Bridging the technological divide for older adult choir members

Even as the Older Adult Choir Program has moved online with practice videos and Zoom sessions, there are limitations for some of the members. Those who don’t have devices to access Zoom and online videos or access to the internet are not able to participate in the choirs. Especially during the pandemic, when isolation is more prevalent, making the choirs accessible to everyone is of primary concern for María Cora, Older Adult Choir Program Coordinator. She has been working with the Community Tech Network (CTN) and its Home Connect program to address some of the technology challenges CMC’s choir program is facing. She surveyed the Older Adult Choir conductors to nominate members who need devices and training. In working with Home Connect an additional impediment was soon discovered. Many of the nominated older adults speak Spanish or Tagalog primarily and the Home Connect program, which is currently in a pilot phase, is still developing capacity to provide support to clients for whom English is not their primary language. In working with CTN, Cora is hopeful. This past week she learned from Stephen Minor, CTN Senior Program Manager, that the Home Connect Program has more capacity for working with Spanish-speakers through volunteer recruitment. Cora is also helping to connect CTN with someone from the Tagalog community to translate their learning materials.

The Older Adult Choirs will be meeting in a special six-week summer session. Learn more here.

Online jazz ensembles build valuable performance skills

As sheltering-in-place continues through the summer, the ensemble experience of playing music in real-time with others musicians remains a restricted activity. CMC faculty who teach ensembles have been innovating their classes to adapt to these restrictions. In Charlie Gurke’s jazz ensembles, they have gone from in-person weekly classes to Zoom sessions. According to Gurke, the main change in the ensemble has been a shift from focusing on rehearsing and performing to musicianship skills.

“A lot of what we’re doing is working on theory, ear-training, and analysis,” says Gurke.

He’s identified these components as important skills to bring into the performance environment. The weekly Zoom sessions are rich. Each week, the ensemble works through repertoire, with a guided practice of Gurke playing and the ensemble playing along on mute. He individually works with students, listening to their progress. The group works on transcribing, both recorded jazz solos and solos that ensemble members are composing. Melodically, harmonically, and rhythmically analyzing repertoire is also built into the weekly sessions. Gurke has received positive feedback that the students are enjoying addressing aspects of their musicality and honing these skills. In the future, when ensembles can meet in-person again, Gurke plans to carry over some of the valuable musicianship exercises that his remote ensembles have been exploring.


Virtual Field Day: A week of music and reflection

Jazz vocalist Faye Carol was one of the celebrity performers at Virtual Field Day. Listen HERE.

The CMC community united around the power of music during Virtual Field Day, which took place June 1 through 7 with a week-long broadcast of inspiring musical performances by CMC students, faculty, and friends. The week also coincided with the eruption of protests following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Because of the widespread civil unrest taking place, Virtual Field Day also became a moment for CMC to pause and reflect on the continuing impacts of racism both locally and throughout the country.

“For the last several weeks, CMC has excitedly been preparing to launch our Virtual Field Day celebrations scheduled to start today,” said Julie Rulyak Steinberg, Executive Director, in an email to the CMC community on June 1. “However, we need to pause and reflect on the pain and turmoil in our world. Our hearts go out to the communities and families who are suffering right now because of the ongoing impacts of racism.”

CMC followed up with a statement asserting the organization’s commitment to anti-racism and solidarity with the black community seeking justice for police brutality and wrongful deaths.

Spotlight on music and creativity
The Virtual Field Day broadcast live-streamed 185 performances in recorded videos showcasing talented community members of all music levels with a vast array of genres and styles represented. Performances included music celebrities such as Latin jazz vocalist Christelle Durandy with the Grammy-winning Pacific Mambo Orchestra and Faye Carol, local jazz legend. There were videos from some of CMC’s tuition-free programs, such as the Children’s Chorus and the Older Adult Choir Program, which showed not only performances, but also the processes of remote learning being utilized. The Young Musicians Program graduates recorded testimonial videos for their graduations and the Mission District Young Musicians Program seniors shared solo performances to mark their transitions out of the program.

The creativity of the video production to create an “ensemble sound” was an unexpected boon of the broadcasts. Max Gleason, a member of the Teen Jazz Orchestra, recorded a music video of himself playing all the instruments in the song he submitted. Brandie Norris/The Real Brandita, voice student of Jonathan Smucker, shared an original hip-hop inspired composition and highly produced music video.

Faculty supporting students
Faculty members helped students with accompaniment and video editing as well. Heidi Kim, in a project funded by the CMC Faculty Stimulus Grant, created duet videos with her students and edited the videos in a split-screen format. She also created “The Twinkle Project,” a seven minute long group piece of her students performing, which included accompaniment on piano, live-cartooning, and footage from the students’ daily lives. Elmira Lagundi, Older Adult Choir member, performed a duet with fellow choir member Wally Tettamanti, with accompaniment and editing by faculty members Martha Rodríguez Salazar and Jennifer Peringer. The Virtual Field Day broadcasts provided not only great music, but a candid look into the lives of CMC students and faculty, as they’ve been sheltering-in-place.

Fundraising challenge
To date, the Virtual Field Day participants have raised $60,700. The original goal of $60,000 was successfully reached and a stretch goal of $75,000 has been set. The additional funds will support online summer music camps for ages 8–18 and the Older Adult Choir Program through the summer, as well as support CMC operations and faculty salaries. The deadline for donations is June 30 and can be made at the link below.

Donate to Virtual Field Day


CMC faculty imagine a bright future with creative stimulus funding

Marcus Shelby and the Teen Jazz Orchestra discuss the creation of a collaborative musical suite about their reactions to COVID-19. 


CMC faculty members are getting a little boost of inspiration and support courtesy of an anonymous donor. The donor, who is a former CMC student, and CMC have created a grant called “Imagine the Future: A Creative Stimulus and Artist Support Grant for CMC Faculty.” The grant’s intention is to stimulate and support meaningful creative work for CMC faculty. The donor recognized the need for faculty to have not only financial support, but also to nurture creativity and the arts at a time when performing artists are facing devastating losses of income due to cancellations. The intention of the grant was to get musical artists thinking and feeling the spark of creativity during an otherwise dark time for the arts. The awards were announced to faculty last week.

CMC employs more than 130 music teachers, many of whom are gigging musicians relaying on the combination of music teaching and performing to make ends meet. CMC was quick to adopt online learning in mid-March transitioning thousands of lessons and classes to remote learning platforms like Zoom. The school has maintained 87% of its students throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and has kept nearly all of its faculty employed. The school received 56 grant applications and all were accepted with awards of up to $1,000. 

The creativity and diversity of the awarded projects makes the future seem bright, even as it’s unclear when concert halls will reopen for performances. Some of the projects include a musical suite by jazz musician Marcus Shelby, CMC Teen Jazz Orchestra Director, that builds on the real-life stories, thoughts, feelings, and experiences of the young musicians from his orchestra during the pandemic. Classical artists Jonathan Smucker and Michael Mohammed, who are both vocal faculty members and a married couple, are performing an online recital of Baroque duets on contrasting themes of proximity and distance mirroring their sheltering in place home-life and necessary distance from friends and family. Allison Lovejoy, piano faculty member, will use the funding to finish composing and scoring a duet for vocals and piano about Juana Briones, who was one of the earliest settlers of San Francisco, a courageous healer, and humanitarian. Folk artist, composer, and guitar teacher Erik Pearson has been having short, week-night concerts on his front porch in South Berkeley with his wife Sonya Hunter for passersby during the pandemic. The funding will support streaming these concerts and “keeping it interesting” for their neighbors. Composer, jazz musician, and CMC Jazz Ensemble Director Charlie Gurke’s project pays tribute to the scores of musicians he collaborates with on a weekly basis. He’s composing a short solo piece for each based on his collaborator’s phone number. As Gurke put it, “We (musicians) may find other ways to generate income, moving much of what we do online, etc. But what is irreplaceable is the experience of making music in real time with other musicians. This project is intended as a tribute to that experience and to the musicians I’ve shared it with.” 

Some of the projects will presented at Virtual Field Day during the week of June 1–7. A few of these projects include violin faculty member Josepha Fath’s. She has been sheltering-in-place with the music of Bach. She and her students will be sharing what they’ve been working on and how Bach’s music can be a source of strength and benefit all ages and levels of musicians. Rachel Condry, clarinet faculty member and chamber music coach, has found new inspiration through the premise of the grant and will be working on recordings of Steve Reich and Eric Dolphy compositions, plus writing  a Pauline Oliveros-esque Deep Listening meditation. Some of these recordings will be shared as part of Virtual Field Day. Heidi Kim who teaches violin and viola, will be creating mash-up videos to accompany her students’ Field Day submissions. She is also going to do a group piece involving her students and live cartooning, which will portray a familiar tune in a creative way.

The projects are windows into the creative lives of CMC faculty members during the pandemic—sharing what they’re been feeling, thinking, experiencing during this life-altering moment. Expect to see a renaissance of creative work emerging from these 56 faculty members over the next 18 months.

Saying “Thank You” with a little music

One of CMC’s board members and students, Cathi Kwon, hatched a beautiful idea. In appreciation of all the many people who continue to go to jobs and provide services for the many who are staying at home, she wants to say, “Thank you” with music. In the spirit of Italians singing from balconies during their quarantine, her idea is that on Wednesdays at 6:00 PM people can show their appreciation by playing “With a Little Help from my Friends” by the Beatles. People can play music out their windows and/or video themselves playing. CMC will take these videos and share them with the world through our social media.

Cathi has put together a website of resources with sheet music and instructions about how to upload a video of yourself playing. Will you join this movement by playing along and sharing a video? Visit the Musical Thank You site and also join the Facebook group to stay in the loop.

Musical Thank You Website

Facebook Group


Cathi Kwon shares the Musical Thank You idea in this video:

Celebrating the power of music and community at CMC’s online Gala

On Thursday, April 23, CMC’s Gala will go online with a program featuring sensational faculty performances and community voices. Gala guests can expect to be uplifted with great music and candid moments into the lives of CMC students and faculty during an unparalleled moment in CMC’s history.

“It feels important to assemble our community, to celebrate our successes, and share stories during this time,” said Julie Rulyak Steinberg. “Music has a remarkable way of bringing people together, and we have much to celebrate!”

Exceptional faculty performances
There will be performances by The Curtis Family C-Notes and Marcus Shelby. Faculty members Beth Wilmurt, Marcus Shelby, Nola Curtis, and Maestro Curtis will be interviewed during the program, sharing their experiences of staying connected to their students over the past month of CMC’s closure.

“With an online Gala, we want to share the same inspiration and fabulous performances that you would experience at our in-person Gala,” said Development Manager Elenka Refsell. “We also want to provide a window into the ingenious ways in which music-learning is forging ahead.”

Student voices featured
At the online event, there will be a focus on student voices, in particular the Children’s Chorus. Beth Wilmurt, who directs the chorus, has been making practice videos for her students. For some families, these moments of practice are helpful in providing a routine during a topsy turvy time. As Yaron Milgrom, father of three Children’s Chorus students said in a recent interview,

“Days really blend together for our family. Having some semblance of normal music and singing songs they usually sing twice a week— it’s just part of keeping a sense of normalcy. Hearing their voices singing together feels like a break.”

Party perks
Other high points of the festivities will include a Salsa dance lesson with Luna Alonso, CMC Cuban Charanga Ensemble member, plus a curated playlist of Cuban salsa music for Gala guests. There will be party perks too like a recipe for a special cocktail to make at home during the Gala and a partnership with PRAIRIE restaurant to pre-order delectable dishes for pick-up.

The online Gala will be shared securely via Zoom.


Music is a lifeline for older adults

For CMC, the COVID-19 crisis hit early. Senior centers around San Francisco were the first to close their doors in early March and older adults were the first population recommended to socially distance themselves. With these closures the CMC Older Adult Choir Program, which serves nearly 400 older adults in senior centers throughout San Francisco, immediately transitioned to an online format, where choir faculty started making videos.

Early response
“We know that older adults are a group that is more likely to feel socially isolated, even without a health emergency in effect,” said Maria Cora, Older Adult Choir Program Coordinator “Our choir program alleviates some of this emotional burden for many of them. Completely shutting down these choirs was not an option. We wanted to provide a lifeline for them and keep the choir experience in the lives of our choir members, especially during a time when there’s so much uncertainty in the world.”

The Older Adult Choir Program staff and choir faculty responded by making Youtube videos with vocal warm-ups, stretching exercises, songs, and messages of hope. “The choir I attend occupies a big place in my life. Not having it has created a hole,” said Judith Turner who is a member of CMC Coro Solera at the Mission Neighborhood Center. “Turning on Youtube and seeing my beloved teachers has been wonderful and great. It makes a difference to see my teachers projecting something positive and very upbeat during this time.”

Silver linings
Another unanticipated benefit of the videos is that they provide professional quality practice recordings for choir members, a resource choir members didn’t have before. “When we return to meeting again, we won’t have missed a step,” said Turner. “My teachers are recording all the vocal parts on videos. It’s actually really helpful having these recordings to practice with.”

Though videos can’t provide in-person community, the videos help fill in the gap of the weekly choir routine that many members are missing. Seeing the supportive faces of their choir faculty provides much more than music. In the case of Nola and Maestro Curtis, who direct and accompany the CMC Western Addition Older Adult Choir, their choir rehearsal video includes video effects and uplifting messages like “Get up and Dance” and “Stay Healthy.” All the choir videos that faculty have made include candid moments, where the care that the faculty have for their choir members is palpable. At a time when the media is full of dire news, seeing a familiar face and practicing music is a silver lining.

Taking Lessons Online

With the City of San Francisco’s direction to shelter-in-place, Community Music Center is not holding on-site lessons and classes at its Mission District and Richmond District Branches from March 14–April 7. All CMC concerts and events during this period have also been cancelled.

We will miss our cherished community during this time, but the music will go on! We are offering lessons and classes through remote forms of instruction during the closure so that learning and teaching go uninterrupted. Expect communications from our staff and faculty regarding your lessons and classes.

While this is an incredibly challenging time for artists, organizations, and people all around the globe, we find great comfort in the role that music plays in connecting and consoling our communities in times of duress. We hope you’ll stay connected with CMC, and continue sharing in the special power of music— we need it now more than ever!

What’s it like to take a remote lesson or class?

CMC faculty are employing the latest technology and using creative approaches to provide high-quality music education and staying connected to their students, during a time when CMC’s sites are closed. For private lessons, teachers are using Zoom, Facetime, Skype, and Google Meet, which are video conferencing platforms for one-on-one, realtime lessons. For group classes, faculty are using video uploaded to Youtube, audio recordings, and video conferencing platforms to supplement classes. Our dedicated faculty are developing engaging new ways for our students to learn and practice, so high quality teaching can continue even when we can’t be together in person.

The CMC Operations Team is available to help students install and use remote learning platforms and trouble-shoot problems. Just contact us at

Take a look at some of these examples to see how an online lesson or class might look:

Phoenix Curtis takes a Zoom violin lesson with Heidi Kim, strings faculty member.  


Daniel Fabricant, Musical Storytime faculty member, created a video class for this week’s classes.


Omar Ledezma Jr., percussion faculty member, recorded a demo Latin percussion lesson on Zoom to demonstrate the experience.


Older Adult Choir members are loving having rehearsal videos online to sing with! Maestro and Nola Curtis made this video for the Western Addition Older Adult Choir, complete with warm ups, repertoire, and tips for staying healthy. 


Won’t you join in the fun, and keep the music going? Enrollment for Spring Quarter is happening now.

Questions? We’re here to help! Want to share how your lessons are going to encourage other students? Just drop us a line at


Violins of Hope at Community Music Center

By Suzanne Korey

On Saturday, February 15, I attended Violins of Hope in the Community Music Center Concert Hall.

The moment the musician put her bow on the string, the power of the Violins of Hope was clear. These stringed instruments, which belonged to prisoner-musicians from the camps of the Holocaust, represent what is both the worst and best of humanity: the cruelty of war and the beauty of art, the power of faith. Now, through the devotion of Amnon Weinstein, a renowned violin maker, these instruments have been beautifully restored and are being shared in schools and concert halls around the world. 

The Community Music Center was fortunate to see the instruments and hear the Ariel quartet perform two virtuosic pieces with these treasured violins and cellos: Prokefiev’s Sonata for Two Violins and the first movement of Schubert’s Death of a Maiden. Avshi Weinstein, Amnon’s son and a craftsman himself, is traveling with the instruments on a two-month tour of Bay Area venues.

In a perverse use of art, Jews incarcerated in the camps were ordered to play in orchestras for the entertainment of the guards, during labor marches, during executions. For some of these musicians, being a violinist probably saved their lives. James Grymes, author of Violins of Hope, said that “Wherever there were violins, there was hope.” Perhaps that is what the audience took away from the performance – even in the face of the most unspeakable horror, where there is music and beauty there is hope.

It takes a village: The Bernal Hill Players and the spirit of collaboration

The 25th Anniversary season of the Shenson Faculty Concert Series at Community Music Center kicks off on Sunday, February 23 with It Takes a Village with the Bernal Hill Players. Their chamber music program emphasizes multiculturalism, women’s empowerment, and celebrates San Francisco’s vibrant local musical community. The concert highlights music by North and South American composers in diverse styles, including classical, folk, tango, contemporary, and experimental. It also features a commission by CMC faculty member and composer Erik Pearson.

Bernal Hill Players and the spirit of collaboration
Martha Rodríguez-Salazar (CMC flute/voice faculty and choir conductor) and Jennifer Peringer (CMC piano faculty and choir accompanist) founded the Bernal Hill players in 2008. The spirit of collaboration has always been a core principle since the early days of the Bernal Hill Players with CMC students and other musicians as performing members. The upcoming concert It Takes a Village pays homage to this collaborative vision, which fuels creativity and innovation for the group. As Peringer says, “One of the concepts behind the concert title is that it takes a village to continue to grow and flourish in our creative path. We love inviting others to play with us.” Peringer and Rodríguez are opening the door to new collaborators in the upcoming performance with CMC faculty members Rachel Condry (clarinet) and Annelise Zamula (woodwinds) performing, as well as Sharon Wayne (guitar) who is a CMC community member. Piano faculty member Matylda Rotkiewicz will also join the program performing a piano duet with Peringer. Each skilled player comes from a different musical path, yet they find common ground in classical chamber music. For Rodriguez, it’s a “joy to be able to make music with so much diversity of musical expertise.”

Building bridges through repertoire
The upcoming chamber concert explores themes of multiculturalism and women’s empowerment. Both of these themes reveal other important aspects of the Bernal Hill Players’ ethos. As Peringer puts it, “One of the goals of Bernal Hill Players has always been to cross musical bridges.” With their choice of repertoire the group has sought to celebrate cultures and diverse voices, whether those be in the Bay Area, Mexico, or South America, in addition to the European classical music canon. For the group, the theme of celebrating cultures takes on special meaning in the current political climate. As Peringer says, “It feels important during this time when there is so much tension between the United States and Mexico, Central, and South America to build bridges and not walls.” Through the input of ensemble collaborator Rachel Condry, the concert program explores compositions of Pauline Oliveros. For the group, it was important to put forward Oliveros’s feminsist voice during a historical moment when women’s voices are at the center of discourse. Oliveros’s work was also selected for her anti-virtuosic musical sensibilities—to bring people together to experience musical performance as communal and spiritual.

A concert for “everyone”
It Takes a Village features musical configurations of duos, trios, and quintets, while also rejoicing in the motif of inclusion. The audience will be included and invited to experience music in a non-traditional way, with moments for participation and meditative listening. For the group, CMC feels like the perfect place to present a concert that crosses musical boundaries, celebrates cultural and gender diversity, and seeks to include everyone in the musical experience. As Rodríguez says, “CMC is also a musical home to the Bernal Hill Players, so this theme of ‘inclusion,’ ties into CMC’s mission. It feels like the right place and right time to offer this concert.”