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Meet Douglas Austin of Citrus College Visual & Performing Arts

Today we’d like to introduce you to Douglas Austin.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Doug. So, let’s start at the beginning, and we can move on from there.
I grew up in a family that was very active in the arts, especially music and theater. My father taught drama and was an actor, and my mother was an actress and played the piano. I was always involved in school and community productions and choral groups.

After I received my degree in Music from California State University, Los Angeles, I worked professionally as an actor, singer, and musical director. I was working various part-time jobs when I got the opportunity to come in and work with Citrus College’s Chamber Choral. I’ve been at Citrus College working with various ensembles ever since, starting that year in 1987.

Several years later, I created the Citrus College Women’s ensemble, and in 2005, when Ben Bollinger retired, became the Director of the Citrus Singers.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Personally, I would say balancing being educational and professional. There are challenges on both levels – first of all, you’re balancing being educational in the classroom with always offering a professional experience in performance, both to the students and to our audiences. When do you use a certain student because it’s educational, or another because you need to bring something professional?

I think you continue to get better at it as an educator, but it’s learning to assess each student and how hard to push, when to nurture and when to challenge, and you just don’t educationally approach every student the same when they’re developing their skills. They each come with such different mindsets, skill sets, and opportunities behind them.

My job is to help them reach their potential in the time I have with them, and so I have to make a game plan for each student. And then continually adjust that plan as students faces ups and downs in the process. It’s the challenge of reading human beings and helping an entire group of people get where they are hoping to go, and motivate them. One of the biggest challenges is that every once in a while, you don’t succeed.

The student doesn’t succeed, or they can’t seem to find the motivation you want them to find. And that’s hard on me personally, because I want each student to be successful. In addition, it’s a challenge to give the students the same opportunities for success that they had thirty years ago, in an environment that’s much more challenging in every way from what they learned in high school, to economics, to family dynamics.

Thirty years ago, students walked into this environment with so much greater training and skill – musicianship, theory, harmony, those basic training skills. So many of the Elementary, Middle and High Schools don’t have those programs anymore or at least not to the extent that they used to. Students just don’t have the opportunities that they used to have.

The lack of training at a lower level now is huge – so we’re trying to make up for a deficit, and still, get them to the same level our graduates have historically achieved. A lot of students struggle more now than they did in years past. Whereas in the past they used to rely on parents and donors, these days they are working while they’re in school, supporting themselves or helping to support their families.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Citrus College Visual & Performing Arts – what should we know?
The Citrus College Visual and Performing Arts Division has several unique, professionally-oriented ensembles and programs that have been very successful at developing our students for various fields of the entertainment industry.

From the Blue Note Orchestra, Pop-Rock ensembles, the Sierra Wind Symphony, to the Emerging Theatre Technology and the Recording Arts programs, our entire division is based on the principle of giving students real-world experience alongside their academic studies. All of our ensembles get experience in professional settings – whether that means providing entertainment or tech for a corporate event, assisting in an album session with a professional client, or working and performing in the Haugh Performing Arts Center, our 1400 seat theatre located on campus.

My group, the Citrus Singers, is our 44-person vocal premiere performance group.The late Ben D. Bollinger created the program in 1968. His concept was to train young artists on a professional scale to be proficient in classical, pop, and musical theatre, and to create as many performance opportunities not only for the students but for the community to experience professional quality entertainment at a value, with a wide variety of styles. We’ve been very successful – our students learn to do a lot of things, extremely well. And that’s what sets us apart.

By sticking to that vision, we’ve continued to provide some fantastic opportunities for the students who come through our program. Every year, the Citrus Singers perform in “Christmas Is…” our annual holiday spectacular which includes traditional Christmas choral settings, as well as a fully-produced, Broadway-style musical.

Additionally, every holiday season we perform 30-40 classical Christmas concerts in the greater Los Angeles area for professional clients, which include high-profile Country Clubs. In the Spring, the group performs on campus in the Spring Music Concert, and in a Pop and Broadway revue. Many of the students also take part in our annual Musical Theatre Workshop.

Between our rotating performances and productions, the group could be learning anywhere from one to three sets of repertoire at any given time. It’s a demanding schedule, and it teaches a great skill set for how to maneuver the world, including relationship skills, professional skills, communication skills, and responsibility. One of the most valuable things they come out with is a strong work ethic – they learn to be reliable, professional, how to handle themselves, and how to represent themselves. Once they leave the group, that’s what our Citrus Singers become known for, and that’s what gets them hired.

The Citrus Singers also gain touring experience, not only nationally but throughout the world. Six years ago, we were invited to tour China – they loved the Citrus Singers so much, they’ve booked us for two additional performance tours. Along with our rotating calendar of performances, we rotate our yearly tour to give students the most diverse experience possible. Each tour has different materials: China enjoys the Broadway repertoire, while our European and New York City tours are a full classical choral concert, ranging from traditional to contemporary choral styles.

I love taking them on tour because I get to see them meet challenges in different settings. Part of their job is learning to adapt – and you can’t do that if you’re always on your own stage. When we’re in China, we have 14 performances and every day we’re in a different theatre of a different size with different limitations, in an hour and a half we have to take an entire choreographed show and go “how does this fit in the space, and how are we going to do this?” And then having the joy of two hours later, watching them do just that.

Throughout the years, the Citrus Singers have had many notable performances. They’ve sung with the London Symphony Orchestra and the British Chamber Orchestra, were the first American choir to win the international Spittal Choral festival, opened the Rose Parade, accompanied Diana Ross, Pat Boone, Melissa Manchester, sang in the halftime show for Super Bowl XII, entertained Presidents and dignitaries, appeared as guests on primetime television, and you can even hear them on Gene Simmons’ solo album from the 1970s.

For the last four years, they’ve had the honor of participating in PBS’ L.A. County Holiday Celebration at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The Citrus Singers have also had the opportunity to make their Off-Broadway debut in On the Spot.

If you had to start over, what would you have done differently?
The thing that I wish had been in place forever were a much more structured support experience for the group.

Knowing what longevity the group would have, and how successful our program would be, and the challenges we would face to adapt to the times, we had created some global support system for the program.

I see that as three-fold, in the vein of the student education, the vein of helping the student, and the vein of the audience coming and experiencing the performance. Something like that would make all the difference on every level.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
Ben Bollinger – he was the creator of the Citrus Singers and my mentor. I credit much of my success as a professional and my approach to education and student mentoring to Ben. John Vaughan – he was the choreographer for most of the history of the group, up until last year when he became the Dean of our Visual and Performing Arts Division. His artistic input, positive energy, professional attitude, and educational excellence has been another vital part of the group’s legacy.

As far as deserving credit for the group, there is an amazing team that has always been in place regarding every aspect of the program, from arrangers and conductors to other contributing choreographers and assistant musical directors. As well as vocal teachers, costume, scenic and lighting designers, sound reinforcement, stage managers, to mention a few.


  • People can purchase tickets to the Citrus Singers’ upcoming performances at (tickets range from $7-$32)
  • Citrus Singers’ Nothing but the Hits ($15-30)
  • Spring Music Concert ($7-10)
  • Christmas Is… 2019 ($15-32) – Tickets go on sale in July

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Antonio Garcia, Samantha Reyes, Maddison October, Jacqueline Torres

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.


1 Comment

  1. Jack Spaun

    March 8, 2019 at 06:58

    Congratulations John on your fine presentation of the musical program at Citrus Collegr.
    Special Thanks go out to your continued development and special care of an outstanding program!
    Your personal contributions have been truly outstanding!!
    Jack Spaun

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