Meet Gabi and Leo, new staff at CMC

CMC is welcoming new staff this summer! Gabi Díaz-Hernández is the new Mission District Young Musicians Program Coordinator and Associate Registrar. Leo Harrington is the new Young Musicians Program Coordinator.

Though Gabi and Leo are new staff at to CMC, they are not new to CMC. Gabi is a CMC student and Leo is alumni.



Meet Gabi Díaz-Hernández, CMC’s new MDYMP Coordinator and Associate Registrar

How did you come to CMC?

I used to work two blocks from here. Last fall, I started taking classes. My sister and brother in-law were in the Latin Vocal Workshop with Martha Rodríguez-Salazar and recommended it. I loved the class. The class was an amazing way to make friends and to explore my voice as an instrument, both solo and in harmony. Martha is a brilliant teacher. She helped me see the importance and value of my own voice, bringing out the best in myself.

What drew you to the position?

Being the MDYMP Coordinator allows me to work alongside music teachers and work with youth. Education is so important to me. I wanted to be in a role where I could support that. I love the idea of working with families and recent immigrants, as well as with students that are second generation. I find this opportunity to be very interesting and inspiring. Families are a core part of MDYMP, and I look forward to fortifying those family connections.

What are you bringing to the job, what do you see the coordinator’s role as?

I see my role as building bridges between teachers, families, and students, along with the community at large. I want to help students feel more connected to the Mission community through offering performances to the community. The instructors in MDYMP are amazing. All the faculty have important things to contribute. I am really grateful for the people I’m working with, the instructors, Martha, Sylvia, and the parents.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I’m from a very small town in rural Georgia. So, I love exploring in the arts scene in the Bay. I love the arts in the Bay Area, theater, and music. I love walking around the city.


Meet Leo Harrington, CMC’s new YMP Coordinator

How did you come to CMC?

I’m CMC alumni. I was born and raised in San Francisco. From an early age, I’ve been connected to CMC. I am a trumpet player and was a student of John Frank at Hoover Middle School. Mr. Frank has had a long relationship with CMC through the years nominating his students to Young Musicians Program. As a teenager at CMC, I was part of the Teen Jazz Band with Ken Rosen. I went to Oberlin and got a double degree in trumpet performance and history. After college, I went to Vienna on a Fulbright scholarship teaching English and completing coursework in the Musicology Department at the University of Vienna.

When I moved back to San Francisco last year, I wanted to work more directly on the ground with students. What drew me to CMC is its commitment to financial accessibility. I wanted to come back to a context where I had deeper community roots and to a role where I can work with students who wouldn’t be able to study without the accessibility. I really identify with CMC’s mission.


What drew you to the position Young Musicians Program Coordinator?

I have explored a lot of teaching and administrative roles and know my strengths lay in working directly with students, as well as administering programs. As the YMP Coordinator, I can utilize both these interests. I’m in a support role for faculty and also a liaison between students, teachers, staff, and the community at large. I derive a lot of satisfaction seeing the progression of students, seeing moments of growth in rehearsals and concerts, and what students learn about themselves through studying music. I enjoy working directly with people. I’m really inspired by the YMP faculty and the CMC faculty. There’s such a wealth of talent and creativity. It’s fun interfacing with them and seeing what they bring to students.

What do you see the Coordinator’s role as?

Practically speaking, I run the auditions in spring for the program. I put the ensembles together. I coordinate the schedule for the year and hold the orientation for parents and am the point person for them. I also think about the program design of YMP and implement the student leadership program, where students volunteer and do outreach at CMC events.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

As of the Summer Quarter, I am CMC student again! I study voice with Jonathan Smucker. I’ve sung with different choirs and vocal ensembles. I enjoy running and biking. I feel connected to San Francisco in that way. I spend a lot of my time thinking about equity and education and how it relates to broader social problems. This interest forms my motivation for doing college access work as well. I like to go to live music when I can. I took my first dance class at City College this past spring in Salsa.

Donate today to CMC and you’ll be entered into a raffle!

Community Music Center is close to reaching our financial goals this fiscal year, but we still need to raise $30,000 in the next 3 weeks. Your support will help us continue providing access to music for all.

Can you help?

Everyone who donates by June 30th will be entered into a raffle for a grand prize of four tickets to any regular season San Francisco Giants home game (subject t0 availability*). 

Second chance prizes include:
•    One year of private 30-minute lessons (1 winner)
•    One year of group lessons (1 winner)
•    One quarter of private 30-minute lessons (2 winners)
•    One quarter of group classes (2 winners)
•    CMC tote bag (25 winners)

Click here to make a donation and enter the raffle.

Donate $100 or more and get TWO raffle entries! A $500 donation gets TEN raffle entries!

Thank you, as always, for being a part of our community, and for your always-generous support of CMC.


*Tickets will not be available to sold-out games.

New summer music classes for all ages and levels

CMC is rolling out new offerings just in time for summer. Learn a new instrument or sharpen your musical skills. All ages and levels can enjoy fun and affordable classes taught by excellent CMC faculty.


Afro-Caribbean Drumming and Singing for Kids with Hector Lugo (New this summer)
Day/Time/Location: Wednesdays, 4:00 – 5:30pm, Mission Branch

Kids play drums and sing lively music from Afro-Caribbean traditions exploring rhythm and melody in a group. In this hands-on class, kids play hand drums, maracas, bells and other percussion instruments to learn a sense of rhythm. Kids also sing songs from diverse Afro-Caribbean cultures, helping kids to learn melody, dynamics, and listening.

More group music classes for kids


Saxophone Workshop with Charlie Gurke (New this summer)
Day/Time/Location: Tuesdays, 5 – 6:30pm, Mission Branch
This four week series will focus on different aspects of the saxophone, including tone production (air, embouchure, articulation), equipment (reeds, mouthpieces, horns), technique (scales, patterns, fingers). Each class will be very hands-on, with opportunities to play and try out these different concepts.


More group music classes for adults.


Summer Theory and Composition Classes with Jono Kornfeld (Summer only)
Day/Location: Thursdays, Mission Branch
Composition Workshop: 6:15 – 7:05pm
Introduction to Jazz Theory: 7:05 – 7:55pm
Rock Music of the ’60s and ’70s: 7:55 – 8:45pm


Learn more about enrollment on the CMC enrollment page.

CMC choir concerts to brighten the June gloom

All 12 CMC Older Adult Choirs will be performing free concerts this June. With spirited renditions of favorite songs from Latin, Jazz, gospel, Broadway, and oldies, these concerts are an inspiring and uplifting way to spend a morning or afternoon. You’ll be swept away by the energy and enthusiasm of the singers and the conductors! The concerts take place around the city in the various neighborhood centers where the choirs hold weekly rehearsals. All the events are free and open to the public. Some of the concerts are followed by a potluck.

Older Adult Choir June Concerts

Monday, 6/4 (9:30-10:15AM, potluck) – CMC 30th Street Older Adult Choir, 30th Street Senior Center, 225 30th Street

Thursday, 6/7 (1:30-3PM) – Coro CMC del Centro Latino de San Francisco, Centro Latino de San Francisco, 1656 15th Street

Friday, 6/8 (1-3PM) – CMC Solera Singers of Mission Neighborhood Center, Mission Neighborhood Center, 362 Capp Street

Monday, 6/11 (1:45-2:30PM; potluck) – CMC Bernal Heights Older Adult Choir, Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center, 515 Cortland Avenue

Tuesday, 6/12 (1:45-2:30PM, potluck) – CMC Older Adult Choir at Castro Senior Center, Castro Senior Center, 110 Diamond Street

Monday, 6/25 (2:00-3:00PM) – CMC Veterans Equity Center Older Adult Choir, VEC/Bayanihan Community Center, 1010 Mission Street

Tuesday, 6/26 (10:15-11:45AM; potluck) – CMC Richmond District Center Choir,Richmond District Neighborhood Center, 741 30th Avenue

Thursday, 6/28 (1:00 – 2:30 PM) – CMC Aquatic Park Older Adult Choir, Aquatic Park Center, 890 Beach Street

Friday, 6/29 (12:45-2:00 PM; potluck) – CMC OMI Senior Center Choir, OMI Senior Center, 65 Beverly Street

Saturday, 6/30 (10:30-11:00 AM– CMC IT Bookman Older Adult Choir (and members of CMC Western Addition and Bayview Older Adult Choirs, IT Bookman Community Center Grand Re-Opening, 446 Randolph St.

Introducing new CMC staff: Ken Ingraham and Michelle Lee

Welcoming Ken Ingraham, Grant Writer

Ken started working at CMC in the middle of February. He’s no stranger to the world of development. Some of his more recent career highlights include the Institutional Giving Manager at the Museum of the African Diaspora (2011-2013) and the Director of Development at the Oakland Symphony (1999-2009).

What do you think of the environment and atmosphere of working at CMC so far?

I find the environment of working at CMC to be very stimulating. You’re surrounded by what the organization is all about: hearing music, rehearsals, lessons. Often times when you work for an organization, you can be little separated from seeing the mission in action, by virtue of being in a different building. You don’t see who you’re serving. At CMC, you’re surrounded by the mission all the time. I find it very stimulated.

You have quite an extensive background in Development. What’s one career highlight that really sticks out for you?

Working with Michael Morgan the Music Director at the Oakland Symphony was invigorating. Michael Morgan is a visionary in the true sense of the word. When I worked there, he was always coming up with great and interesting projects, one after the other. One project, the American Masterworks series, explored great symphonic works from the American musical theater tradition. One show I remember from this series, Porgy and Bess, incorporated panel discussions on the cultural commentaries and ramifications of the musical. The American Masterworks series embodies social and political commentary on the times, as well as highlighting the music. Michael Morgan sees the orchestra as a vibrant and organic part of the community rather than a relic of symphonic tradition. Quite inspiring.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I continue to write through taking classes in the UC Berkeley Extension Program. I’m starting a nonprofit called the Truth and Reconciliation Project. The purpose is to bring people together, focus on race relations, create dialogue, and root out systemic racism in America. I’m organizing workshops where people read books related to race relation and discuss the content with facilitation help to explore these conversations. I also love to travel. I am hoping to go to on a cruise from San Francisco to Sydney.

Are you a music lover?

When I went to Harvard, I started a music group Kuumba Singers to promote the African-American choral tradition. I sang baritone. I’m thinking of getting involved in choral group in the East Bay.



Meet Michelle Lee, Marketing Assistant

Michelle started as the Marketing Assistant on February 21. She has been churning out fliers and programs for faculty performances and events. She has also taken over the volunteer recruitment and been helping with event promotion.

What brought you to working in the arts and to CMC?

The idea of community music is very important to me. The communities I form as a music-maker are some of the most meaningful ones in my life to me. Growing up, I was able to study music through scholarships. So the aspect of music access at CMC is particularly meaningful to me.

I also do admin and development work for other groups, the Sacred and Profane Chamber Chorus and for some independent artists.

Any other interests or hobbies you’d care to share?

I like to cook. I like to hang out in the park and people watch. I also enjoy hanging out with my cats, Peanut Butter and Jelly Fish.

Are you a musician?

I’m a flautist. I have a degree in Performance from Mills. I focus on contemporary chamber music. I play with chamber groups and like incorporating different styles of notation, extended techniques, and multi-media.

CMC piano student Rebecca Portnoy performs at Carnegie Hall

“Playing at Carnegie Hall was a once in a lifetime experience that I really enjoyed. Although I was really nervous before the recital, after performing my piece, I felt a great rush of relief. Everyone performing there supported each other and I got to make some new friends from other countries.” Rebecca Portnoy



Rebecca Portnoy, piano student of Juliet McComas, has reached a milestone few musical performers reach. She performed at Carnegie Hall, by the age of thirteen no less!

In December 2017, Rebecca auditioned to be part of the Elite International Music Competition for 6-21 year-olds. The auditions were open to students from all over the world including Russia, Canada, Ukraine, China and South Korea. Rebecca’s teacher Juliet helped create a video of Rebecca playing Chopin’s Waltz in Em for her submission. She received second place in the audition.

“I had entered the competition for fun,” said Rebecca. “I never expected to get second place. It was very exciting and nerve-racking.”

It was nerve-racking because all first and second place winners in the audition got to perform in at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall on Feb 5, 2018.

“I felt happy, but very nervous,” Rebecca shared about finding out she was going to play at Carnegie Hall.

At the beginning of February, Rebecca, along with her mother and Juliet flew to New York. When she first walked into Carnegie Hall, she was amazed.

“It was a really beautiful recital hall, and it felt good to play in a place where so many great musicians performed music.”

Understandably, Rebecca was very nervous about the imminent moment of performing in the hall. Luckily, her musical training supported her through the experience.

“When I sat down at the piano on stage, I relaxed a little. My performance went well. I didn’t make any mistakes,” Rebecca reflected.

In thinking about what this moment will mean to her throughout her life, Rebecca shared, “I never expected this moment. I was happy to take the chance and to do it. It’s an experience, I’ll never forget.”

Spring Gala features delectable menu

Community Music Center’s Spring Gala promises to be an unforgettable evening in support of CMC’s mission of music for everyone. The evening program features honoree Frederica von Stade and a special performance by renowned mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato and operatic composer Jake Heggie. The evening also includes performances by CMC faculty, Children’s Chorus, Older Adult Choirs, and the Teen Jazz Orchestra.

Not to be overlooked during the evening program will be the scrumptious three-course dinner served by the Four Seasons. The menu includes delectable dishes featuring crowd-pleasing tastes and flavors.


Melon & Tomato Panzanella
Charred Cucumber, Fresh Burrata, Basil & Parmesan Crostini


By guest choice

Herb Roasted Chicken Breast
Sweet Potato Puree, Chargrilled Sweet Peppers, Green Onions, Pink Pepper Jus

Grilled Asparagus, Oven Dried Tomato Risotto, Orange Saffron Sauce

Eggplant Parmesan
Tomato, Basil, Smoked Mozzarella, Herb Salad


Served alternating at the table

Grandma’s Chocolate Cake
Passion Fruit Caramel Sauce

Lemon Meringue Tart
Raspberry Coulis


Gala attendees will leave the event feeling gratified by the delicious meal, the world-class entertainment, and the community spirit of the evening.

For more information and tickets, please go to the ticketing website.

Drama of the emotions at this year’s Keyboard Marathon

By Suzanne Korey, Keyboard Marathon Event Producer and piano student of Lauren Cony


This April the Community Music Center is preparing to host the 15th Annual Keyboard Marathon Concert, Sunday, April 22 at 3pm. As keyboard performers, we are thrilled that this yearly event has been sustained for 15 years through the interest of the community, the active engagement of the performers, and a keen appreciation in learning about and hearing the wide range of keyboard compositions that are chosen for each year’s event.

Our theme this year is Joy and Sorrow, reflecting both the quandary we find ourselves in the world at this time, as well as the wide range of emotions that music evokes in the listener.

Performers have selected original compositions, solo pieces and duets, classical music, contemporary pieces, and old favorites. This year’s theme has brought out some of the most varied compositions that we’ve offered yet.

The Keyboard Marathon is a beloved CMC institution. It is one of the few opportunities we have to gather members of the keyboard faculty and listen to the richness of the music, the diversity of taste and styles, and the quality of performance. It is a special afternoon that brings friends and family together for music and celebration.

The Keyboard Marathon takes place in the CMC Recital Hall, at 544 Capp Street in San Francisco. Admission is $15 for adults and $10 for students and seniors, with tickets available at the door. A champagne reception follows the performance – we are fortunate to have a courtyard and often beautiful weather, that allows us to take the reception outside and celebrate the day.

This year’s performers are faculty members Lauren Cony, John Kyrk, Juliet McComas, Jennifer Peringer, Lilia Zheltova, Paul Dab, Erik Ian Walker, Betty Wong, Shirley Wong Frentzel, Elektra Schmidt, Maestro Curtis, Jon Jang, Theodore Carson, Jacqueline Chew, Allison Lovejoy, Paula Dreyer, and guest artists Grace Huenemann, Esther Chan and Annie Nalezny.

Early childhood education at CMC, a faculty profile with Irene Chagall

For more information on all of CMC’s early childhood education offerings and faculty, visit the Youth Group Classes and Ensembles page.


Irene Chagall: Music for Children Instructor

“I give them (the students) each a piece of string.
I say, ‘We’re studying the string family. How do you make an instrument out of a piece of string?
Take this piece of string home and see what you can come up with.”

-Irene Chagall, Music for Children instructor

By Katy Fox, guest writer


CMC violin student Alycia Tam gives Irene’s class a demo

Thus begins the Winter Quarter for students in Irene Chagall’s Music For Children class at the Community Music Center. Over the following weeks, children ages 4-7 will gain direct understanding of how strings create vibration, build their own cuica (Brazilian friction drum), try-out and compare various string instruments. They will dance, they will laugh, and they will play a violin both pizzicato and with a bow. By the time a 12-year old CMC violin student visits their class to give them a demo, they will already know why she first takes out her rosin. And if the children are feeling shy, one of Irene’s puppets will lead the games and songs. By the end of the semester, a certain beloved skunk puppet will have received gifts from many adoring students.

Irene’s curriculum begins by encouraging children to imagine how natural sounds could have inspired the development of instruments. “Maybe it happened because the wind blew in the trees and people said ‘what’s that sound?’ That’s so much more basic than what we think of when we think of ‘symphony.’ It connects music to life experience, to awareness.” For the wind family, she will bring in a blade of grass. To introduce horns, Irene will pass around a seashell and a ram’s horn. If she has slightly older students, she will show off a donkey jaw, commonly used in Brazil.

“My point of departure is the same in all my classes: music as a design made of sound in time. I ‘read’ the group and find the material that they can connect with. If I have a more sophisticated group of children, I’ll do more with rhythm, reading and preparedness for what it takes to actually study an instrument. The teachers I’ve gotten to know at CMC say that the kids who have taken my class are great to have as students because they already have a foundation. That’s really wonderful!”

Irene inspires musical curiosity in her students.

Irene emphasizes a joyful ensemble, embodying musical vocabulary as a way of learning it, and breaking down complex concepts into digestible parts. Her primary influences are the Orff Approach and Dalcroze method. She was trained in the latter as a child and attributes this early exposure (“I wasn’t aware that I was learning music, but I was really learning music”) to her lifelong work as a self-described minstrel. In the Dalcroze method, children are taught that the body is their first instrument and are encouraged to interpret rhythm, melody and harmony through both specific and spontaneous movement. As a child, Irene remembers marching in quarter notes, jogging in eighth notes, running fast in sixteenth notes, taking huge steps to “get” whole notes.

The Orff Approach to teaching music is modeled on how we learn our native tongue. It’s focus on immersive, imaginative group learning is what Irene loves most. “To get a group of children laughing and moving their bodies and experimenting and finding their limits—that is what makes this work. It is universally human to respond to rhythm. We synchronize to each other.” (This concept is Irene’s soapbox. As a recent research associate at the Smithsonian, she wrote and co-directed Let’s Get the Rhythm, an acclaimed documentary on hand-clapping games from around the world.)

Irene Chagall has been teaching at CMC for 35 years. Though initially encouraged to pursue a career in the sciences, Irene’s gravitational pull has always been music and the arts. She pursued an independent study of classical guitar in Spain, traveled through Northern Africa and came back to the States to get a teaching degree. “The deal is that CMC felt like home from the beginning…it was a place where I could be myself and grow as well, and I have. The mission of the institute is just something I believe in. The beauty of CMC is that the classes are small enough that you can give individual attention, without making a child feel like they’re being singled out…Now too, with the new director, it’s rejuvenating. It’s warm and welcoming, it’s a sanctuary.”


Thank you to Katy Fox the guest writer for this article. The article is part of an interview and article series about early childhood education faculty at CMC.

Early childhood education at CMC, a faculty profile with Susan Peña

For more information on all of CMC’s early childhood education offerings and faculty, visit the Youth Group Classes and Ensembles page.

Susan Peña: CMC Chiquitos Instructor

By Katy Fox, guest writer

“Playing music together, that’s what people want to do.”

Susan Peña, CMC Chiquitos Instructor


When audiences watch La Familia Peña-Govea play music together, something Susan Peña, her husband and two daughters have done for over twenty years in the Bay Area, they often become overwhelmed with longing and excitement. “It’s something that we really would have taken for granted, except people kept saying ‘How did you get that? How can we get our kids to play with us like that?”

Susan’s passionate about making music an enriching part of her student’s lives—something that they’ll continue to do for fun, socially. At Community Music Center (CMC) Peña teaches the CMC Chiquitos class, a Spanish-English bilingual family music class for infants to three-year-olds. She also co-teaches a children’s violin class and a guitar class for older artists at CMC’s partner organization Mission Neighborhood Center (MNC), as well as at César Chávez Elementary School as part of of CMC’s partnership with SFUSD in the Mariachi music program.

As a (now retired) high-school Spanish teacher, Susan was introduced to a language acquisitions method called Total Physical Response Storytelling. Modeled on how infants pick up their native language, the method is based on immersion and play. Susan used folk songs and games of Latin America and Mexico to teach grammar and vocabulary. Now she uses the same method to expose small children to basic skills like hand-eye coordination and absorbing different rhythms. She feels this method creates a lasting relationship with music, in conjunction with acquiring a skill. “I know so many people who ‘took flute’ in school or ‘took trumpet’ only to put it down and never play it again.”

In the CMC Chiquitos class, which provides a “musical bonding experience” through group song and and musical play, Susan spends as much time making music as she can—not talking, not explaining. This immersive experience includes parents and caregivers. Imagine an hour of clapping, call and response, hand gestures and playing with instruments. “I think that the most important thing is modeling for the kids, that it’s something their parents love to do with them.”

Music and education have been conjoined in Susan’s work over the last thirty years. She has taught for Guitars in the Classroom, recorded a bilingual CD of children’s songs accompanied by a teacher’s manual, and shared music-making for all ages at multiple camp and festivals. She and her family are as well-known in the Bay Area for La Familia Peña-Govea’s performances as for their Latino cultural presentations, often at public libraries. Susan has been singing since she was a child and began collecting songs, mostly folk, when she was twelve. Such a rich career, and she didn’t even begin to teach professionally until after she ended a twenty year career as a lawyer.

Law was never a passion for Susan. But not wanting to follow in her parents footsteps—both were teachers—she held on to “a sense of rebellion” for many years. She had been volunteer teaching in her daughters’ classes at Buena Vista Alternative Elementary School (now Buena Vista/Horace Mann, K-8), a Spanish immersion school in the Mission, when she heard that a high school in Pacifica was looking for someone to teach Spanish. They were using a new method that combined song, stories and art. “It turned into [another] 20 year career that I really loved. And I found out it wasn’t just my parents who were teachers, but my dad’s entire family that I hadn’t really grown up with. I was like, ‘Ok, should’ve done this a long time ago!’

Having lived in the Mission, Bernal Heights and Potrero Hill for decades, Susan continues to be impressed with the support and outreach that CMC extends to the Mission community. She sites CMC’s partnership with the MNC, CMC’s Mariachi program with SFUSD, numerous musical collaboration opportunities, and the dedication of CMC’s administrative staff. Peña also appreciates the accessibility of CMC’s Young Musicians Program that provides youth an opportunity to play in ensembles and take lessons free of charge. “Now those kids are likely to have music in their lives forever…playing music together, that’s what people want to do.”

What is on offer in Susan’s CMC Chiquitos class—what is offered at CMC in general—is a way to enter into a life that cannot be imagined without music.

Thank you to Katy Fox the guest writer for this article. The article is part of an interview and article series about early childhood education faculty at CMC.