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New Music Students Gain a Creative Edge Thanks to $2.5 Million Gift

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When Bob, an aspiring musician, met Terri, a clever poet, in a semantics class at Cal State Fullerton, it was the start of a beautiful duet. 

“She would write a poem that she thought could be a song, and would pass it on to me to see if I could do anything with it. We would write songs together, and over the course of doing that, we decided that we wanted to spend our lives together,” said Bob.

Looking back on the moment they met over 50 years ago, the Cal State Fullerton alumni Bob ’68, ’84 (B.A. psychology, MBA) and Terri Niccum ’73, ’84 (B.A. English, M.A. communications) said what they remember most was the magic of music bringing them together. 

Now, they’re helping students find that same magic. 

Terri and Bob Niccum
Terri and Bob Niccum

To honor their love for music and expand opportunities for students, the couple established the The Bob & Terri Niccum New Music Scholarship Endowment. Believing in the power of creativity and recognizing the impact of a Cal State Fullerton education, the Niccums made a $2.5 million bequest to the endowment, which supports undergraduate and graduate music students who are part of CSUF’s New Music Ensemble

“The scholarship endowment will help remove financial barriers for students studying new music theory and composition. By reducing financial constraints, students can pursue their passions with less worry,” said Arnold Holland, dean of the College of the Arts. “This generous gift will expand access to music education, promoting diversity and inclusivity within the community of student scholars. These individuals will be empowered, communities will be enriched, and artistic innovation and expression will be advanced.”

Students in the New Music Ensemble study and perform contemporary instrumental, vocal and electroacoustic chamber music, preparing them for such careers as composers, musicians and professional performers. The ensemble is co-directed by music faculty members Pamela Madsen and Eric Dries.

As part of the ensemble, students have opportunities to collaborate with industry professionals, bolster their performance portfolio, and ​​create and arrange original scores. 

“We love listening to Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, but we have a special fondness for music that’s out there on the edge and that’s what the New Music Ensemble specializes in,” said Bob.

Championing Cutting-Edge Music

Bob is a former senior administrator for the Los Angeles Unified School District, and Terri is a former Los Angeles Times journalist and special education teacher. Amidst the uncertainty of the pandemic, the Niccums began to think about their legacy, and once again, they found their inspiration in musical performance. 

From attending rock and jazz concerts to seeing the Los Angeles Philharmonic live and even performing in a band themselves, the Niccums value the creation, performance and impact that music can have on individuals and communities.

A week after they attended their first CSUF New Music Ensemble performance, the Niccums saw the world famous Juilliard String Quartet perform live in concert. Though they were awed by the quartet’s musical brilliance, Bob and Terri said that CSUF’s New Music students could easily match their talent. 

Music Students with Instruments
Jessica Lewis, from left, with fellow New Music Ensemble students Lucas Edwards and Ivan Renteria

“There’s a spirit of nurturing at Cal State Fullerton. We see that spark and we want to help students grow and reach their goals,” said Terri.

The Niccums said their gift also pays homage to the part that Cal State Fullerton played in their love story and the impact that it had on their lives. 

“CSUF was my lighthouse for my undergraduate, my late teens, my 20s and beyond. It really helped me become the person I am,” said Bob.

“It’s really a thank you to a university that not only brought us together, but also gave us the skills for our careers and inspired us to stay connected to our creativity,” said Terri.

Taylor Arrey