Women's History Month graphic

Deja Chandler, a trailblazing student in the music department, has not only pioneered the new conducting performance major but also inspired a wave of aspiring conductors.

“A lot of people say I’ve inspired them to pursue conducting,” Chandler said, humbled by the impact of doing what she loves.

Chandler said it was her family who inspired her to pursue music, recalling memories of her grandfather playing music during her childhood. As the first in her family to attend college, Chandler finds unwavering support from her parents, who stand as her pillars of strength. Their constant encouragement inspires her.

Anytime I have a performance or award, my mom is the first to post about it on Facebook,” Chandler said. “Pursuing my passion makes them proud every day.”

Her musical pursuit began following a suggestion from her fifth-grade teacher, leading her to the bass clarinet – a choice that inspired a love of orchestral music, a passion she’s carried throughout her academic journey. The turning point came in 2019 during a CSUSB conducting class with Lesley Leighton, chair of the music department, where Chandler’s fascination with conducting began. Encouraged by Leighton, she ventured into choir, where she experienced the thrill of conducting for the first time.

“It opened my eyes,” Chandler recalled of that exhilarating experience.

Subsequent opportunities, including conducting the CSUSB symphony orchestra, provided invaluable insights into her chosen field. Chandler’s fledgling conducting career culminated in a recent opportunity to conduct the San Bernardino Symphony Orchestra for a holiday concert. Chandler found the experience nerve-racking and inspiring. The standing ovation and numerous positive comments from peers were a significant source of motivation for her.

Anthony Parnther, artistic director of the San Bernardino Symphony Orchestra, commended Chandler’s collaboration.

 “We were especially pleased to work with Deja Chandler, who, at Dr. Leighton’s suggestion, led the San Bernardino Symphony Orchestra at our latest concert offering on Dec. 16 at the California Theater of Performing Arts,” said Parnther.

Recognizing her natural talent, Leighton encouraged Chandler to pursue CSUSB’s newest music degree in conducting performance.

“Deja is a wonderful student,” said Leighton. “She is also the first CSUSB student to declare a bachelor of music in conducting performance.”

Chandler’s aspirations include teaching and, bolstered by her recent accomplishments, the ultimate goal of one day becoming a conductor of an orchestra. Her achievements paint a promising career trajectory for this inspiring student leader.

Deja Chandler with classmates
Deja Chandler, with fellow students in Pfau Library, is the first student to pursue CSUSB’s new conducting performance major.