Student Stories

Violinist Sebastien Luc Pond
Vocalist Joe Beckman
Pianist Bo Yan Moran
Bassist Minh Jeffrey Anh Le
Vocalist Nattasha Campos

SebastienViolinist Sebastien Luc Pond

Every Saturday afternoon, seven-year-old Sebastien Luc Pond brings his violin to the Richmond District Branch of Community Music Center. He has been taking violin lessons at CMC since he was four, and is making good progress in the Suzuki method. Recently, Sebastien preformed for a large group of people at his church. When asked how it felt to be making music for his friends, he answered, “It’s a really great feeling!”

Although of limited financial means, Sebastien’s parents work hard to provide a culturally rich and diverse experience for their boys. Sebastien attends a Mandarin immersion school on Potrero Hill, and speaks Mandarin, Cantonese, English and Spanish. He is also enrolled in an after-school chess club.

Sebastien’s mother Candace recounted that on the first day of school this fall, Sebastien was nervous and tense. When she asked him what would help to calm his nerves, he asked her to tune the radio to his favorite classical music station. While listening to symphonic music, Sebastien will often conduct an imaginary orchestra, explaining to his parents that he is “making lines in the music.”

His mother says that sometimes Sebastien is like any other kid and needs a push to begin his music practice. But on other occasions, when he is inspired by a piece he is working on, he practices all the time without prompting.
“Sebastien can be a shy kid, and music really allows him to open up,” his mother relates. “It is great for him to be able to concentrate on something he is really good at.”

His teacher, Kristan Cassady, talks about his developing skills: ”It’s not just that Sebastien’s violin playing has improved with lessons, but his verbal skills, eye-hand coordination, and confidence have soared because of this opportunity. These are skills that not only effect the violin, but everything Sebastien will choose to do with his life outside of music.”

Read an interview with Sebastien’s teacher Kristan Cassady.


Vocalist Joe Beckman
By Jonathan Harris

On Sundays in the early 1960’s, around the time CMC voice student Joe Beckman turned ten, his mother would take him and his seven siblings to church. After church, she would take the children to the tavern where her husband tended bar. There she fronted a local band on stage for such standards as Stormy Weather and Birth of the Blues.

Some forty years hence, while entertaining at parties as a caricature artist in the Bay Area, Joe would look on with admiration at the singers working at the same parties and wonder if he had the chops himself to perform as a vocalist. After some unsatisfying voice lessons at a local community college, a piano player suggested to Joe that he check out the Community Music Center. Joe’s first voice lesson at CMC was in 1999 and he has been attending weekly, virtually uninterrupted, ever since.

Joe is a member of the Screen Actors Guild, having worked in Los Angeles as an extra in such films as The Cat in the Hat and Seabiscuit, and the nature of this work makes it hard for him to predict his monthly income. However, Joe ensures the continuity of his weekly lessons at CMC by participating in our work-study program. He helps to maintain the grounds around our facility and checks daily, often seven days a week, on the condition of our new building next door, ensuring it is secure and safe. Joe is excited about CMC’s recent acquisition of this new space and hopes it will provide more room for lessons and a venue for smaller, more intimate recitals of the kind in which he would like to take part.

The first letter in CMC stands for community and Joe believes this is an accurate descriptor and perhaps his favorite aspect of the Center. Says Joe, CMC offers very good instruction if you aspire to be a professional, but it is also a supportive community for amateurs and hobbyists. A musician at any level will feel comfortable and welcome.

Pianist Bo Yan Moran
Bo Yan Moran began taking piano lessons twelve years ago at CMC, studying with Betty Wong and Juliet McComas. Bo Yan has been a regular performer at the All-School Recital and has won the concerto competition with the CMC Orchestra. For several years, she has won the Junior Bach Festival, represented the CMC at the Bothin Foundation and won the Marie Baroody Memorial Scholarship in Piano. Her teacher, Betty Wong, says Bo Yan has taken advantage of everything the CMC has to offer: she attends concerts and school-sponsored performances and lectures, plays in recitals and competitions. Bo Yan has an advanced repertoire in the classical tradition, but her eclectic tastes are evidenced in her mastery of 24 Variations on a Bach Chorale, a jazz work composed by Fred Hersch in response to September 11, 2001.

Bo Yan graduates from Lick-Wilmerding High School this year, and heads for USC. She may not major in music, but music, like swimming and science, will continue to shape her future successes.

Music has become my sanctuary because of CMC, and it is comforting to know that CMC is standing by me. CMC has helped me discover my passion for music, and for that, I will forever be grateful.
-Bo Yan Moran

On Sunday, July 1 at 4pm, Bo Yan will perform a solo recital by way of farewell to her musical alma mater. The program will feature piano music from baroque to jazz: Fred Hersch’s take on Bach, Beethoven, Mompou,  Chopin and Ginestara.

Blues in F Major: The San Francisco Community Music Center, Reflections and Gratitude

By Minh Jeffrey Anh Le

Music and Nature together is the best therapy for anything. Community Music Center in the Mission has both of these. I have been a student at this wonderful school for many years and each individual year my music becomes better and the plants and flowers grow larger and brighter. When one begins to walk on the steps of the school, one’s ears are covered in beautiful music and one’s view is greeted with vines and gorgeous plants glazing the light green colored paint of the school building, and the school’s beautiful garden. This place brings tranquility to the stress of everyday life.

After school, when my classes take place, I usually am drained to the bottom of my feet, only having enough energy to carry the Electric Bass strapped over my right shoulder. However, after stepping out of my car and being surrounded by city sounds and the busy clambering of noisy electronic gadgets attached to peoples’ sides, my personal engine is completely refilled to the very last drop and replenished.

For many years, Community Music Center has provided many opportunities to both grow as a talented musician and also into a more talented human being. It has taught me the C Major scale and also how to treat the people around me with respect. It has taught me how to be disciplined in achieving my goals in a fun and beneficial way. I have brought each of these attained attributes and utilized it in my daily life. But the most important value this school has taught me is that Music is the best remedy. It brightens my spirit and soothes my soul.

Community Music Center has always been a large part of my life, a lot of my past, a lot of my present, and sadly I will have to say “so long for now” as I begin my university studies this fall. Next schoolyear will be the first year where I will not be able to take classes at Community Music Center and I will not be able to see all the awesome concerts with my beloved father. However, Community Music Center will always be a part of my identity.

If it is the music skills when I jam with newly found college friends or learning and communicating with talented teachers, I will always have a part of this music school, as the love of music and learning was nurtured there. For many years I have been awarded many merit scholarships for music and in the near future I hope to be a part of Community Music Center and give myself to the ideals of the school.

Minh Jeffrey Anh Lê has been a student at the Community Music Center since elementary school. He has been playing in the Advanced Jazz Band and the Combo Jazz Band at his high school. He plays the Electric Bass, the Upright Bass, and the Violin, and sings. He studied Jazz Music at The Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan during the summer of 2010, and at the Jazz Workshop at Stanford University during the summer of 2011. Minh Jeffrey and his family feel deeply grateful for all the wonderful and dedicated teachers and staff of the Community Music Center.

A letter from a parent: Community Music Center, A Gem In Our Midst

By Anh Lê

My son Minh Jeffrey has been a student at Community Music Center (CMC) since elementary school. As he prepares to graduate from high school, he and our family reflect on the special and unique gift he has received from the CMC. Minh Jeffrey is a part of this very special school of music which was founded in 1921 and which is the oldest community arts organization in the San Francisco Bay Area. We love the philosophy of CMC: Spread the beauty of music throughout the community. Throughout his studies at CMC, Minh Jeffrey and our family have been deeply grateful and thankful to this school. The music education at CMC is truly outstanding, the teachers and staff superb, inspiring, and dedicated, and the students offering each other warm camaraderie and friendship. Community Music Center is a very special and unique community and family. Its beautiful campus and gardens in the Mission district, like its sister campus located in the Richmond district, offer a quiet oasis to rest, relax, and reflect in the midst of our urban center.

Minh Jeffrey and our family wish to especially thank Dr. Stephen Shapiro, former Director of  CMC who retired last year after guiding CMC for 33 years, for his leadership and vision, and for his mentorship of and kindness to Minh Jeffrey; to Peter Arvantely, known as “Professor Peter,” Minh Jeffrey’s teacher for his dedicated and creative teaching and mentoring; Heather Haughn and Josefa Fath, for their brilliant teaching of Violin; Cory Combs and Jason Muscat for their wonderful teaching of Electric Bass; Chus Alonso and Martha Rodriguez-Salazar, inspiring performers and educators who have made Latin music such an important and wonderful part of the CMC community; Beth Wilmurt, enthusiastic director of the Children’s Chorus; Ken Rosen, fantastic and dynamic director of the Teen Jazz Band, for being a great role model for young musicians and for his brilliant playing of the Saxophone; Scott Foster, Jazz teacher and Electric Guitarist extraordinaire, who cares about young people and their future and who my son has been lucky to have as his high school Jazz teacher for four years; Loretta Taylor, for her inspiration to young people and her beautiful Violin playing; and to Kathy Cole and Tania Morales, faithful and dedicated Registrar and Assistant Registrar.

I know that while my son Minh Jeffrey will be away from the CMC this coming schoolyear, his heart, love, and passion for music will always bring him to all the precious memories and the wonderful lessons he learned at Community Music Center.

Minh Jeffrey, my family, and I invite others, from the youngest to the oldest, to share in the beauty of the Community Music Center.

An Interview with Vocalist Nattasha Campos

How did you come to CMC?
Five years ago, I planned to apply to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. To prepare, I came to CMC to practice and learned that there are some amazing teachers here. I began working with Alana Kreel, then Pamela Igelsrud and finally Jonathan Smucker. While all three teachers were wonderful, Jonathan is the one who really speaks my language. And I don’t mean Spanish! He is the best teacher I’ve ever had.

I took many classes here besides my vocal coaching: I was part of the first class of CMC’s Opera and Musical Scenes Workshop, I’ve been a part of the Latin Vocal Workshop, the Flamenco-Latin Rhythm Workshop, Ear Training, Chamber Ensembles and a Baroque Ensemble class.

What are you taking away from your experience here at CMC?
A lot. On the technical side, I learned about how to sing, how to polish my performance and body mechanics. I also built my repertoire. I was mainly focused on the music of the Baroque and Classical periods while I was here, although I did sing some 20th century music as well. Being in Shirley Wong-Frentzel’s recitals gave me the sense that I’d achieved something.

I came to CMC a very shy person. Now I feel more comfortable performing and less shy. I understand that when you do your best, people appreciate the gift that you give them during a performance. For the first time, I feel a part of a musical family. Before coming to CMC, making music was lonely. There was nobody who cared about it the way I did.

CMC is a good place to grow up. I started here five years ago at age 18. My time here at CMC was essential to becoming an adult and a musician. I believe that I’m a musician now. I’ve accepted that I’m an artist. It’s a responsibility but it’s worth it. I’ve committed to it and CMC has everything to do with that.

What will you do next musically?
I will apply to conservatory to study voice in Mexico, where I’m from.

Any advice for CMC students?
Besides, practice every day, I’d say do something you love. It builds confidence. If you don’t love it, why do it? And above all, be yourself.