A ‘rock star’ at MSJC

Dr. Vanessa Sheldon leading Music Department into a new year of opportunities

Photos by Cindy Boeing
Harp sheet music to be used by Dr. Vanessa Sheldon at the Spring ‘19 Concert by the MSJC Community Orchestra on March 3.

■ By Dennis Fletcher / Contributed

I was vaguely familiar with Dr. Vanessa Sheldon’s talent as a harpist, while holding down the position of Chair of the Music Department at the San Jacinto Campus of Mt. San Jacinto College. But I didn’t realize we had a rock star right here at our local college, a college founded in 1962 with campuses in San Jacinto and Menifee. There is also a new one in Temecula and Banning. MSJC was rated the fastest growing community college in the state in 2016.
But let me return to our local rock star. I first met Dr. Sheldon when she led the MSJC Community Orchestra earlier this year at their Spring concert. She was and still is the conductor of that impressive local orchestra made up of both registered MSJC music students and members of the local community. At one point in the concert she gave the baton to the oboe player and participated on the harp.
After the concert was over she came to the edge of the stage and kneeled down to talk to members of the audience as long as there was someone who wanted to talk music. This was my first indication of the gentility and sincerity with which this combined department head, music instructor and world-class harpist attacked her work.

First year MSJC music student Dallas Humphreys stopped by during the interview and expressed his joy at being a part of the MSJC Community Orchestra.

At the paper, we heard from Dr. Sheldon frequently throughout the summer, announcing local harpist events and modestly sharing news of her tour of Europe that included her solo recital at the Cathedral in Cercedilla, Spain. This stunning performance was followed by another concert in London where she was invited to join the prestigious National Liberal Club devoted to liberal causes and the liberal arts.
Many of her amazing performances can be found on her Facebook page or on YouTube.
Probably the most relevant news is that the MSJC Community Orchestra will hold their Fall Concert on Sunday, Oct 28 at 3 p.m. at the San Jacinto campus. They will be performing Beethoven’s 6th Symphony also called the “Pastoral Symphony” and “Autumn” from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Other concerts for the Community Orchestra, Concert Band and the Jazz Ensemble are shown in the Community News section of this issue.
Dr Sheldon confided, “A lot of what we program depends on who in is the Community Orchestra. Currently we have really good string and woodwind players. Will plan to have some guest brass players join us for the Beethoven (piece).”
The Music Department is going through a period of growth and reinvigoration. At the San Jacinto campus students can join and get credit for the MSJC Community Orchestra that meets on Monday nights and the Concert Band (a marching band that doesn’t march) that meets on Tuesday nights. The Golden Eagles Jazz Ensemble meets at the San Jacinto campus Thursday afternoons but no college credit is granted. There is a Menifee Jazz Ensemble and Concert Choir that meet on the Menifee campus as well.

Dr. Vanessa Sheldon, Chair of Music Department at the San Jacinto Campus of MSJC, plays her harp in her office during our interview.

Anyone interested in joining any of these music groups should contact Dr. Sheldon at vsheldon@msjc.edu to arrange to visit the class.
“Once people learn about us, they just come in,” said Dr. Sheldon, exhibiting the openness the college has for the surrounding community and aspiring musicians.
The deadline for college credit for music classes at MSJC was last week. The next semester starts next January. However, students and members of the community can always join a music ensemble at the college in the mean time to see how the Community Orchestra or Concert Band works.
During the interview, Theater major Dallas Humphries walked into Dr. Sheldon’s office and told us he is learning to play clarinet in the Community Orchestra class. The Beethoven Pastoral Symphony in the orchestra Fall concert has some good clarinet parts for Humphries including the cuckoo bird.
New this year, the Music Department is working closely with the Audio Department to develop a new major in Commercial Music.
Dr. Sheldon concluded our interview saying, “We are also partnering with the community in events like the Diamond Valley Arts Council Festival, and reaching out to high school students … we have some high school students in our ensembles already and juniors and seniors in high school can get college credit as MSJC students.” A total of six high school students are currently enrolled in the Music Department at the San Jacinto campus. The youngest member of the Community Orchestra is 14 while the oldest member is 87.
The Music Department offers core courses in Beginning Voice and Guitar, Music History including History of Jazz, History of Blues, History of Rock and Roll, World Music, and Music Appreciation (history of classical music). Also, Music Fundamentals, offered now, introduces how to read and write music. She added, “A Music Theory class in the Spring Semester will cover how music works and is organized. We always say you have to learn the rules of music before you break them.”
She also concluded, “Basically we are bringing music classes back, and the more students who take our classes the more we can offer.”
With Dr. Vanessa Sheldon at the helm of the MSJC Music Department at the San Jacinto campus lending her considerable skill as a world-class performer and music instructor, both students and residents in the San Jacinto Valley have a growing musical resource to enjoy and to learn from.

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