A triumphant song for equality: An interview with Maestro Curtis

March 17, 2022

As part of our centennial celebrations, CMC is proud to present the world premiere of a commissioned new work by acclaimed composer-performer and longtime faculty member Maestro Curtis, PhD on April 23 at 1 pm as part of the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival. The premiere of Curtis’ “A Song of Triumph: The History of Black Music” will feature Maestro Curtis PhD, The Curtis Family C-Notes and special guests, including Dorothy Morrison, Bishop James Adams, Juan Escovedo, Pastor Harold Gordon, Ken Little, Larry Douglas, Ricardo Scales, Tony Bolivar, J.R. Hall, Tina Bryant, and Neil Stallings. (Learn more about the guest artists below.) The commission and premiere are an extension of CMC’s Black Music Studies Program.

A Song of Triumph: The History of Black Music
Saturday, April 23 at 1pm
Yerba Buena Gardens Festival
760 Howard St, San Francisco

“This is a celebration of real American history, love, respect, and the contributions of American Black culture, which has impacted the world and crossed all ethnic and color lines,” said Curtis.

Curtis describes the works as “a symphonic musical opera about the journey of the descendants of slaves, who we identify as Black Americans.” Concert goers will experience storytelling through music about historical periods in Black American history in “A Song of Triumph.” According to Curtis, the underlying themes of this composition will encapsulate both the pain and the beauty of the Black American experience. From the tremendous suffering of slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights struggles, and into today’s racial justice movement, “A Song of Triumph” is a celebration of the remarkable beauty that Black Americans have given to the music world through the transmutation of this pain.

As Curtis said, “Field songs and spirituals that came from the invisible church— gave birth to the blues, barbershop, gospel, a new church and style of praise, jazz, country, early bluegrass, folk, rock and roll, RnB, funk, reggae and hip hop, bringing an artistic expression, beauty and genius to the entire world.”

In talking about the title of the composition, Curtis shared, “The song of triumph is the soundtrack of our lives–a conversation of moving the needle towards equality. Maybe we move the needle a little bit, but we still have a long way to go. We must move triumphantly towards that goal of equality, making sure that people are treated with dignity, regardless of race, creed, color, gender, or whatever you want to apply.”

A note about the special guest musicians who are a star-studded group with remarkable credits: 

Dorothy Morrison (Grammy Award winning singer of “Oh Happy Day,” Edwin Hawkins Singers, toured/recorded with Huey Lewis and the News), Bishop James Adams (activist, evangelist, and pastor), Juan Escovedo (of the famous E Family: Sheila E., Papa Pete Escovedo, and Peter Michael Escovedo), Pastor Harold Gordon (of the famed San Francisco civil rights institution Jones Memorial United Methodist Church with members such as Mayor Willie Brown and Johnny Mathis), Ken Little (played with gospel legends James Cleveland, James Carr, Tim Toston, performed at the Gospel Music Workshop of America, music producer, composer, and choir director), Larry Douglas (long time Bay Area music educator, music director for Johnny Otis and Shugie Otis, Ray Charles, and many more), legendary Ricardo Scales (concert pianist, composer, and music producer, has played for celebrities, and dignitaries from all over the world, including five American presidents, known as the Bay Area’s “Black Liberace”), Tony Bolivar (activist, professor, music minister, creator of Dream Achievers [an ensemble of musicians with Autism touring the U.S. and internationally], also performed with the likes of Andraé Crouch and Alvin Slaughter), J.R. Hall (from the famed Edwin & Walter Hawkins Singers, has  performed gospel music in the biggest arenas in the world), Tina Bryant (composer, producer, singer, pianist, played on programs with Kirk Franklin, John P. Kee, Daryl Coley, Hezekiah Walker, Ed Kelly, the Oakland Symphony, Bobby Jones, and many more), and legendary Bay Area guitarist Neil Stallings (performed and toured with King Floyd, The Four Tops, Albert Collins, Big Mama Thornton, Sly Stone, and The Platters, to name a few).

100-Year-Old SF Community Music Center Breaks Ground on New Building

Feb. 15, 2022
Chloe Veltman
100-Year-Old SF Community Music Center Breaks Ground on New Building

The San Francisco Community Music Center (CMC) is breaking ground Wednesday on a new building next door to its existing facility on Capp Street in The Mission.

Julie Rulyak Steinberg, executive director of the 100-year-old non-profit, says the expansion will almost double the number of students CMC serves, which currently stands at around 3,000.

“We have been short of space for about 30 years,” says Steinberg. “For us to be able to to continue to say we serve everyone, that’s really a high priority for us.”

The new building at 552 Capp Street will add soundproofed classroom and performance spaces as well as increase ADA accessibility. “We expect to welcome over a thousand new students to our expanded Mission campus,” Steinberg says.

CMC purchased the new building 10 years ago. Steinberg says it will cost around $15 million to renovate, of which around $13 million has already been raised through philanthropy and market tax credit financing. The building is scheduled to open next February, capping a year of centennial celebrations for the organization which also includes musical commissions and performances.

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Community Music Center celebrates 100 years with a concert on steroids

Feb. 28, 2022
San Francisco Examiner
James Ambroff-Tahan
Community Music Center celebrates 100 years with a concert on steroids

For 100 years now, San Francisco’s Community Music Center has stood out for its mission of making music accessible for all people, regardless of financial means. It has offered classes tuition-free or on a sliding scale taught by local talents in Latin, jazz, blues, Middle Eastern and string orchestra, serving 3,000 student annually.

On Wednesday evening, CMC will celebrate its centennial with a benefit gala and concert of star performing artists at the Julia Morgan Ballroom. Performers include mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, tenor Pene Pati, soprano Amina Edris, contralto Paula West, pianist Jake Heggie, guitarist Jason Vieaux, trumpeter Sean Jones, the Marcus Shelby Trio, the Alexander String Quartet and percussionist John Santos.

“Everybody who is performing has been a part of our mission, whether they have worked with our students, done concerts here for free or done master classes,” said CMC Executive Director Julie Rulyak Steinberg of the gala. “We thought, ‘What if we had a CMC recital on steroids?’”

CMC is growing in physical size and number of students served. In February, the nonprofit broke ground on an expansion of its main Mission District Branch at 552 Capp St. — there’s also a campus in the Richmond District at 741 30th Ave. — which will allow CMC to teach music to 1,000 more students.

“There is a struggle between wanting to grow profitably and reaching more folks,” Steinberg said. “We are lucky to have a huge resource of really talented teachers and people working with us; but for us, it’s about capacity and space. CMC has been so constrained by how much space and financial resources we have available.”

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