The founding music director of the San Luis Obispo Mozart Festival (now Festival Mozaic), Clifton Swanson has played a major role in the San Luis Obispo music scene. He joined the Cal Poly music department faculty in 1967 where he originally taught music appreciation and music history. However, he soon assumed responsibility for Cal Poly’s Symphony Orchestra and founded and conducted the Cal Poly Chamber Orchestra. He was also the music director and conductor of the San Luis Obispo Symphony from 1971 to 1984. He was elected the Cal Poly Music Department chair in 1983, and served in that role almost continuously until his retirement in 2004. During his tenure as head of the music department, the new B.A. in Music degree achieved an excellent reputation and Cal Poly's music graduates have distinguished themselves in many areas, from teaching and performance to graduate studies and research.
Swanson 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), and the College of Liberal Arts’ Outstanding Service Award for 2002-03. He served as director of Cal Poly’s London Study Program many times between 1986 and 2006.
Before coming to Cal Poly, Swanson graduated from Pomona College and earned his master’s degree in music literature from the University of Texas with additional study at UCLA. His attendance at the Aston Magna Academy focusing on the works of J.S. Bach in 1985 led to the “Mozart Akademie” as part of the San Luis Obispo Mozart Festival which inspired the Cal Poly's "Bach Week Akademie."
One of Swanson’s great pleasures has been his association with the inspiration, conception, design and support of the Performing Arts Center's Christopher Cohan Center on the Cal Poly campus. He participated in the original design committee, served for nine years on the board of directors of the Foundation for the Performing Arts Center, and served a term as president of the board.
Swanson is an active double bass player and never turns down an opportunity to play the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. He was principal bass of the San Luis Obispo Symphony for over 15 years and continues as a member of the bass section. Currently, he serves on the Board of Directors of the San Luis Obispo Master Chorale having recently completed a term as President.