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Bay Area Best Bets: Teaching Improv and Family Date Nights

August 7, 2014

Berkeley School of Strings and Improvisation

Irene SazerIrene Sazer, founder and director of the Berkeley School of Strings and Improvisation, is an original member of the Turtle Island String Quartet and founder of the Real Vocal String Quartet. She is a conservatory-trained teacher who subbed at the San Francisco Symphony for nearly 10 years, and for the last decade has focused on her string quartet and school.

The school is noteworthy because the focus is on both conventional instruction and improvisation, which in turn is a reflection of Sazer’s eclectic interest in all musical genres, but particularly classical, jazz, pop, world music, and folk. “I love digging into different styles, which I think of as dialects within the same language. In classes, I come with a broad agenda of my own interests, but I also incorporate the interests of students.”

Sazer learned her approach to improvisation from the prominent cellist and composer, David Darling. “I learned an improvisational structure, in essence a basic set of improvisation games,which once you learn, the sky’s the limit.”

And how is improvisation taught? “We begin with the core of what makes music: rhythm and pitch. And so one person creates a basic rhythm, which they repeat over and over and then someone adds to that, a slightly different rhythm, perhaps the second beat in a four-four. And then another person adds to that. Not unlike a drum circle. And so even kids who are not advanced can create interesting musical expressions. Of course you can do the same thing with sections.”

The school, which includes half a dozen instructors, offers two summer programs, including one that begins on August 18. However, that’s sold out. The next opening is during the week of September 6. Check the website for details.

Sazer recommends that students interested in group instruction have a year or so of experience. For private class, no experience is required and she has taught kids as young as four.

“Improvisation is the most creative thing I offer. It’s really about finding your own musical voice, much as you would if you were learning to paint with pastels. It’s an act of creative discovery. And most important, it’s playful; we’re playing with sounds. As a teacher I believe that once kids — or adults — learn the art of improvising they’re demystifying what composers are doing and getting closer to the music itself. I have to say, it’s beautiful to see kids learn the nature of rhythm and learn the real freedom music affords.”

Private and group classes for children and adults
Focus: violin, viola, cello, as well as some piano and guitar
Tuition: $75/hr. for private lessons; $10-$30/hr. for group lessons
Contact: [email protected]/(510) 548-3738

Bay Area Discovery Museum

The Discovery Museum speaks for itself. An incomparable resource for children of all ages. Upcoming Family Date Nights include:

Friday, Aug. 8. Blues Whale, “a funky jam band from the Marin Headlands,” and not to be confused with Belfast band, BlueWhale, plays a variety of classic covers from Muddy Waters to the Beatles, along with originals.

Friday, Aug. 15. Enzo is a one-man band, well known in the Bay Area for his folk repertoire. He plays, with great effect, the 5-string banjo, accordion, harmonica, and musical saw.

Friday, Aug. 22. Rhythm Child, which is ‘White House approved”, with its original “family-style roots music,” returns to lead a dynamic drumming circle for the End of Summer Bash. It’s a thoroughly interactive, drum-based experience for the whole family. Don’t miss this.

Incidentally, the bash includes a variety of activities including two interactive concerts with Rhythm Child; bilingual story time with Laura Millison; face painting; “bouncy house”; messy art in the art studios; bubbles and chalk in The Box; kettle corn, and free sunglasses for the first 250 people.

Snacks, drinks, and dinners will be available from the Bean Sprouts Café until7:30 p.m. Admission to the End of Summer Bash includes admission to the museum from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on August 22.

Family Date Nights on Fridays, through Aug. 22, 5-7:30 p.m.
Admission: $12; seniors, $11, babies under 6 months and members, free.

Mark MacNamara, a writer and journalist based in Asheville, North Carolina, has written for such publications as NautilusSalonThe Stanford Social Innovation Review, and Vanity Fair. From time to time, his pieces in San Francisco Classical Voice also appear in  Noteworthy examples include a piece about Philip Glass’s dream to build a cultural center on the Pacific Coast; a profile of sound composer Pamela Z and an essay on the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. MacNamara recently won several awards in the 2018 Greater Bay Area Journalism Awards presented by the San Francisco Press Club.  His website is