Professor Emeritus Clifton Swanson began teaching at Cal Poly in 1967. At that time, he assumed responsibility for Cal Poly’s orchestra, which then had 17 members! With the exception of three years, he chaired the Music Department since 1983. He has received numerous awards, including the university’s President’s Award for Contributions to the Arts of San Luis Obispo County, the Outstanding Liberal Arts Professor by College of Engineering Students (1994), the Meritorious Performance and Professional Promise Award (1986, 1989), and the College of Liberal Arts’ Outstanding Service Award for 2002-2003. He served as director of Cal Poly’s London Study Program for many years, was music advisor to the Cal Poly Arts Music Series (1980-04), a member of the Steering Committee for design and construction of the Performing Arts Center (1990-96), co-director of the CSU Summer Arts Chamber Music Program (1988), a member of the Board of Directors of Cal Poly Arts (1986-96), and a member of the Advisory Board for the Performing Arts Center.
Before coming to Cal Poly, Swanson attended Pomona College and earned his master’s degree in music in music literature from the University of Texas. He studied string bass with Paul Gregory and Peter Mercurio at the Music Academy of the West.
As a bass player, he has performed with many organizations, and in numerous festivals, including the Group for Contemporary Music in Portland, the Peter Britt Festival, San Luis Obispo Mozart Festival and the Pasadena and Austin Symphonies. He was also principal bass for the San Luis Obispo Symphony.
Swanson played a major role in the evolution of music in San Luis Obispo county. He co-founded the San Luis Obispo Mozart Festival in 1970 and conducted the San Luis Obispo Symphony from 1971-84. He was also instrumental in making the Performing Arts Center a reality. He has served on the board of the Association of California Symphony Orchestras, and as a panelist for the California Arts Council. He has reviewed university music department programs.