ConnectOC Blog

Celebrating 25 years of passion, innovation

Posted by: Shelley Hoss on 2/10/2014
By Shelley Hoss
Originally published in the Orange County Register February 10, 2014.

The ConnectOC Blog is a place for sharing insight, information and examples of how Orange County residents, donors and nonprofits are working to build a brighter, stronger, more vibrant community.  We welcome you to share your thoughts by commenting below.

A conversation with Pacific Symphony conductor Carl St.Clair

While others clamor for influence, Carl St.Clair barely utters a sound. The musical director and conductor of the Pacific Symphony orchestrates musical innovation with a whisper. 

St.Clair generates the highest sense of creative spirit from the musicians he leads. His respect and support for their calling arouses exceptional performances that inspire awe. 

St.Clair celebrates his 25th season with the Pacific Symphony this year. During his tenure, the orchestra has gained international respect for its distinguished performances and St.Clair has achieved acclaim for his provocative approaches to programming. He is a passionate advocate of music education and makes it accessible to many in Orange County, regardless of background, socioeconomic status, skills or abilities.

I asked the long-time Orange County resident to reflect on his passion for music and his commitment to our community.

Shelley Hoss: How would you describe the role you play with the Symphony?

Carl St.Clair: As you know, I am the only person on stage who is not making a sound. The music-making is entrusted to the brilliant women and men of Pacific Symphony. I am a leader, yes, but the collaboration is so profoundly rewarding and continues to get better each year. 

SH: What impact has Pacific Symphony had on the cultural development of Orange County?

CS: Few people around the U.S. or internationally can believe how far Pacific Symphony has advanced in just one generation. I fondly remember our 2006 European Tour where critics gushed that while they didn't know where Orange County was, they felt it must be a rich cultural center given the quality of our performances. We want Orange County to be viewed as an intellectual and artistic hub. It can help build economic vitality as companies consider relocation.

SH: How important is music education today? 

CS: I believe music is a birthright. It is central to the human experience, transmitting emotions in a way words cannot. Music education has recently been challenged due to a lack of understanding of its impact on learning, but music is completely hard-wired into our cognitive and emotional framework.  We observe our children constantly singing, practicing rhythm, and creating music in different forms.  
Early music education has been shown to dramatically improve learning outcomes. It builds confidence and creates an appreciation for the intellectual resources of centuries of creative genius. 

SH: How is the Symphony reaching the underserved with music education programs? 

CS: Pacific Symphony produces 20 educational programs and many have a significant focus on the underserved. We always reach out for our middle school immersion program, arts-X-press. And we’ve expanded our Heartstrings initiative, involving 18 social service, educational and health-related agencies. We expect to see over 5,000 children and families (annually) from area agencies attend family, summer or classical concerts at no charge. 

SH: Any closing thoughts on your 25-year journey?

CS: I am so grateful for the trust of the musicians, the subscribers, patrons and the community.  I invite all members of our communities to check out Pacific Symphony and nourish this cultural treasure the county has developed.

To learn more about the work of the Pacific Symphony and other local arts and arts education programs, visit Nonprofit Central.
Shelley Hoss is president of the Orange County Community Foundation. She can be reached at

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