Spartans Around The World: School of Music & Dance Summer Trips

It was an eventful summer for the School of Music & Dance—three groups of students went on great trips around the world. For many of them, it was their first experience traveling, both in the United States and abroad. Welcome back, Spartans!


The Afro-Latin Jazz Ensemble took a step back in time on their trip to Havana. Jeff Lewis, director of the ensemble, calls it a place with “no access.” Little to no Internet, no music stores for guitar strings or drumsticks, no paint for the aging buildings.

“It’s actually like the movies. Old cars, the houses aren’t kept up,” Lewis says, “I kinda expected it, but after ten days, it really settled in. They have so little, but they do so much with what they have.”  

With their tech offline, students hung out with each other in their free time, just like the Cubans who spend their weekends socializing on the Malecón, the stone seawall along the Havana coast. They visited night clubs for late night music—some bands didn’t start playing until 1:30 in the morning.

Ensemble members attended lectures on music, dancing, and history, had workshops with local musicians. One night, they performed at the Los Pocitos Community Center, playing Cuban music. The Cuban bands returned the favor, playing American pop music and the blues.

“The people we did have lectures with and the musicians that were put together, I couldn’t have asked for more”, Lewis says. He got more. One night, an activity was cancelled at the last minute. As a substitute, the students found themselves in the home of Rodolfo “Peruchín” Argudín Justiz, a famous Cuban musician known for creating a whole sub-genre of music. “We ended up in his garage! Jamming with him! It’s kinda like if we’re studying pop music and we’re going to Bruno Mars’ house to study pop or something. It was just amazing.”

The Afro-Latin Jazz ensemble plans to make a Cuba trip a biennial affair. In the future, Professor Lewis hopes to schedule private lessons from musicians as well as more opportunities to perform.

If you want to hear the Afro-Latin Jazz Ensemble perform, check out their concert on Thursday, October 25, at 7:00 p.m. For tickets, visit this page.

The Baltics

The SJSU Choraliers, along with the West Valley College Choirs and the Bay Singers, set off on their 12-day tour of the Baltics, visiting Estonia, Finland, and other countries. In a video with SJSU Music, Choralier Danielle Imai says, “I’ve been watching the Choraliers perform since I was a freshman in high school. And being able to have this opportunity to fly across the ocean with them and perform in such amazing places is something I’ve never dreamed of, and I can’t imagine a group I’d rather do it with.”

The Choraliers performed during church services at St. John’s Church in Tartu, Estonia, and at the beautiful Rock Church in Helsinki, Finland, singing songs in English and in Estonian, which was an interesting challenge to sight-read.

They also volunteered at Haiba Children’s Home in Tallinn, Estonia, gardening and playing with the kids. At the end of the day, the Choraliers and the children sang and danced together.

The trip culminated with a concert performance of Mozart’s “Requiem” to a packed house at the Estonia Concert Hall, located on the outskirts of Tallinn’s historic Old Town. In an interview with Perform International, Choir Director and Professor Jeffrey Benson says, “I don’t think I’ve ever been in a concert where the audience demanded two, almost three encores. They just wouldn’t stop clapping. It was the most incredible audience of my career.”

The SJSU Choirs tour locally and internationally, having performed in Ireland and Carnegie Hall. And they are sure to travel to other places in the future as well. But no matter where they go, the SJSU Choraliers will bring the crowd to their feet.

Check the Choral Events Page regularly for information about their events!

Washington, D.C.

The National College Dance Festival (NCD), held every other year, showcases the dancing talents of 30 schools from across the United States. San José State’s contemporary ensemble, University Dance Theatre (UDT), was one of the 30 troupes invited to NCD 2018.

Professor Heather Cooper, Associate Director of the School of Music and Dance, says that this is the first time in the history of the Dance program that SJSU has been invited to NCD.

The dancers arrived in D.C. on June 5th and spent 4 days there—busy days filled with dance classes, rehearsals, sightseeing, and dressing room hijinks.  

On Friday, June 8th, UDT performed Exoskeleton, choreographed by Kara Davis of UC Berkeley, a dance routine called by adjudicators, “Surreal. Very smart and sophisticated with so many messages nestled inside it.”

“We were very fortunate to be able to work with Kara this year. She is one of the most sought-after dance artists in the Bay Area”, Cooper says. “And it was incredibly exciting to have the opportunity to perform at the Kennedy Center, one of the most prominent venues in the country. It’s a big honor.”

Congratulations, UDT for a great showing at NCD 2018! We’re looking forward to 2020!

UDT will be performing November 1-3, starting at 7:00 p.m. This is a free event! Learn more here.


The School of Music & Dance provides students with excellent opportunities to learn and to share their skills through performance. But they can’t do it without talented performers! If you’d like to apply to be a Music or Dance Major, visit

Or, sign up for Music Major for a Day on October 30th and 31st.

For Dance Major for a Day, reserve space by sending an email to or call (408) 924–5041.

The Music department also has ensembles open to all majors. Check them out here.

The School of Music & Dance’s annual show Kaleidoscope! is coming soon! Visit this page for tickets and more information.