New CMC ensemble explores rhythm as a universal language

Photo by Julie Sparenberg


On the heels of a six-city concert tour of India, internationally acclaimed instructor Dr. Rohan Krishnamurthy is back in San Francisco to teach an Indian Rhythm Ensemble class at Community Music Center. This no experience necessary ensemble is open to all ages and explores a variety of traditional Indian percussion instruments as well as an exciting form of Indian vocal percussion (konnakol) similar to beatboxing. In the ensemble, participants learn universal techniques and approaches to Indian rhythm with a focus on the ancient South Indian Carnatic tradition.

How was the tour?
Rohan: It was a great experience touring all over India most of September in The Park’s New Festival. I toured with a wonderful singer (Roopa Mahadevan), violinist (Anjna Swaminathan), and pianist (Guy Mintus) friends of mine, playing cross-genre repertoire, drawing on the Indian Classical tradition along with jazz, soul, and spoken word. The pieces we played were newly composed or arranged exploring how the quartet could interpret sounds in a cross-genre framework. During the tour, I performed on a hybrid kit that I’ve been developing that explores the boundaries between hand drumming and stick drumming on drum set.

How did you conceive of the Indian Rhythm Ensemble at CMC?
Rohan: I have had this idea since I moved to San Francisco in 2013. I wanted to create an artistic and cultural offering to San Francisco–something accessible to all people in the city. I wanted to bring in people of different ages, backgrounds, and musical levels to explore the universal language of rhythm. I was aware of Community Music Center’s devotion to making music accessible to all people. I love this idea of access and thought that CMC would be a fitting place to create this rhythm class.
I received a San Francisco Arts Commission grant to compose a piece about San Francisco’s rhythmscapes and to start this new class. Thanks to the San Francisco Arts Commission we were able to buy really wonderful traditional Indian instruments for the ensemble, and I premiered the work in progress 7X7 last April 2017.

Tell me about the ensemble?
Rohan: The rhythm ensemble is open to all ages, backgrounds, and levels. You don’t have to be a drummer. You don’t need a musical background. The ensemble explores rhythm as a universal process. It’s not genre specific. We use simple exercises to clap and speak the rhythms. It’s a very accessible and natural way of engaging in learning rhythm. These type of exercises are foundational in Indian rhythm studies. One unique thing about this ensemble is CMC has a full set of traditional Indian drums, thanks to the grant. There are very few places either colleges or music schools that have a collection like this one.

What are your hopes and aspirations for the ensemble?
Rohan: I try my best to not predict the future but, I’d love to see the ensemble become a nexus for all types of people (musicians and non-musicians alike), to connect and explore different concepts of rhythm. Rhythm is a unifying concept. It’s the thing that ties music together as well as many of life’s processes. I see the ensemble as a place for understanding and experientially exploring rhythm. I hope it benefits and brings together many types of people in our community. I’d love to see the students apply the concepts in creative ways that are meaningful to them.

Register now for CMC’s Indian Rhythm Ensemble!

Community Music Center Announces New Executive Director

CONTACT: Anne C. Mitchell, Marketing Coordinator
Community Music Center
(415) 647-6015 x86


New Executive Director brings an impressive array of skills and a passion for community music-making to one of San Francisco’s oldest arts organizations

San Francisco, CA (October 10, 2017) — Community Music Center, a 96-year-old Mission District-based nonprofit music school, has selected Julie Rulyak Steinberg as Executive Director after a CMC Board of Directors led national search process. Julie is CMC’s ninth Executive Director since its founding in 1921. She follows Christopher Borg, who served as Executive Director for six years.

CMC’s new Executive Director Julie Rulyak Steinberg (left) and Board President Barbara Kosner (right). Photo by Judy Rosenfeld.

“I am so excited to have Julie as our new Executive Director,” said Barbara Kosner CMC Board of Directors President. “The CMC Board was unanimous in their selection of Julie — her experience and dedication impressed all of us. Julie has spent her entire professional career in community music education, and it shows. As a musician herself, she communicates so well with all of our stakeholders — staff, faculty, board, students, and supporters. Her enthusiasm is contagious, and I am looking forward to a long and deep partnership between Julie and the Board.”

Prior to joining Community Music Center, Julie served as the Executive Director of Turtle Bay Music School in New York City. Turtle Bay Music School is founding member of the National Guild for Community Arts Education and one of the oldest and most reputable community music schools in the country. Prior to working with TBMS, Julie was the Managing Director of Cynthia Glacken Associates, a leader in nonprofit communications, strategy, and design.

“Becoming a part of CMC is one of the great honors of my life. When you walk through the doors of CMC, you can immediately feel the warmth and kindness that every member of the community exudes. Within these doors, and in our partnerships all over the city, harmonious (and sometimes cacophonous!) joy abounds. CMC is an exemplary institution providing access to every community member who seeks music and the arts as a tool of personal expression and progress, and a refuge from the pressures of everyday life. Places like CMC are rare jewels, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to lead CMC into its next century of service to San Francisco.”

Julie has an extensive background in fundraising and institutional advancement, and brings a wealth of experience in brand identity, strategic planning, and best practices for program development and sustainability. A sought-after expert in community arts education, Julie has served as a grant panelist for numerous organizations including the New York State Council on the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and the New York Times Company Foundation. She has also presented relevant topics and moderated discussions on arts education and nonprofit management at conferences and major universities throughout the United States.

Deeply committed to the expansion of community music-making, Julie trained with Third Street Music School Settlement and the National Guild for Community Arts Education while developing curriculum for a Community Music Education Master’s Degree program at New York University under the supervision of Dr. David Elliott. She is also a teacher of the Orff Schulwerk. Julie holds a B.M. and M.A. from New York University’s Steinhardt School for Culture, Education and Human Development.

About Community Music Center
Founded in 1921, San Francisco’s Community Music Center (CMC) is one of the oldest and largest community arts organizations on the West Coast. CMC makes high quality music accessible to all people, regardless of financial means. Last year, CMC awarded over $2 million in tuition assistance, serving more than 2,600 students of all ages, ethnicities and income levels with music lessons, classes and other programs. Thousands enjoyed performances at CMC and out in the community. Learn more at and follow the organization on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Photo of Julie Rulyak-Steinberg
Community Music Center impact video

Congratulations 2018 Shenson Series Grant Recipients!

Each year, The Shenson Foundation sponsors four free community concerts for CMC faculty music projects. The faculty members and their ensembles are selected by a committee of musicians from CMC’s Board of Directors. It’s truly a difficult decision for the Board Committee–there are indeed many wonderful proposals.

The following faculty were selected for the 2018 Shenson Faculty Concert Series. Stay tuned for concert announcements for these projects!


Cecilia Pena-Govea: trumpet, guira, vocals

Cecilia Peña-Govea and group

Cecilia Pena-Govea and her musical collaborators have chosen repertoire that encompasses five different continents and countless countries. With an interest in the diasporic nature of music, they will perform songs that have traveled thousands of miles, music of people who have traversed the world through enslavement, or who have sought political and economic refuge. Their musical performance will present music from the traditions of the Romani people of Hindustan, songs Santeria religious practices, and Mexican rancheras valseadas. Their musical themes are transborder existing and thriving across borders and in borderlands. The group’s material is concerned with remembering ancient tribulations of migration, labor, nation building, love, and promoting cultural healing through musical traditions. As a group comprised of young musicians native to District 9 in San Francisco, it is important for them to use traditional music as well as original pieces to maintain their cultural ground in a rapidly changing San Francisco.

Miguel Leon-Cajon, bata, tapan, vocals
Aya Davidson-Violin, oud, charango, vocals
Mireya Leon-Bass, percussion, vocals

Paul Dab, piano and Abigail Shiman, violin

Paul Dab

Their concert celebrates the 136th birthday of Igor Stravinsky. The program includes compositions from throughout his life, representing three stylistic periods: early Russian period, Neoclassical period, and Serial period. This concert is part of a series that celebrates composers through performance and discussion. The musicians will present program notes about their pieces during the concert and afterward, engage with the audience while enjoying a reception of wine, cheese, and dessert. Stravinsky’s music was highly controversial in its time and its influence shaped the trajectory of music in the 20th Century. This birthday party concert will share his legacy with our community.

Anne Hepburn Smith, coloratura soprano
James Pytko, clarinet
Joseph Colombo, composer

Omar Ledezma, voice and percussion

Omar Ledezma and Javier Cabanillas

Drawing on a Pan-American array of rhythms, the high-energy ensemble will share the astounding versatility of the humble cajon: a simple wooden box usually played by a percussionist seated atop it. Repertoire will a feature a traditional Afro-Venezuelan chant, original songs that highlight Brazilian, Caribbean, and Colombian rhythms, in addition to other musical selections.

Javier Cabanillas: voice, percussion
Pedro Rosales: voice, percussion
Jose Roberto Hernandez: guitar, voice, percussion
Braulio Barrera: voice, percussion

Jennifer Peringer, piano and Martha Rodriguez-Salazar, flute and voice

Jennifer Peringer and Martha Rodriguez Salazar

The theme of the concert will be “A Listening Quilt: Contemporary Chamber Music by Women Composers from North and South America.” The music will feature diversity on multiple levels: cultural, geographical and stylistic. The program focuses on the work of women composers, historically underrepresented on the global stage.

Rachel Condry, clarinet (CMC faculty member)
Jill Brindel, cello (SFSO member)

Interview with CMC’s New Executive Director: Julie Rulyak Steinberg

Julie Rulyak Steinberg’s career is one of nonprofit advancement and strategy coupled with a passion for community music education. Prior to joining Community Music Center, Julie served as the Executive Director of Turtle Bay Music School in New York City. Turtle Bay Music School is a founding member of the National Guild for Community Arts Education and one of the oldest and most reputable community music schools in the country. Prior to working with TBMS, Julie was the Managing Director of Cynthia Glacken Associates, a leader in nonprofit communications, strategy, and design.


You started at CMC on September 18. How have your first few weeks been?

Julie: I’m so grateful to be at Community Music Center. It’s an incredible honor and opportunity for me. I am in awe of CMC and its mission and incredible legacy, and by how many people are touched by CMC’s programs each year.

Everyone has been so welcoming and kind in my first few weeks. I’ve loved learning about their hopes and dreams for the Center, and what CMC means to this community. As I’m trying to understand all the ways that CMC touches lives, the perspectives of the people who are closest to the organization have been really helpful. I’ve been trying to take in every facet of CMC like a sponge, and it’s no easy feat. There’s so much going on here and so much to get one’s arms and mind around—but I’m really enjoying the challenge!


What drew you to CMC and a career in community arts education?

Julie: I think what drew me to the field of community arts is the idea that tapping into creativity and making broad connections is essential to thriving communities, and that local organizations like CMC are critical to help make big-picture understanding possible. To me what’s important about community music-making is bringing people together with an instrument (pardon the pun!) to create bonds of acceptance and change. Music connects people, people who might not otherwise meet or share their lives with one another. I believe that making music together helps people find common understanding and common purpose. To me, finding joy in making music is equally as important and valuable as pursuing, say, a rigorous professional career. And at CMC, you can do both!

There is also immeasurable value in the contributions our faculty members make to our mission, and there’s so much that professional musicians can share with students that goes beyond technique and repertoire. Studying music engages people to really listen, and it builds confidence. There is also something essential about challenging yourself, pushing yourself beyond perceived limits to achieve something you might have thought possible. In a community music setting, there’s an incredible amount of teaching and learning that has nothing to do with music.


How does your training as a singer and teacher inform your work?

Julie: As a teacher, you’re always keeping a holistic view in mind as you teach different aspects of your subject, knowing that each element you share with students supports greater overall understanding. As an arts administrator, you have to keep the big picture in mind while tracking how all the day-to-day pieces are working together.

As a singer performing with others, your performance affects everyone, and something unpredictable always happens on stage! Being part of an arts organization, you make room for the unexpected too, and no matter what the show must go on!


What’s on your short list for completing your first month at CMC?

Julie: My most important goal is to speak fluent CMC as quickly as possible. I want to get to know all the people, the different facets and inner workings, the procedures, the finances, and the opportunities that are in front of the organization. I am wide open to learning and feedback. My hope is to also “tend the garden” as I’m learning, building relationships that exist at CMC, and helping to forge new ones. I also hope that, maybe just maybe, I’ll get to make some music with my new colleagues, too.


What do you like to do in your spare time?
Julie: I try to spend lots of time with my family, especially my husband and my two-year-old son. I love choral singing and hope that, in time, I’ll find a new group to sing with – I’m open to suggestions! I also love to run, and I am hoping to get back to triathlon, too. Oh, and I’m in search of the best taco in San Francisco, so I hope CMC friends will point me in the right direction, or better yet, join me for one!

See the press release and Julie’s bio for more information about her career highlights. Also, check out her welcome letter.