May 9, 2013
May 8, 2013
We stopped by the Community Music Center in San Francisco’s Mission District to catch a rehearsal by the children’s chorus. They've become city-famous and have performed at among other venues, Yoshi's SF, The Rrazz Room, The Fairmont Hotel, and just now they’re warming up for the Community Music Center’s Spring Gala at SFJAZZ on May 13.
Money from the event will fund scholarships for low-income youth. Featured artists include among others Mark Inouye, San Francisco Symphony’s principal trumpet, along with his quartet, The Unit. The Master of Ceremonies will be five-time Grammy nominee John Santos, a master percussionist and a former Community Music Center faculty member.
The Chorus is composed of singers between 8 and 12 years-old; altogether a “motley crew” according to the chorus director, Beth Wilmurt. She’s been with the program for 12 years and is at once the children’s confider-in-chief and a remarkable conductor. As you watch her interact with the children and bring the chorus to life and attention you realize the fine art of motivating children these days and the enormous care and patience required.
Members of the chorus come from both public and private schools. A few are home-schooled. They’re a mash of economic backgrounds, personalities, and family dynamics. Some have behavior problems. A couple have gender issues. One was a ‘female-to-male’ teenager. Another child, an 8-year-old boy, identified as a girl.
“We’re a funny group of odd balls,” explained Wilmurt. “I include myself.”
We spoke to a couple of the music students, including Margo who is 12. Asked how she liked the music center she replied, “It takes my mind off of things, the stress of middle school, keeping up with all the home work, not being late. And when you have to learn all the time to just ignore bullies.”
“Is there a lot of bullying at your school?” we asked.
She nodded. “But not here: It’s a different world.”
The free program for chorus is two days a week at the Community Music Center, which is on Capp Street, between Mission and South Van Ness. If you don’t know it, the center itself is in a lovely old building with a studio and a brick courtyard.
“The kids are very passionate, very creative,” Wilmurt told us. “The center provides a refuge; the atmosphere is calming and comforting. It’s just what they need.
“At the same time, and I’ve seen this again and again, this is a place where kids can come and express their energy; they can discover how their voices are like an instrument. So they’re discovering things about their bodies and who they are. It goes deeper than their consciousness. I get great satisfaction being with them during this first realization and I am always moved by the rawness of their voices.”
Wilmurt works a lot with harmony and rounds. “The effect is so palpable and when the children get past covering their ears and really listening to each other and themselves, it becomes a kind of addiction and you’ll hear them singing to themselves wherever they go.”
She’s also careful to pick the right material to sing.
“I’m really good at that. I don’t do much pop music or theater, or things that the children are apt to recognize. The goal is to free up natural voices and so I try to disarm them and level the playing field. I’m always trying to find something nobody has head of and so we do a lot of international folk music and by the same token if there’s a child from another ethnic background I look for something from that culture. In that way I tailor the music around their personality but keep it accessible to all.”
Wilmurt says that not unlike her students she works off of impulse as well. “I don’t follow proscribed notions and I don’t want to convey the feeing that we’re boxed in, that we’re tied just to what’s on the page. I work organically.”
“Sometimes,” she said, “ I feel like we’re a bunch of wild animals.” Interestingly, Wilmurt whose background is in rhythmic theater, is also an actor and is about to begin a run at the Marin Theater Company: She will play an embittered daughter trying to escape her conniving mother in Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane.
Monday, May 13, 2013. 6:30-9:30 p.m. "A Salute to the Joy of Making Music": Community Music Center’s Spring Gala at SFJAZZ.
May 8, 2013
Jady Wei’s favorite piece of music for piano is Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 2, in D Minor; Op. 14, which was written in 1912, in honor of one of Profkoviev’s friends from conservatory, pianist Max Schmidthof, a young man who had committed suicide earlier that year.
She is a distinctly optimistic person but has always been drawn to the mournful quality of this particular piece. Wei, 15, is a sophomore at Monta Vista High School in Santa Clara, and has studied piano for 10 years. She learned Sonata No. 2 from her teacher Hans Boepple, the renowned pianist and long time music professor at Santa Clara University.
“He’s taught me to look deeper at the music,” says Wei, “and at the same time to be part of the music.”
We reached Wei earlier this week, in fact just as she returned from a ceremony honoring her success in The 2013 National French Contest, otherwise known as Le Grand Concours. She placed 9th out of 90,000 participants.
Among other awards, she won an audition at the 58th Junior Bach Festival in 2011; in 2012, at 14. She came in third in the Menuhin-Dowling competition (she played the Bach English Suite in A Minor).
But why such interest in this particular piece of Prokofiev?
“Yes, it is mournful,” said Wei, “and there is a feeling of anxiety, particularly in piu mosso section, but at the same time the piece is also thrilling and invigorating.”
Her interest in music began when she was five; about the time her parent bought a Seiler piano. She sat down at the bench and has never really left.
And so if you had to choose a career today, we asked, what would it be?
“I’d like to be a music therapist,” Wei replied and went on to say that when she plays Prokofiev, for example, she feels very connected to both the music and the world. “I can see how you could use music to help feel better about themselves.”
But as you might suspect with unusually talented young people these days there is more to Wei’s ambition. While she’s going to be taking master classes for three weeks this summer at the California Music Society for Young musicians, and continues to practice two to three hours a day, you can hear the first hint of change, the first allure of the world outside music. At one point in our conversation she mentioned that she’s taking AP Computer Science and AP Chemistry, and that she’s the captain of her school’s mock trial team.
“I really like the law,” she said and added, “I might like to go to law school one day ...”
And then that mantra-defense you hear so often even from the most promising music students: “If I went to Law School what would I do with music? I certainly wouldn’t drop it, music is something I will keep doing all my life …”
Have your parents pressured you much one way or another, we asked.
“For me personally my parents don’t pressure me. I know that’s true for other kids, who are pressured to go toward certain careers in the sciences or engineering. But that’s not been my experience. Not at all. At the end of the day I make the decision.”
Wei often begins a sentence by saying, “at the end of the day….”
“At the end of the day, the most important thing is to have fun, to like what we do.”
“At the end of the day, I don’t believe I’m too optimistic; I like to think positively.”
“At the end of the day, everything always works out.”
You think of Joseph Campbell’s urge to ‘follow your bliss’ and everything will fall in order. But then how do you read the likes of Jady Wei? At the end of the day, whenever that is, which will be the real bliss: playing music or perfecting legal arguments or studying signs of chemical life?
Or can you follow right brain bliss and left brain bliss at the same time? Can you follow all the blisses at once?
Or is the real bliss before you have to choose any path …
May 9, 2013
It’s rare, but two great composers share the same May 7 birthday: Johannes Brahms and Peter Tchaikovsky. Brahms was seven years older, so he gets the nod this time (but somebody remind us that next year the day belongs to the Russian.)
Funny enough, Brahms and Tchaikovsky were such opposites, they could never get into each other’s music. Tchaikovsky on Brahms: “For all his mastery, for all the purity and earnestness of his endeavours, Brahms can hardly be said to have made an eternal and precious contribution to the treasure-house of German music.” In his private correspondence, he once called him “that scoundrel, Brahms.”
But Brahms is a tremendously melodic composer, in addition to his other powers, and his music has outlasted Tchaikovsky’s verdict. Find out more about him, including fun facts, music for listening, links, and more on SFCV’s Composer Biography page.
May 9, 2013
This month is youth orchestra month, with spring orchestra concerts around the Bay. Here they are, with the young soloists involved:
May 11, Saturday, 8 p.m., First Congregational Church of Berkeley: Young People’s Symphony Orchestra, with soloists Beverly Fu, violin, and Joshua Herman, piano. Aram Khatchaturian’s Violin Concerto, Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2, Shostakovich Symphony No. 5. David Ramadanoff conducts.
May 12, Sunday, 2:30 p.m., Jackson Theater at Ohlone College: California Youth Symphony Spring Concert, with soloists Selena Her (harp), Eric Xu (clarinet), Brian Kim (violin). Copland’s Lincoln Portrait (Bryan Dyer, narrator), Wieniawski, Violin Concerto No. 1, Debussy, First Rhapsody, Musorgsky/Ravel: Pictures at an Exhibition. Leo Eylar conducts.
May 11, Saturday, 11 a.m., Bay Area Discovery Museum, Sausalito: Crosspulse Duo. This is an exciting pair of musicians who use all kinds of instruments, and their bodies, to explore rhythm. Keith Terry is a well-known body musician and dancer. Evie Ladin is a singer/ songwriter, banjo player, and dancer as well. It’s a combo that adults should hear and see, too.