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
Free

“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).

Reimagining musical collaboration and community: An interview with Cava Menzies

February 22,2022

On April 4, CMC is launching (Re)Imagine: 100 New Works from Cava Menzies & Community Music Center to commemorate 100 years of music for everyone. This project is in collaboration with artist, composer, and educator Cava Menzies and will result in 100 new works—50 created by Menzies in collaboration with international and local musicians and 50 created by YMP and MDYMP. These works will be shared digitally from April 4 to May 23 with an in-person event on May 14. 

(Re)Imagine emerged from collaborative pieces that Menzies made during the earliest days of the pandemic. Menzies, who has been a music educator for nearly 20 years with a long affiliation with Oakland School of the Arts (OSA), began remote collaboration videos with her students soon after shelter-in-place started. These short pieces were powerful moments of self-expression and creative responses to landmark moments during 2020, including the murder of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. These videos spread quickly on social media, resulting in collaborations with other artists, OSA alumni, and international artists. 

In the (Re)Imagine project, Menzies is further developing these impactful compositional methods under the overarching theme of “reimagine.” For Menzies, this theme speaks to a world slowly reemerging from an unprecedented pandemic. As Menzies shared, “We’re reimagining what collaboration looks like, what connection looks like, what community looks like, especially as we’re seeing all the different ways that people have been impacted by the pandemic.” 

Menzies, who has been an artist-in-residence with YMP and MDYMP since January, is providing a framework for the youth to explore three topic areas: cultural identity, critical community issues, and world music/culture with an emphasis on student-centered learning, inquiry, and self-expression. As Cava said, “It actually doesn’t matter what your skill level is or where you’re at on your journey as a musician. Music has a healing quality as a tool to comment on what’s going on in your life and in the world.” 

For Menzies, working with the young musicians has been revelatory. “I love the genius of young people,” said Menzies. “I think there’s magic in them. Just to be able to tap into how young people are thinking about the times right now—that’s a message that we all have to listen to and take the time for.” The residency concludes in March. 

The (Re)Imagine project is a powerful tool to creatively respond to a world that is struggling to find balance. “We’re all grappling together,” said Menzies. “None of us know the outcome. None of us know how this is all going to unfold. The idea that we would embark on something together with the unknown and infuse it with beauty, creativity, and thoughtfulness is a beautiful representation of humanity.”  

Watch your email box in the coming weeks for an invitation to receive daily videos from the (Re)Imagine project, bringing musical inspiration to your day!

 


An inside look at the (Re)Imagine residency

YMP and MDYMP students are developing a wide range of work from exploring concepts related to racial division in the U.S and gentrification, to invoking thankfulness despite loss “Gratitud y perdición,” to “CMC Feelings” about the joy of music at CMC, to exploration of the traditional music from the heritage of students in the program. Cava Menzies and the faculty have been helping the young musicians identify what musical concepts can best express their reflections and creative ideas, as well as providing feedback throughout the process.

Miguel Govea (MDYMP faculty) leads an improvisational exercise for his winds students.

Miguel Govea, MDYMP faculty:
“The project and composition process has been fascinating and fun. Mainly, I wanted each student to play within their comfort level on their instrument and to focus on conveying emotion rather than exhibiting proficiency. It only took a few weeks to get them used to playing without written parts, to trust their ears, and to believe in their own abilities.”

Gian Velasquez, MDYMP student, age 17:
“I was inspired by ‘Mambo Mongo,’  a Latin jazz/funk piece by Mongo Santamaria. I liked it because it takes music from different cultures and brings the music together into a cultural melting pot. In our group, we are creating a similar kind of piece. My idea was to take Latin music and fuse it with American bebop— two seemingly separate genres that are African at their core. Having this experience for me and for the group is beautiful. I’m experiencing what it would be like to become a professional musician, since we’re learning to start a song from scratch. It’s super empowering.”

Cava Menzies works with a YMP student.
MDYMP students and faculty working on an ensemble piece. Gian Velasquez on congas.
YMP student writing down ideas for the project.

 

Chamber Music Program expands its offerings

CMC’s Chamber Music Ensemble Program has been growing by leaps and bounds. Since the Fall Quarter, the program has blossomed from three students to 22. The program still offers standard classical music groups, but has opened up the formation of groups based on the musical interests of the applicants. This has resulted in folk and blues chamber ensembles, along with the classical groups the program is known for.

For Katrina Wreede, Chamber Music Program Coordinator, the goals of the program are to get CMC students playing music together, playing the music they are most interested in playing, matching them with compatible musicians, and finding inspiring chamber music coaches from the CMC Faculty who have expertise in the genre. Chamber group configurations right now are duos and trios to limit possibilities of COVID exposure. Groups are limited to older teens and adults, and require a short Zoom audition.

It’s not too late to join a group this quarter!

Learn more about the program at the link below, and then fill out the chamber music inquiry form to get started. Tuition for group classes is reduced by 50% with concurrent enrollment in private lessons. (Limit one group class reduction per private lesson enrollment).

Chamber Music at CMC

Breaking ground on a new century

January 20, 2022

On Wednesday, February 16, CMC will hold a festive groundbreaking event for the long-awaited campus expansion project. This short ceremony will feature students and faculty from the Children’s Chorus, Mission District Young Musicians Program, Mission District Older Adult Choirs, and members of the SFUSD Mariachi Program performing “If I Had a Hammer” and “Las Mañanitas.” Participating faculty will include Martha Rodríguez-Salazar, Beth Wilmurt, Miguel Govea, Susan Peña, Sharon Wayne, and Tregar Otton. The event will take place in CMC’s courtyard at the Mission District Branch

As CMC celebrates its 100th birthday this year, its mission remains unchanged: music for all people, regardless of their financial means. This expansion into the neighboring building at 552 Capp Street will allow CMC to increase accessibility, provide more music spaces, and improve the quality of our facilities. Highlights of the expansion include, additional large classrooms for ensembles and group classes, another recital hall for performances, and ADA accessibility. This expansion will enhance the current tuition-free programs and enable the launch of new programs that address critical community needs. Construction is scheduled to begin January 30 and will take approximately 12 months to complete. Construction updates can be found here.

Breaking Ground on a New Century
Wednesday, February 16, 2022 from 2:00–2:45pm
Mission District Branch Courtyard
RSVP to attend.
Space is limited. Proof of vaccination and masks are required to attend.

RSVP to attend

CMC Sessions 2022: Traditions Moving Forward

December 17, 2021

By Grace Huenemann and Tregar Otton

Two highly successful projects from last year, “CMC Sessions,” from the cultural traditions department, and “Spotlight Seminars” from the piano department, are joining together in an exciting collaboration funded by a CMC Faculty Partnership Grant.

CMC Sessions: Traditions Moving Forward will begin in January 2022, and will showcase the talents of ten CMC faculty members from diverse classical and non-classical traditions. The online presenters will use video, audio, and lecture-demonstrations to illustrate the influences and musical education that shaped them, and to highlight how their unique interests impact their teaching and performing at CMC. Their personal stories illustrate the breadth of talent among CMC’s teachers and show some of the ways the school is creatively adapting historical traditions to inspire and guide the musicians of tomorrow. These presentations by our fantastic faculty are going to be fascinating. Be sure to tune in!

The free series will be broadcast live through Zoom on Thursdays from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. Students, faculty, and friends of the CMC community are welcome. The participants and topics are listed below.

Meet these talented and inspiring faculty:

January 13 Jennifer Peringer A CMC Teacher’s Musical Journey of Multicultural Explorations, Creative Expression, and Community Engagement

January 27 Larry Dunn How Jump Swing Influenced My Music Making

February 10 Tregar Otton Classical Foundations, Popular and Traditional Performance and Pedagogy

February 24 Omar Ledezma Jr. The Music of Pacific Mambo Orchestra: A Percussionist’s Perspective

March 10 Jon Jang One Day American, One Day Alien: Black & Brown Artists Who Made the National Anthem Their Own

March 24 Evelyn Davis Beginning Improvisation

June 9 Joshua Saulle Vocal Traditions and Choral Innovations

June 16 Michaela Overall Teaching and Supporting the Neurodiverse Piano Student

June 23 Lilia Zheltova Traditions of the Russian Piano School and Their Implementation in Today’s American Teaching

June 30 Martha Rodríguez-Salazar Bridging Cultures and Creating Communities: How My Binational Experience Shaped My Musical Perspectives.

RSVPs for this series at the above links. 

CMC celebrate the season this December

As the year comes to a close, CMC’s Older Adult Choir Program is excited to celebrate the season with a return to in-person performances with festive concerts during the month of December. The concerts take place at CMC and around the city. These year-end performances feature songs in many styles and languages: from jazz standards to traditional folk songs from Latin America and the Philippines, to showtunes and oldies, these songs are sure to bring holiday cheer.

Due to public health restrictions, some concerts are not open to the public unless by performer invitation. Please note health and safety rules for each venue.

Older Adult Choir December Concerts:

Friday, December 1o at 2:00pm – CMC Solera Singers of Mission Neighborhood Center at Mission Neighborhood Center, 362 Capp Street. Audience by participant invitation only.

Saturday, December 11 at 5:00pm – Parol Lantern Festival Sing-Along with performances by CMC Bayanihan Equity Center Older Adult Choir at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 710 Mission Street

Monday, December 13 at 2:00pm – CMC Castro Older Adult Choir at Community Music Center Concert Hall, 544 Capp Street. Audience by participant invitation only.

Wednesday, December 15 at 1:30pm – CMC Bernal Heights Older Adult Choir at Community Music Center Concert Hall, 544 Capp Street. Audience by participant invitation only.

Wednesday, December 15 at 5:00pm – Caroling with CMC IT Bookman Older Adult Choir at San Francisco Civic Center. More details to be announced.

Stay tuned for more performances to be announced!

 

Erick Peralta: My musical home

November 18, 2021

Erick Peralta, pianist and CMC faculty member (Beginning Jazz Ensemble/piano), found his musical home at CMC at a young age. He grew up in the Mission District under the creative influence of his father, who was the bandleader of a salsa band. Erick would attend rehearsals when he was as young as three, where he would sit on his dad’s lap at the piano. Not surprisingly, Erick showed musical promise early on. Pianist, trumpeter, and CMC faculty member Marco Diaz was in his father’s band at the time and was also a CMC student. He recommended that Erick study music at CMC.

As a six-year-old, Erick started with Music for Children, and after one class it was clear that he was ready for private piano lessons. He studied classical music at CMC from age six to 12, and again later in his teens. Erick credits CMC with his foundations in technique and theory.

CMC was a wonderful opportunity for me,” said Erick. “It provided me with what I needed at the time, which was musical education and accessibility. There’s nothing like it.”

He left the piano for a few years, but came back to it. This time, he explored other genres, such as popular, jazz, and Latin, and began playing professionally. After high school, Erick studied biology and nursing at USF, but his heart wasn’t in it. He took some time off to play music, and was encouraged to apply to the Berklee School of Music where he got a scholarship.

On a summer break, when Erick was performing at Mission Carnaval, Sylvia Sherman, CMC Program Director, saw him play. When she learned Erick was a former CMC student, she suggested he stay connected to CMC, which he did after college. Erick found his way back to CMC when he applied to teach on the piano faculty and was hired in 2016. 

Erick loves the diversity of the students he teaches and enjoys sharing musical knowledge. He sees the many benefits of CMC’s programming.

As Erick said: “I see a lot of youth come through CMC. Not only do the students of today get the musical side of things, but also a sense of home and a support system. It feels like a home to me, not only musically, but how it fits into the Mission District community.” 

Peralta has performed with multi-Grammy winners Luis Enrique, Susana Baca, and Alejandro Sanz. Along with performing, Erick composes and arranges jazz, pop, and Latin music.

Study with Erick

Eva “Nena” Aldaz: Going full circle

October 18, 2021

As part of our Centennial celebrations, the Mission District Young Musicians Program (MDYMP) will be presenting a special intergenerational performance at Acción Latina’s community art stroll Paseo Artístico: History Matters in the Mission on Sat. October 23. This event will highlight alumni in collaboration with the young musicians and feature an appearance by beloved local superstar and CMC alum La Doña (Cecilia Peña-Govea). Older adult choir members from the Mission District will also be singing with the ensemble, making for three generations of CMC students performing together!

Eva Aldaz in 2013

One of the alumni performing at Paseo Artístico will be Eva “Nena” Aldaz. During her high school years growing up in Bernal Heights, she was a member of MDYMP, which included a scholarship for weekly voice lessons. She describes her musical upbringing at CMC as “invaluable.” Aldaz credits Martha Rodríguez Salazar, her vocal coach in MDYMP, with introducing her to classical music. The education she received in this CMC program and support for her gifts gave Aldaz the confidence and passion to pursue music professionally. She received a degree in vocal performance from UC Irvine and then received her Master of Music degree from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music this past May.

“Martha and all the other teachers in MDYMP saw a lot of potential in me,” said Aldaz. “They encouraged me and gave me a lot of confidence.”

Now she is the vocal coach for MDYMP and a private voice faculty member. She describes the process of becoming a CMC faculty member in 2019 as “going full circle.”

Aldaz explained: “Being in the community, learning from the teachers at CMC and then being able to give back through teaching is amazing.”

As a new teacher in MDYMP, she found the same support in the program that she experienced as a student.

Aldaz shared: “The other teachers have supported me through everything. They wanted me to succeed. They wanted me to have a job in the field that I studied for. They wanted me to keep doing music and spreading that to our community as well. I am honored to do that.”

The importance of CMC in the lives of youth cannot be overstated in Aldaz’s opinion.

“It’s so important, said Aldaz. “We still had Zoom classes for MDYMP during the pandemic. Even though sometimes the kids had their cameras off or would not come to class, we still made it a point to check in with them and make sure that they were doing okay. Besides providing support during the pandemic, providing all these music lessons on a sliding scale is what the community needs. People need music in their lives. It teaches us so many different things across so many different disciplines. Music education is important. It brings the community together.”

CMC at Paseo Artístico: History Matters in the Mission

Saturday, October 23 at 3:30pm outside Adobe Books, 3130 24th Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

Learn More

Marco Diaz: A musical upbringing at CMC

September 15, 2021

Marco Diaz’s commanding presence in the Bay Area music scene has its foundations in the scholarship program at Community Music Center. For this trumpet player and pianist, who is the bandleader for Cuban singer Bobi Céspedes and a central member of the John Santos Sextet, Diaz’s love of music began in public school. 

“I heard the trumpet for the first time when I was in fourth grade,” said Diaz. “I knew it was the instrument I was going to be playing.” 

This passion for music was nurtured and developed through the scholarship program at CMC taking Diaz through his high school years in the early 1990’s and preparing him for studying music at San Francisco State. 

“I started taking piano lessons at CMC in the eighth grade,” said Diaz. “In my first year of high school, I auditioned for a scholarship, and I was awarded piano lessons, trumpet lessons and jazz theory. That blew everything open for me. That was it. I was hooked.”

The encouragement to pursue music and sports activities was also given by Diaz’s family. 

Diaz said: “They would tell us: ‘We want you to have a way to express feelings that you have but that you may not have words for.’” 

As an educator, Diaz provides similar encouragement to his students. As a faculty member at CMC in MDYMP and Campamento CMC / Camp CMC this past July, Diaz nurtured spaces of safety and artistic expression for the youth.

Diaz explained: “With all that’s going on in the world, in addition to just being a teenager together with all that turmoil, music is a place where you can be yourself and not feel like you’re being judged. It provides a great place for kids to have a healthy dialogue with each other and also to get to know themselves. I think that’s pretty amazing.”  

See Marco Diaz perform in-person in a solo piano performance, “Journey through the Americas and the Great American Songbook”on Monday, September 20 at 2pm at Flower Piano in the Celebration Garden. Learn more about the concert and get tickets HERE

 

 

Maestro Curtis: Legacy, history, and America’s Got Talent

Maestro Curtis, CMC faculty member since 2013, is having quite a moment. His family band, The Curtis Family C-Notes, is going to compete in the America’s Got Talent (AGT) quarter-finals on August 24. Then, on August 31, he’ll launch the Black Music Studies Program, CMC’s newest tuition-free program. As teachers at CMC, Maestro and his wife, Nola Curtis, have taught piano, voice, directed choirs in the Older Adult Choir Program and led group classes. Their five children have grown up in the halls of CMC studying various instruments and participating in the vocal harmony classes their parents taught.

“Community Music Center has literally changed our lives,” said Maestro Curtis. “The community of musicians and the leadership has allowed us to thrive not only in what we love to do, but as community activists.”

The Black Music Studies Program which Maestro Curtis developed, follows the emergence of American music from the African Diaspora through talks, workshops and music practices taught online. 

Curtis explained: “If Gertrude Field [CMC’s founding director] were alive today, I believe she would have something like the Black Music Studies Program at the Community Music Center. I feel proud to be an extension of her legacy. This gutsy woman started something so remarkable a hundred years ago.”

In the new program, students will learn about the lineage of American music that developed out of the cultures of the African Diaspora, following the musical derivatives that evolved through the 20th century and into the music of today. The program is designed to inspire and empower students to have a fuller understanding of the roots of American music. 

“We want to validate the originators, composers and the people that gave this music to the world,” Maestro Curtis said. “We say ‘black music studies,’ but it belongs to everyone.” 

Musical examples will include early vocal ensembles (barbershop quartet), early jazz and blues (Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey), Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Motown and the music of today.

On August 24, Curtis will be taking the stage with Nola and their five children (Zahara, Nile, Kiki, Isis and Phoenix) as the family band The Curtis Family C-Notes. The C-Notes have been a source of inspiration in the Bay Area in recent years, performing in CMC’s Facebook live series in the spring of 2020, the mayoral inauguration and providing musical food deliveries in Bayview-Hunter’s Point. 

Curtis credits the CMC Facebook live series with AGT producers discovering them online. During the AGT quarter-finals, the C-Notes will perform live on national television along with 11 other groups with talents ranging from dance, music, comedy, poetry and sleight of hand. America will vote for their favorite contestants, and the acts with the most votes will advance to the next round. The winner of the competition will receive $1million. 

“We don’t look at music from the perspective of competing,” said Curtis. “We look at it as a way to bring joy…and now we get a bigger audience to be able to do that!”

Tune in to America’s Got Talent on Tuesday, August 24 at 6pm PT. You can follow the C-Notes on InstagramYouTube, and Facebook.

🎉 Go C-Notes!