived on time. The house, a perfectly respectable-looking place, had a “Condemned Property” sign on the front door, which gave me a pause. (It took me years to realize that this must have been a joke of Ralph’s.) The meeting was enjoyable and during the course of it, I was hired. My salary, the princely sum of $7,500, was more than triple my TA salary. I couldn’t imagine how I could possibly spend so much money.

            It indeed turned out to be a job for a pioneer. Although the move to the current campus took place over the summer, the music building was yet to be built. But, it was exciting being involved in the plans for equipping it that first year while we occupied space in Stevenson. No one managed to get the paths paved when the music building was finished by fall of 1967. I remember a rather rainy winter with awful mud. I bought very high rubber boots and trudged through the mud to Ives Hall from the car. The tiny classes, the informality, the excitement of building a program – I loved every moment of my early career there.