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Musical dean lends hand with huge spring choral performance


Pianist Kathleen Rountree, conductor Buddy James and student performers rehearse "Carmina Burana." (Photo: Diane Daniel)

  • April 20, 2011

For the first time since she became interim dean of the College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences in 2010, Kathlenn Rountree will put her musical side on display.

The occasion will be the monster concert – 250 performers singing in Latin, German and French – of “Carmina Burana,” a big, bold, dramatic German composition from the 1930s, that will blend the talents of choral and dance students from both Peninsula and East Bay high schools and colleges at two venues, one in Belmont and one in Castro Valley.

Rountree will share the accompanying duties with fellow pianist Jeffrey Sykes, a CSUEB music lecturer, and student percussionists. Buddy James, associate professor of music, and Michael Najar, Palo Alto High School music instructor, will conduct the Cal State East Bay Choral Union, Palo Alto High School Concert Choir, Golden Gate Boys Choir & Bell Ringers, Las Positas College Chamber Choir, and Oakland Youth Chorus Middle School Magic. The Cal State East Bay Dance Ensemble, led by assistant professor of theatre and dance Nina Haft, also will perform.

The full, 24-movement piece by Carl Orff, plus “Cloudburst” by Eric Whitacre and “Blue Skies” by Jack Worth Henry, will be performed at 8 p.m. May 21 at the Cunningham Memorial Chapel of Notre Dame de Namur University and at 4 p.m. May 22 at the Castro Valley Center for the Arts.

“Music is the heart of who I am," said Rountree. "It’s exciting to have this opportunity to perform with the students, to share my music with them, and to work with Buddy and Jeffrey.

“It feels really good to be involved in music all around our region; it’s part of the mission of Cal State East Bay,” she said. 

Born into a musical family, it was understood that everyone in her family would learn to play the piano. Rountree and her sisters did that, and by high school she knew the piano would be her career. 

It’s a rare day that Rountree doesn’t play her Steinway – often in stolen, morning hours, and it would be equally atypical for there not to be an annual performance. 

The Music Department has been looking for an opportunity to team with Rountree since she arrived on campus last July.

Rafael Hernandez, Cal State East Bay assistant professor and chair of music, approached the dean about doing some music performances early in the academic year, and this piece, with emphasis on two pianos, became the logical choice.

“Dean Rountree is an accomplished pianist and we are thrilled to have administrative support in the performance,” said James.

Rountree’s specialty is chamber music, typically with ensembles of four to six players or singers. “Carmina,” in contrast, will be the largest choral group she has accompanied.

“’Carmina’ is so much fun, a very powerful piece. It provides a pianist with a rare opportunity to play a piece with a high level of vigor and energy,” she said, explaining that it is that dramatic quality that most likely accounts for CB’s (as Carmina Burana is often called) public following.

The challenge for Rountree, who must balance the project with a myriad of academic responsibilities, will be popping into the role of co-accompanist of such a large choral ensemble without having participated in all of the rehearsals. It would most likely be foolhardy were it not for her confidence in James’ conducting and Sykes on the adjacent keyboard.

Rountree came to CSUEB from Ithaca College in New York where she was provost and vice president for academic affairs, and a professor of music.

She earned her bachelor of music degree from East Carolina University, her master of music degree from Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville, and her doctor of music degree from Florida State University.

She has performed and presented workshops across the United States as well as in Europe and Asia, and has published in the leading journals of her field. Her scholarship includes a CD of music for flute and piano and the editing of two anthologies of piano music by Mendelssohn and Chopin.

This will be Rountree’s first time performing “Carmina Burana.” Accented by the timpani and xylophone, pieces of CB have become synonymous with drama and intrigue, and are familiar to much of the public due to such films as, “Excalibur,” and “Hunt for Red October.” Even the ‘60s band, The Doors, made a CB recording. Also iconic to the composition is the “wheel of fortune,” or Rota Fortunae, motif from the original 11th, 12th and 13th century manuscript of poems and dramatic texts – also known as “Carmina Burana” – that Orff used as his inspiration. 

Tickets for the May 21 performance at 1500 Ralston Avenue, Belmont, 94002 are $5-15 and may be purchased at:

Tickets for the May 22 performance at 19501 Redwood Road, Castro Valley, 94546 are $5-7and may be reserved at or by calling (510) 885-3167.

Read more about the upcoming Carmina Burana performances.

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