Cal Poly author and professor to share mission music history book

Music professor Craig Russell wrote a book about the history and culture of music i the context of California missions. Russell will speak about the book, entitled “From Sierra to Sancho: Music Pageantry in the California Missions,” at Robert E. Kennedy Library on Jan. 25.

Kassi Luja

Cal Poly author and music professor Craig Russell will share his new book “From Serra to Sancho: Music Pageantry in the California Missions” at Robert E. Kennedy Library on Jan. 25 as part of the library’s “Conversations with Cal Poly Authors” event series.

Russell will discuss his book that explores the history and culture of California mission music.

“When I first moved to California, I was enchanted by all sorts of things of the state as anybody would be,” Russell said.

When Russell first came to San Luis Obispo for his job interview, the music faculty took him around town and came upon Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa.

“I was fascinated with it and asking all sorts of things like what was the music like,” he said. “It (be)came apparent very quickly that not many people knew very much about it.”

Russell then became curious in the subject and started to dig deeper.

“(It) turns out there are about three or four people that had done some really important and good work, so it would be colossally rude and inaccurate to sort of portray me as the sole pioneer — that it never occurred to anybody that there’s music in the missions,” Russell said. “The problem is that these really fine scholars were getting an article here or there published in really obscure places.”

Russell instantly became inspired by his findings, partially because he had an interest in the southwest, being born and raised in New Mexico.

“I spent a couple (of) years in Spain — many, many summers in Spain,” he said. “It turns out, actually, that I had been sort of preparing for this without me knowing that it was going to be doing that.”

If that wasn’t enough to draw Russell in, he had already been looking at music from the mission era — though, not specifically music at the missions — for his dissertation.

“The core of mission music is vocal,” Russell said.

In the introduction of “From Serra to Sancho: Music and Pageantry in the California Missions,” Russell dives right into the problem of how we perceive California. He also discusses various forms of performance styles.

“I try to sort of map out what those sounds would be like and how we know about them, too,” he said.

Russell said it took him a total of three years to complete the book. After the first year, his book was sent off for review.

“The readers had some really good suggestions,” Russell said. “I wanted to accommodate the suggestions. I really appreciate their wisdom and guidance.”

In regards to his book and their suggestions, Russell said “There’s a difference between good and better.” In other words, Russell implemented the readers’ suggestions to better his book.

History professor emeritus and past California Mission Studies Association President Dan Krieger will also join Russell at the event.

“I highly esteem (Russell) as a colleague and a scholar in the field of music,” Krieger said.

“All musical history tries to show the significance of the music as it’s performed at that time to try to describe how it was performed,” Krieger said. “Usually this has been in a kind of loose detail. (In his book, Russell) goes into this with such detail and really transports you back as accurately as he can to the early 19th century.”

Krieger, who has read “From Serra to Sancho” a number of times, will join in on the event and ask Russell questions after Russell speaks informally about his book and the process of writing it. After, the audience will be able to ask questions.

“I hope (the readers) enjoy it,” Russell said. “When I was writing it, I was trying to make it sort of fun and engaging and welcoming so that almost anybody would have a good time with it and not just someone who was working on their doctorate in a very similar field. I tried to make it so that my mom would enjoy it, I tried to make it so choir directors would enjoy it, I tried to make it so that high school students could enjoy it and people interested just in California — not musicians, but just interested in California could get something out of it — and people that were interested in the life of (Franciscan friar Junípero) Serra.”

“Conversations with Cal Poly Authors” is an event series hosted by Kennedy Library that takes place every quarter.

“(It’s) one of the ways that Kennedy Library supports faculty research,” communications and public programs coordinator Karen Lauritsen said. “We hear about different authors through a lot of different ways, someone in their department, maybe from them directly or from one of our college librarians.”

For those that can’t attend, podcasts of the events will be available on the Kennedy Library blog, “Kennedy Library Out Loud.”

Coffee and refreshments will be available for those in attendance. Copies of Russell’s book will also be available.

The event is free, open to the public and will take place from 10-11:30 a.m. in room 111H of the Robert. E. Kennedy Library.


Brian says:

I took History of Beatles with Professor Russell. Easily one of the best professors at Cal Poly and easily one of the best classes I have taken at Cal Poly.