Musical haiku project helps YMP students reflect on current times

Karman Liang demonstrates the musical haiku composing process during a YMP Zoom workshop. 

February 17, 2021

By Sylvia Sherman, Program Director

Last spring, Teen Jazz Orchestra Director Marcus Shelby started a musical reflection process in his class to elicit responses from his students to the COVID-19 pandemic, the shelter-in-place lockdown, and racial justice protests, helping students to connect those responses to musical vocabulary as building blocks toward composition.

This winter, CMC’s Young Musicians’ Program is drawing from this experience to shape its annual composition project. On January 9, YMP Coordinator, Katie Wreede shared a framework for the project with Young Musicians Program middle and high school students to create “musical haikus.” That day, Berkeley poet Alan Bern did a brief presentation for the students emphasizing the importance of painting a picture with words and shared his own COVID-19 musical Haiku. YMP faculty member Christian Bonvin offered some of his prior compositions created from musical haikus. Then YMP student leader, Karman Liang shared a haiku she had developed in advance of this presentation to demonstrate with Katie Wreede how the composition process would work for the students. Karman started by sharing her poem:

This is a grim time.
Stress, fear, and loneliness loom.
But we’ll rise above.

In Karman’s words, “I wanted this poem to reflect on what many people, including myself, have felt during the pandemic but also to be a message of hope, because we will all overcome this battle together.”

Karman and Katie modeled how to create a musical reflection from the intent of the poem. Katie led the students through a “response” process in which they gave one word emotional responses to Karman’s poem. She next invited the students to share how to musically represent each word. From this process, Karman was given various kinds of musical sounds to create, such as long notes, low notes, low notes with tremolo, and high notes at the end to reflect the more hopeful ending of her poem.

Following this workshop and through the help of their theory teachers, each YMP student has worked on developing their own musical haiku, which were recently shared in an informal listening.

Following the workshop, we asked Karman Liang to reflect on her process of writing a haiku.

“I had three simple goals in mind when I was writing my haiku poems: short, vivid, and somewhat current. Since it was recommended that these haikus are based on current events, I drew inspiration from my experiences during COVID isolation and how it has affected me. For example, I asked myself how I was staying grounded or how I have survived distance learning.

“The writing process was a chance for me to sit down and reflect on everything that has happened to me during this pandemic. I reflected on the positive aspects of it, such as hiking through the serene forests, and the more negative aspects, such as feeling very anxious and lonely amid shelter-in-place. I also gave myself a very small timeframe to write each poem to avoid overthinking them. As I thought and wrote, I began to develop a deeper understanding of my experiences during these strange times. For me, translating my thoughts into haiku poems was a really interesting way to express them. All in all, I enjoyed the whole process of writing these haikus.”

“This is the haiku I chose to musicalize, which reflects how I felt during the dreadful summer:

The same off-white walls
The same worrisome thoughts
Suffocated by it all

“To be able to musicalize this haiku, I needed to have compositional elements to work with. I did that by turning descriptive words of the poem into musical terms. First, I thought of words describing how the haiku made me feel. The first line gave off a bored and lonely mood and the second and third lines made me feel pain and heaviness. After that, using the words bored, lonely, pain, and heaviness, I started to think about musical elements that reflected these terms. The words bored and lonely made me think of slow, smooth, soft, which translates to legato, adagio, and piano, in musical vocabulary. The words pain and heaviness reminded me of trembling and loud, which is put as tremolo and forte, in musical terms. With this information, I was ready to begin composing a motif.”

Introducing Chantel Hernandez, Program Coordinator and MDYMP Coordinator!

January 22, 2021

The CMC community is thrilled to welcome Chantel Hernandez, Program Coordinator and MDYMP Coordinator. Chantel joins us fresh from her work in District Nine Supervisor Hillary Ronan’s office. She is deeply invested in her work in the Mission and is also a talented vocalist. In her work as at CMC Program Coordinator and MDYMP Coordinator she is joining two of her passions—the Mission and music.


You began working at CMC on January 4. How is it going so far?

It’s been going really well. One of the first things I’ve noticed is how supportive everyone is. It’s taken me a little bit of time to get my bearings, but now I really feel like I can be creative and provide ideas. The MDYMP and Teen Jazz Orchestra faculty, who I’ve been working with a lot, have great intentions, speaking to things that are happening in the world right now, and providing reassurance to the youth. It’s inspiring to sit in on classes. I’m hearing new music, so I have a list of new music artists to check out too. It’s also inspiring to be working with the staff and hearing the creativity of everyone’s ideas. 

Tell us a little about your background?

I’m originally from a small town in Washington called Wapato. I’ve moved around a lot, but have lived in San Francisco for almost seven years. I studied Urban Planning at SFSU. I was interested in how progressive politics inspires the culture in the city, which led me to focus on policy. I did an internship in District Nine Supervisor Hillary Ronan’s office. District Nine includes the Mission District, which reminds me of my hometown, so it was really great working for the Mission. I was excited to be working in a position that was catering to the needs of the people in the Mission, along with everyone else in District Nine. I got involved with Accion Latina as a volunteer. I started working on a project called La Pulguita out of Supervisor Ronan’s office. It was a free market that provided street vendors a safe and dignified place to sell their things. I’ve had this passion for music my whole life and have done performances throughout the Mission. I actually performed at CMC singing with Leo Rosales from Malo. 

What are some of the things you’re most proud of so far in your work life?

My work with La Pulguita, which was led by my friend Nathalie Guillen, is one of the things I am most proud of so far. I worked directly with people, hearing their needs, and what they were looking for in being able to sell their goods. Even though there were challenges, we were able to provide the vendors a good and safe space and also take into account newcomers in the Mission, bridging those two communities to find a middle ground. 

How did you first hear of CMC? 

One of my most memorable musical performances took place at CMC. I sang with Leo Rosales of Malo at a fundraiser with the SFSU Afro-Cuban Ensemble led by John Calloway!

What are you passionate about in your work?

I am passionate about working in one of my favorite places in the city, which is the Mission, and working with one of my favorite things, which is music—providing the community in the Mission with access to music. CMC is family-oriented which is what also drew me to the Mission. The Mission feels like home. 

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I’ve picked up gardening during quarantine. All my grandparents love to garden. Putting in the work, getting dirty, and getting to harvest your tomatoes—it’s a nice cycle. I eventually will be taking lessons at CMC. 

“What we’re listening to” with Jono Kornfeld: Spotlight on the Guitar

January 2021

“What we’re listening to” is a series of Spotify playlists curated by CMC faculty.

Jono Kornfeld teaches guitar, in addition to piano, composition, and music theory. His playlist is a journey into the guitar in its various and diverse forms. It should be noted that one of the songs on his playlist is from his funk jazz group Hop Sauce. (He neglected to mention it!) Hear Jono talk about this playlist in the video below.

Take a deep dive with faculty at CMC Sessions

Faculty from the Cultural Traditions Department, chaired by Tregar Otton, are leading four months of free workshops exploring a rich selection of music topics. Participants of all levels can take a deep dive into jazz, Chinese-American, Latin, old-time, gypsy jazz, and genre-crossing styles. The sessions offer engaging discussions, inspiring demonstrations, and musical tips in a creative format. Participants will have an opportunity to interact with the faculty through a Q & A. All levels of music students are invited to participate in as many workshops as they choose.

You’re invited to these free CMC Sessions:

Starting on February 9, Maestro and Nola Curtis are launching the series by leading a workshop on the impact of Black culture on different traditions of ensemble singing. Their session will be eye-opening in its scope, weaving cultural and historical revelations on a range of styles and variety of genres. On February 23, Jon Jang will share his musical language reflecting on his formation as a Chinese-American jazz artist and his revolutionary compositional style that integrates jazz and Chinese traditional songs.

Charlie Gurke will lead a session on March 9 exploring improvisation and using the clave rhythmic groove to develop ideas for all types of instruments. Miguel Govea offers a workshop about the intersection between culture, community activism, music creation, and education on March 23.

Grammy-winning artist Omar Ledezma Jr. will teach a session on April 13 about the extraordinary life and career of the Panamanian singer Rubén Blades, analyzing selected songs musically and lyrically, and performing some of his music. April 27 will feature Erik Pearson with a session all about the banjo—from its African and Caribbean roots to the present.

On May 11, Scott Feichter offers a workshop on Gypsy Jazz with musical examples tracing the history of this music and offering a glimpse at the latest generation of players. Allison Lovejoy completes the series on May 25 with a session all about how learning multiple musical styles has been important to her development as a pianist, composer, and teacher.