Alumni Spotlight

Where are they now?

Alison Poteracke in a recording studioAlison Poteracke Class of 2014

My experiences at SSU set me on a path of great meaning and importance to my life. While a student at SSU I lost the ability to play an instrument due to an injury and discovered my passion for jazz composition. With the support of Dr. Leibinger, I learned how to write for jazz big band which is now the main ensemble I write for. Since graduating in 2014 I have dedicated much of my career as a musician and composer to advocating for social change and using music to start a conversation about the disease of violence. I developed a program that was facilitated in several after school programs called Music for Social Change that sought to teach youth how to use songwriting and composition as a means of discussing their experience and providing a positive outlet for self expression. The program was designed in two parts: the first being to explore music from around the world and how it impacts that region or country's culture; the second was to analyze songs that advocate for change, learn how to facilitate constructive dialogue and check individual bias, and the fundamentals of songwriting/composition. I completed my masters in jazz studies and composition from Washington State University in 2018 where I continued my social activism. I composed two separate third-stream suites for jazz big band entitled We the People and my masters thesis, The Humanity Project: A Jazz Suite. My thesis was a six movement suite for jazz big band and soloists that discussed the disease of violence worldwide from the war in Syria to the shootings at Pulse nightclub to the Black Lives Matter Movement. Both suites were featured at major conferences including ISJAC and the WSU GPSA Exposition. Since completing my masters I have been commissioned to compose several socially active pieces about the human experience. I have also started a new project called Real People in which each piece seeks to discuss violence within the United States. This album will hopefully release in 2021. Jazz and classical composition have been a way for me to peacefully protest and I think now, more than ever, it is important to have self-expression and meaningful, action-driven conversation.

Check out these links:

Alison's Website

Alison's Facebook Page



Christa Durand sitting in front of a table of sheet musicChrista Durand, Class of 2008

Sonoma State began influencing my life and career path even before I was enrolled. By my junior year in high school, I was pretty sure that I was going to be a political science major, and then continue my education to become an attorney. I had participated in bands and choirs for most of my life, but to me music was something you did on the side just for fun. One of my teachers suggested that I take a theater arts summer program at SSU.  One day, one of the instructors asked what my college plans were and what my major was going to be. Then they dropped a bombshell on my young mind. “You are a great musician, you should be a music major. You could make a living doing this.” Make a living, as a musician? I think I had always thought all my music instructors just did it for fun!

When I look back on my time in the SSU music program, I realize how incredible the instructors were, not only in their musical abilities, but that the program was geared towards job skills that you would need as a working musician out in the world.  You can learn all the theory and history, but what makes you viable as a performer and/or a teacher in real life?  Outside of classes, there were always more projects and groups to participate in. I saw then, in that program and in life, you get out of it what you put into it. If you put in the bare minimum, you may pass and get along, but if you reach out, put in the extra work, put in the extra love and dedication, then you will reap the rewards. 

Several instructors actually changed the way my brain worked, revelations that shook me awake. These things would make me a better director, acting coach, teacher, and performer. The lessons that I engage in with my private students are vastly different from the types of instruction that I had as a child. Everything back then seemed so rigid, with one right way to do something. The SSU music department exploded that myth. There’s a kaleidoscope of ways to teach, to make art, and to connect with other humans. That outside of the box thinking influenced my view of all things in life. 

Currently I perform, teach, and own Music to My Ears in Cotati with my Partner, Evan Bowers. With my performances and with my students, I encourage authenticity, connection, and creation over imitation. I strive to help people find their voice in this world, as Sonoma State helped me find mine.  


Links to check out: