ANTELOPE VALLEY COLLEGE : Traditions Merge With Orchestra

Two traditions in the Antelope Valley seem to be as old as the dust-laden winds and the forever vistas. And around Christmas every year, these two traditions merge to educate and entertain residents of the high desert.

The first tradition involves the Antelope Valley College’s patronage of the area’s classical orchestra. A female conductor of the orchestra is the second tradition.

The symphony orchestra has brought symphonic and choral literature to life for the past 50 years in the high desert. And while it is a community orchestra rather than a college ensemble, the lines of distinction sometimes appear tenuous.

This season’s first concert, “Building the Holiday Spirit,” was held last weekend at the college gymnasium. It featured the Antelope Valley College Master Chorale along with its conductor, David Newby. Laura Bistany, an assistant professor of music at the college and the orchestra’s music director, conducted.


“The college acts as a patron,” Bistany said. “The college wants the symphony to happen for the community, so they underwrite us to a large extent.”

She said the college underwrites the group, provides the orchestra with campus rehearsal facilities and provides, for the final year, a place to stage its performances.

Beginning next season, the orchestra will perform at the soon-to-be-completed Lancaster Performing Arts Center. It’s a move officials hope will attract a larger audience.

“People just don’t like the idea of sitting in a gym to listen to an orchestra--it’s a contradiction in terms. But no matter how hard we try to make it look like a concert hall, it still says ‘Home of the Marauders’ on the side of the wall,” Bistany said.

Orchestra members, however, agree that the enthusiasm of the audience more than makes up for any shortcomings. “It’s a great audience to play for . . . but it is also a big responsibility, because if you are introducing people to a piece for the first time, you want it to be good, you want them to love it,” Bistany said. “That’s the challenge of it.”

The orchestra has been conducted by women since its founding 50 years ago. Bistany took the baton 12 years ago.

“Women conductors are very unusual,” she said. “The classical music field, or music in general is a real chauvinistic field. Even today in Europe, you can still find orchestra’s without women in them.

“My piano teacher told me I shouldn’t event try to become a conductor,” added Bistany, who has a master’s degree in orchestra conducting from UC Santa Barbara. “He said that I was setting myself up for heartbreak.”


The orchestra will present its next concert of the 1990-91 season March 23 at the college. And although orchestra members say they look forward to the new performing arts center, the ties that bind them to the college will grow stronger. A new program is being developed at the college that will allow individual instruction from orchestra members to promising members.

Similar programs at other colleges have been credited for increasing the quality of theirconcert performances, officials said.