Faculty Spotlight: Misha Shtangrud

Misha Shtangrud has been teaching at Colburn since 2005. He is from Moscow, Russia but has been living in Los Angeles for 27 years. At Colburn, Misha directs the Junior Chorus, Young People’s Chorus 1 and 2, Concert Choir, Chamber Singers, Young Men’s Chorus, Community Chorale, and the Children’s Opera Workshop.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and style.

What brought you to Colburn?
Love for teaching choral music. I went to concerts here before I started teaching here, but I found out about this particular job opening from one of my students in another choir. He told me, ‘Misha, you know that there’s a job opening at the Colburn School. You should be interested because our teacher right now is leaving for China.’ I went to the audition and the interview, and here I am. The rest is history.

What’s your favorite thing about teaching at Colburn?
There are lots of things. The Community School of Performing Arts is like a spa for music teachers. Everything that you could want as a choir teacher is here: wonderful students, great colleagues, and support from everyone, from the parents, to the administration, to the school staff, and the production crew. They’re all amazing and work at a very high professional level. Everybody is an artist here. I don’t think I’ve ever worked in a place where everybody is a musician, a dancer, a performer. You hear music everywhere. It’s an amazing place to work, especially for a choir director. I’m in the middle of a place where so many people like to sing and like to be a part of our choral groups. I love it very much.

When did you start singing?
I would like to say on the day that I was born. My mom, sister, and aunt are choir directors so I was getting lots of music at home. I was in choirs all the time, and I studied violin, piano, and music theory then too. I went through music school in Moscow, went to college for music, and then studied here. I got my master’s degree from Cal State Northridge and then a doctoral degree from the University of Southern California. I’ve been singing for a long time. It’s a very geeky thing to do, but I’ve always enjoyed it. It is just so incredible, the sound that you create together in a singing group. I also liked the performance opportunities you get as a singer that you don’t have as say, a violinist, and collaborations you can do with orchestras, artists, and other musicians.

What are some of the coolest places you’ve performed at?
It’s a very long list. As a singer, I’ve performed on TV, at the Bolshoi Theatre, and at the Kremlin. I’ve traveled around the world as part of a choir, and now with my own groups as the choir director. Everywhere you go, people are just so happy to see people singing. They’re very welcoming. You always find people that love choral music everywhere. It’s a gift. Choral music is amazing, and you don’t have to have music stands or instruments or anything but your voice to make music.

The choir here, just in my time, has been to Argentina, Brazil, London, Wales, Scotland, Austria, and the Czech Republic. They’ve performed in the most wonderful venues, like St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the Matthias Church right up on the hill in Budapest. They’ve sung at St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice. We’ve been to many great places.

What’s your favorite piece you’re working on in choir right now and why?
Every piece is my favorite. I can’t choose one; I love all the music that I pick. We have several concerts coming up that we’re preparing for, like our Community Chorale concert on December 1, and then the big Winter Choral Concert on December 9. We’ve also already started working on music for the upcoming Collaboration Concert in March with the orchestra and dancers. We will be singing some excerpts from Mozart’s Requiem, which I’m very excited about. We’ll also be doing the Triumphal March from Aida with dancers and the orchestra for the first time. I look forward to teaching this to the choir; it’s going to be quite wonderful. But we also have lots of different small pieces that each group does and I would have a very hard time pinpointing one piece, I love them all. It’s all amazing, choral music is amazing.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to choral singers?
Just one piece? It’s in my email. I always sign off, ‘Sing on!’ Never stop singing. This is the best thing that you can do in your life, just keep a song in your heart. Many of our students stay connected to singing. It doesn’t matter what they choose to do when they go to college. Some of them go and pursue music, and some of pursue other interests outside of music or performing arts. But I know that all of them stay with music. What else can you wish for a person? Just keep that song.

Why do you love choral music?
Because it allows people to come together and do this amazing activity together. It is so therapeutic, joyful, and wonderful and it’s difficult to find any other activity that is so great. All of these different people come together, they open their music, and magic happens right away. No special language is required, just the language of music. I always felt that as a player in an orchestra, our sections were all on our own, but here in our choirs there is more of a connection with other sections. We mix singers constantly in rehearsal, so you can have a bass singing next to a soprano, all making music and singing at the same time.

What’s one thing about you or your career that your students don’t know?
The students now, they know everything, with the internet. There is nothing that is hidden from them. Sometimes I get surprised by different things that they know about me, but everything is available online. They probably don’t know that I love it so much. I really, really love doing this.  They probably think it’s just work, but for me it’s a joyful experience.

I also have kids, so I try to stay involved in their activities. They started taking ice skating and I took ice skating with them, and obviously they are much ahead of me as ice skaters.

The weekly Saturday Spotlight series highlights our outstanding faculty and staff from across the school. Read other spotlight interviews.