Mission and History

The mission of Community Music Center is to make high quality music accessible to all people, regardless of their financial means.


Community Music Center History

1912 – The music department of the Dolores Street Girl’s Club settlement house is founded. Gertrude Field moves to San Francisco from New York to become its first director.

1921 –  Community Music School  is established as a unique organization and moves to its current home at 544 Capp Street.

– The Community Chest (now The United Way) is formed and begins supporting Community Music School, one of the original affiliates. Community Music School  Board members are city leaders including Mrs. Jesse W. Lillienthal, Mrs. M.C. Porter, Mrs. Leon Sloss, Mrs. Mortimer Fleishhacker, Mrs. I. W. Hellman Jr., Mrs. Leon Guggenheimer, Mrs. Louis C. Greene, Mrs. Henry Crocker, Mrs. Walter Bliss, Mrs. Sidney Ehrman, Mrs. William Fitzhugh, Mrs. John Rossiter, Mrs. Andrew Welch and Mrs. Frank King.

– The auditorium, upstairs offices and four practice rooms are added to the original building on Capp Street.

– Community Music  School becomes Community Music Center.

– San Francisco Community Orchestra, San Francisco Community Chorus, and the San Francisco Children’s Chorus are formed as part of Community Music Center.

1983 –  Community Music Center opens its Richmond District Branch.

1987 – CMC develops the Comprehensive Musicianship Program, which provides current CMC private lesson students with free theory, musicianship and ensemble classes for the academic year.

1991 – In collaboration with the San Francisco Unified School District, CMC creates the Inner City Young Musicians Program (ICYMP) for low-income middle school students. The ICYMP provides free ensemble and theory classes as well as weekly  individual lessons to students recommended by their school music teachers.

1994 – Community Music Center’s Latin music program begins as a residency of the California Arts Council.

1995 – The CMC Teen Jazz Band is founded as a free program.

1996 – The Inner City Young Musicians Program expands to include high school students.

2006 – CMC pilots the Mission District Young Musicians Program (MDYMP) which serves motivated, predominantly Latino students from low-income families who live or attend school in the Mission District. The MDYMP is  a tuition-free program that provides students with weekly private lessons, theory, musicianship and ensemble classes with an emphasis on popular and classical Latin music.

2011 – CMC launches the first of its older adult choirs, the Solera Singers.

2016 – CMC now provides classes to over 2,400 students each year on 30 different instruments and in musical genres from Jazz and Blues to Western Classical to Latin and Middle Eastern music. Thousands of people enjoy musical performances at no or low cost each year in CMC’s concert hall and in out in the community.

More about the history of Community Music Center:

Community Music School (now Community Music Center) was founded as a department of the Dolores Street Girl’s Club settlement house in 1912.  Gertrude Field came from the Mannes School of Music in New York to coordinate the new music program. Field was  a former nurse, violin teacher and settlement house worker.  She promptly made Community Music School  an independent organization and moved it to our Victorian home at 544 Capp Street where it continues to provide low or no cost music lessons and concerts.

Miss Field, who directed Community Music School  until 1946, had a very straightforward educational philosophy: “We are not primarily concerned about the evolution of concert artists, though we give special attention to and encourage those who show exceptional talent. Our aim is to create a musical atmosphere in the home by giving children the means of expression. Hence, ‘how beautiful’, rather than how well played or sung, is the comment one hears oftenest in our classes.

Gertrude Field’s vision of Community Music School  was to be a provider of  music that was not art for art’s sake, but art for life’s sake.  She wanted to create a music atmosphere in the home by giving children the means of expression. As part of its social vision, Community Music School  became a founding agency of the Community Chest in 1922.   In 1926, Mrs. Fleishhacker donated funds to add a recital hall where free or low cost concerts are still held many days of the year.   Field and her Board led CMC  through strong growth in the 20’s and 30’s, from 270 students in 1925 to 500 by 1938.   Instruction focused on individual lessons and group classes in theory, appreciation, chamber ensemble and orchestra.

In addition to lessons, Community Music Center has had the honor of hosting a wide range of notable entertainers to Capp Street over the years.   These have included Jennifer Koh, Joe Pass, Marcus Roberts, Regina Carter, Frederica von Stade, Jascha Heifetz, Dawn Upshaw, Andre Watts, Max Roach, Dr. Billy Taylor, Ruth Laredo, Pepe Romero, Richard Goode, the Kronos Quartet, Chanticleer and Jack Benny, who entertained students during his visit to Community Music Center.

Christopher J. Borg, Executive Director of Community Music Center, says “At Community Music Center, joining an ensemble or taking music lessons opens the door to a student’s sanctuary, a place where joy of learning, confidence, and achievement are nurtured and grow side by side.  As CMC enters its tenth decade, the dedication to its founding mission of equity in opportunity continues to provide students of all ages and backgrounds with the chance to develop musically and personally through high-quality instruction and a broad range of programs.”