Review: “Spotlight on Repertoire by Black Composers”

December 18, 2020
By Michaela Overall, piano faculty and Faculty Council Member-at-large

At a recent Piano Department seminar on December 11, “Spotlight on Repertoire by Black Composers,” Jennifer Peringer and Jon Jang presented a remarkable presentation on the contribution of Black composers within the classical canon. Peringer and Jang not only acknowledged the existence of Black classical composers, but the unique compositional voice of each writer.

For Peringer, her research into Black composers was inspired by the recent murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020. As conversations around dismantling racism have emerged, Peringer considered her role as a “classical pianist in helping to transform the institutional racism and sexism within the classical music world.” With brief performances of works by Zenobia Powell Perry, Tania León, and Erollyn Wallen, Peringer presented a variety of pieces that are suitable for both piano student and performer.

For Jang, his awareness and appreciation of Black composers reaches back into the 1970s during his time at Oberlin College. While studying music, Jang was mentored by Dr. Wendell Logan who taught the course Afro-American Music History. For Jang, this was “one of the most inspiring courses” taken at Oberlin. He would later compose an orchestral piece honoring the Chinese railroad workers who lost their lives while building the Transcontinental Railroad, a moment in Chinese American history that serves as a cultural connection for Jang. Black composers such as William Grant Still, Nathaniel Dett, Margaret Bonds, and Florence Price were discussed while Jang explored their various influences and compositional techniques such as Serialism, African rhythms and instrumentation, spirituals, and the blues. In addition to the spotlight on Black Composers, Jang acknowledged contemporary Black concert pianists such as Samanth Ege and Michelle Cann.

For more information, explore the growing list of works by Black composers compiled by the Ross McKee Foundation or visit the Music by Black Composers Directory. Jon Jang also compiled a list of resources for further study, which he used in his presentation.

Welcoming Susan Comstock & Michelle Navarrete

December 15, 2020

As 2020 comes to a close, we wanted to introduce some of our newest staff members. Both Susan Comstock and Michelle Navarrete started working in July. Like many staff members, Susan and Michelle are both artists—Susan is a visual artist and jewelry maker and Michelle is an actor and singer. We are very happy to have these amazing women onboard.
As the Finance Manager, Susan is a key member of the finance team, partnering with the executive team to manage the financial activities of the organization, Michelle is the Older Adult Choir Coordinator and works with the thirteen older adult choirs in partnership with senior centers throughout San Francisco.

Susan Comstock, Finance Manager

How has your time been at CMC so far?

CMC is a top-notch, quality workplace. Everyone is so nice! Overall, I’m impressed with the strength of the programs and love of everyone who supports the work. The management team is supportive. Julie has a great way of making staff feel at home. I feel supported in my work and appreciated. My 15 year old son started piano lessons in August too. He’s studying with Evelyn Davis and getting so much out of the connection with her. He’s self-motivated and practicing on his own!

I hear that you come to CMC with a background in finance at other nonprofits. Tell me about some of the other work you’ve done.

I learned book-keeping through on-the-job experience. I’ve worked in for-profit companies and also in the nonprofit world. When I worked at the Foundation for the People of Burma, I learned about nonprofit finance. I started the audit committee at that organization and eventually worked in a management role. It was a steep learning curve and also deeply gratifying. I would hear about the program impacts through letters from kids. Hearing about the changes in people’s lives and knowing that finance numbers support a qualitative change in people’s lives was very rewarding. I also work in HR (human resources), which really rounds out the finance role since you get to know people. It’s been really enjoyable to have direct contact with the CMC faculty in the on-boarding process, etc.

What drew you to finance? 

I take pride in both finance and human resource management. Finance is a critical tool for strategy and decision-making. If my contribution helps the organization run smoother through better and greater ease in reporting, it makes the job of reporting to the major stakeholders easier for the executive team. This helps the organization meet its mission effectively. Effective human resources management helps make an employee’s work life easier, which is really important for the health of any organization.

Do you have an interest in music? Any other interests or hobbies you’d care to share?

I grew up around music. My step-mom played international folk music and someone in my house was always playing guitar, or mandolin, or piano. Everyone in my family plays an instrument. I think musicians are our teachers. Music informs our generation about what’s happening in the world and how to live well. It is the most accessible art form. As Bob Marley says, music makes you feel no pain. It’s a language that everyone can speak. It’s essential, soothing, uplifting, and spiritual. 

I have a background in jewelry, mostly metal-smithing and lost-wax casting, which I still do. I am a creative person and have taken classes recently in stone carving and screen printing. I also enjoy spending time with my son, which we’ve been doing a lot during the lockdown. 

Michelle Navarrete, Older Adult Choir Coordinator

How has your time been at CMC so far?

CMC offers so much to the community. There is such love and care from CMC. Everyone who works here really cares about their department, what they do, what CMC offers for the greater community. That love and that heart is felt throughout the music center programs. It’s a great organization to work for. Sitting in on the older adult choirs and classes has been great. Beth (Beth Wilmurt) has been doing these pop-in choirs. She had a Children’s Chorus member pop into one of her older adult choirs to sing a song. That kind of level of giving and consideration is really sweet, especially during this time.

You come to CMC with a background of working for other nonprofits. Tell me about some of the other work you’ve done. 

I worked at SFMOMA in Membership. I learned a lot of coordinator skills in Membership. Membership was its own team within the bigger community of SFMOMA. I really enjoyed being part of that team and serving the community of members. We made sure member needs were met and also made the program accessible and affordable as much as possible. Our Membership team really worked to keep the member community strong  and accessible.

What drew you to working as the Older Adult Choir Coordinator? 

Music means so much to me. I sang in choirs in high school and college. I’ve done a lot of musical theater. Knowing the connecting-quality of music and how music brings people together and what  it feels like, as a singer, really drew me to the position. Especially at a time when shelter-in-place is happening, music and art are what we need right now. Working to make music accessible is really important to me. Music is healing and this really drew me to the position. On Zoom you can’t sing together. But, the happiness you see with the Older Adult Choir members, even when they’re muted. You see them singing and smiling. You can just tell that the people are getting so much from this program.

Tell me about your work as a singer and theater artist.

My first love is performance as an actor and singer. I come from a Theater Arts background. I just finished a Zoom play called Corazon of a Latina by Linda Amayo-Hassan
. It felt so good to be creative again. The technology piece was nerve racking. The play was great. It was a story I felt really proud to be part of. It was a new, collaborative play. The playwright interviewed us and created these characters and stories. I feel passionately about telling our (BIPOC, Latinx, LGBTQ) stories that haven’t been told before. There is a movement to have our stories told, and I want to be part of that movement. We need to develop healthy ways of telling our stories by us. It felt really good to do this play. There is a lot of critique coming up right now in white American theater. People want our stories to be told. I hope we push forward in these things. 


I’ve also been working with YBCA doing COVID safety education as an SF Arts Ambassador out in different communities and neighborhoods in the city. My actor friend and I dress up like the two Friedas (Las dos Fridas) with masks and stand six-feet apart. We’re promoting wearing masks, social distance, washing hands, and other COVID safety. The program employs performing artists that have lost work.

What we’re listening to” with Adriana Marrero: Au revoir!

November 2020

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

This month we have a staff member curating the playlist. Adriana is the Program Coordinator and is a vocalist. Her playlist comes from an insatiable love and curiosity for music from around the world. You’ll hear music of Puerto Rico (where Adriana is from) and a slew of other countries that include Brazil, Cuba, Colombia, West Africa, Turkey–plus a lot of great jazz. Listen to Adriana talk about the playlist in the video below and enjoy!

A tribute to Juliet McComas

November 20, 2020

By Grace Huenemann, Piano Department Chair and faculty member

The CMC community has lost one of its shining lights, Juliet McComas, performer, piano teacher extraordinaire, and friend.

In addition to being a long standing member of the piano faculty at CMC, Juliet maintained a private studio and was a Menuhin Scholar instructor at the Nueva School in Hillsborough. 

Juliet’s students were regularly selected for CMC scholarships and the honorary Spring Recital, as well as the Pursuit of Excellence concerts.

“Juliet was a brilliant musician and exceptional teacher, a great enthusiast for music and music education. She will be greatly missed.” Lilia Zheltova, Piano Faculty

“I heard her and her students perform, and her light shone forth in the music.” Polly Springhorn, CMC Grants Manager

Juliet (far left) with fellow performers at the Keyboard Marathon (2009).

In 2004, Juliet created the Annual Keyboard Marathon for CMC piano faculty, with the purpose of bringing the great works of piano literature to the general community.  She produced the first five of these events:  the 48 Preludes and Fugues of J.S. Bach in 2004 and 2005, the complete “Songs without Words” of Felix Mendelssohn in 2006 and 2007, and “Preludes” in 2008.  The Keyboard Marathon continues to this day.  Renamed in Juliet’s honor and dedicated to her, the Juliet McComas Keyboard Marathon will be a virtual event next April, on the theme of “Bold Spirits: Celebrating Women Composers.” 

Juliet with her students Rebecca Portnoy and Daniel Shin at a concert (2017).

“Juliet was the cream of the crop of CMC piano teachers, her commitment to pedagogy and high standards of excellence as a performer were always an inspiration to me. I always loved to hear her play – the subtlety and beauty of her tone and phrasing always transported me.”  Jennifer Peringer, Piano Faculty

“Juliet was a genius pianist, an incredible teacher, and such a leader in the CMC community. She will truly be missed.”  Anne Mitchell, Marketing Manager

Juliet’s performing career began early, when she debuted with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at age 13.  She performed with them again at 23, and also appeared with the Oakland Chamber Orchestra, the San Francisco Chamber Players, the Artea Chamber Orchestra and Philharmonia Northwest in Seattle. In 2007, at the PianoTexas International Academy and Festival, she was one of five actively performing teachers chosen to perform with the Fort Worth Symphony.   She was a four-time winner of Community Music Center’s Dr. Jess Shenson Faculty Artist Grant and the winner of the inaugural Faculty Concerto Competition in 2002, playing the Mozart Piano Concerto # 25 in C Major K. 503.  World renowned pianist Richard Goode coached Juliet and gave her his own cadenza for that performance.  She also coached with Leon Fleisher, Karl Ulrich Schnabel, and Lillian Kallir.  She earned Bachelors and Masters degrees in Piano Performance at the Peabody Conservatory of Music, where her principal teacher was Dr. Konrad Wolff.


“She was a transcendent musician and will be missed.” Erik Pearson, Guitar Faculty

Juliet delighting in performing at the Keyboard Marathon with Betty Wong (2019).

We admired and loved Juliet for her talent and dedication, and we loved her all the more for her impish sense of humor and love of life.

“My family and I were flying up to Portland Oregon for the solar eclipse in the summer of 2017. As I was settling into my seat, I heard a familiar voice from the row in front of me: Hi Lauren. I looked around and saw Juliet grinning over at me!  … she was an experienced eclipse chaser!”  Lauren Cony, Piano Faculty

“Her devotion, professionalism and passion for music were exceptional.  I’ll miss Juliet tremendously, her extraordinary musicianship and her sense of humor.”  Matylda Rotkiewicz, Piano Faculty and Keyboard Marathon Producer.


Faculty awarded equipment and technology grants

November 20, 2020

By Sylvia Sherman, CMC Program Director

Last month, CMC made 29 grants to faculty members to support their equipment and technology needs for online teaching. CMC faculty have been amazingly resilient and learned how to cater their teaching to distance learning during the Covid-19 pandemic, however some teachers have experienced difficulties related to their equipment and technology access.  For this reason, CMC sought support to fund faculty needs. Happily, with support from the MOCA Foundation, CMC was able to develop the Faculty Technology Grants program.  CMC faculty identified their greatest needs– ranging from new laptops, to better cameras and microphones, to software applications to support teaching. 

“Thank you! This will be a big help for my teaching and music creation in today’s new age.” Larry Dunn, guitar and songwriting teacher – (Grant supported technology to create video tutorials for students.)

Equipment purchased with these grants will support the music education of CMC students. Improvements include, cameras to better see the hands of piano teachers, upgrading and/or replacing ailing laptops and operating systems, supporting the recording of video tutorials and playback loops, and software to make collaborative digital recordings with group classes.

“I am double-delighted to hear this news. Thank you. It’s a great feeling to get so much support. I hope my CMC teaching career outlives many more laptops!”  Jono Kornfeld, piano, music theory, and guitar teacher (Grant supported a new laptop to keep up with needs of online teaching.)

The CMC faculty technology grant is the fourth grant made to faculty since shelter-in-place began.  Earlier this year, CMC awarded 57 faculty with creative stimulus grants to support their creative process during the pandemic. Seven faculty partnership grants were made to support collaboration between faculty to enrich their work at CMC and four faculty Shenson grants are being made to support faculty digital performances in Winter/Spring 2021.  CMC grants recognize the enormous efforts faculty members have made to provide high-quality musical education to their students.  This support aims to provide CMC faculty with the tools needed for them to be inspired and effective during these difficult times. 

“Hello, gosh, this is wonderful news!!  Much appreciation of you all and this organization.”   Beth Wilmurt, Children’s Chorus, Older Adult Choirs, and voice teacher (Grant supported an electric keyboard to use for accompaniment.)

Unlocking the secrets to improvisation at MusicLab workshop

Michele Rosewoman is a New York based performer and composer originally from Oakland. She is a pioneering pianist who has expanded the horizons of jazz while remaining firmly rooted in Afro-Cuban tradition with a career spanning more than four decades.

Never an artist to stay idle, Rosewoman has continued to be inspired and active even as live gigs have been cancelled this year.  In August, she took part virtually in the Festival Timbalaye 2020 in Cuba. She also received a commission from Jazz Coalition in New York to create new work on her musical reflections of the times, as well as pay tribute to the race equity movement. Rosewoman’s new music, “Something Holy Hovers” is composed around two poems Rosewoman wrote. The music is being written on solo piano with vocals and spoken word, which is a departure from her typical repertoire which is usually presented in trio, quintet, and in her New Yor-Uba Ensemble made up of 12 musicians. As she says about the recents developments in her artistic career, “So much has changed and is changing in the world right now. Sometimes some very interesting creative things come from the fact that you broke your cycles and your patterns.”

Rosewoman’s MusicLab workshop hosted by CMC on Thursday, November 12 will take participants through a process of unlocking the secrets of improvisation and creative expression through looking at rhythmic concepts rooted in Afro-Cuban music. Her workshop will give participants a chance to develop their own musical ideas, with Rosewoman’s guidance and expertise. Part demonstration as well, the workshop will take participants into Rosewoman’s artistic process where she demonstrates how her immersion in Cuban folkloric musical traditions has informed her inventive and pioneering compositions. She’ll also demonstrate some of the rhythmic concepts that great jazz players like Lee Morgan and Thelonius Monk used and connect those ideas to Latin jazz.

The workshop will have something for all levels of players, offering beginners inspiration about the possibilities for improvisation and intermediate and advanced players techniques to unlock their creative and compositional possibilities.

MusicLab Workshop: Expression with Afro-Cuban Music with Michele Rosewoman
Thursday, November 12, 5:30–7:00pm
$10 CMC students, seniors, & faculty
$15 general admission

Sing up for MusicLab

“What we’re listening to” with The Curtis Family C-notes: Favorite Songs for CMC

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

This month’s Spotify playlist called Favorite Songs for CMC is curated by The Curtis Family C-notes, a family band with faculty members Maestro and Nola Curtis (Papa and Mama C) and their exceptionally musical children Zahar, Nile, Kiki, Isis, and Phoenix, who all study at CMC. Nola Curtis shares some listening tips for this comprehensive, seven-hour long playlist in the video below. There is genius to the song selection, so listen to it in order for maximum enjoyment. (It’s okay to take breaks.) 



“Hello Chorus” illuminates human connection during the Pandemic

Creating “Hello Chorus”

Beth Wilmurt, who conducts three of the Community Music Center (CMC) Older Adult Choirs, started making instructional videos for her choirs in early March when senior centers throughout San Francisco were shut down. Through this transition to a virtual choir, a series of email exchanges between choir members and Wilmurt were collected like small poems in her inbox. Wilmurt, who is also an actor and songwriter, transformed these email exchanges into mini-songs as part of For You’s ongoing Artists & Elders Project. “Hello Chorus,” which is supported by CMC’s Creative Stimulus and Artist Support Grant for Faculty, is the result. Each weekday in October, people who sign up will get one of Wilmurt’s songs delivered to their inbox. 

Little email exchanges started to seem sweetly profound even in their pedestrian nature,” said Wilmurt. “And the result was that I got really inspired by each of my students and their stories.” 

Connecting in a time of COVID
Wilmurt taught herself multi-track recording, iMovie, and YouTube to bring these stories to fruition, singing and playing all the parts in the recordings. Though the recordings are DIY in nature and crafted from seemingly simple exchanges, “Hello Chorus” speaks to a larger historic moment when people are forced to transform the ways they connect.

As Erika Chong Shuch, performance maker at For You, put it, “The collection of Beth’s songs are mini odes offered to the current moment. Through the multiple Artists & Elders projects, we are creating a portrait of our collective mutual aid. These projects are a record of some of the ways we’ve stepped up for each other.”

Just as the weekly videos were a lifeline for the seniors to stay connected to the social and creative benefits of the choirs, the email exchanges with her choir members became a buoy for Wilmurt’s artistic process. 

“I was moved by my students’ struggles and desires to go on-line, and dealing with my own tech struggles,” says Wilmurt. “I used this songwriting prompt to keep me invested in the learning of the technology, just as my students’ social needs motivated them to step out of their comfort zone.” 

Creative Stimulus Grant supports creativity during the Pandemic
Wilmurt project is one of 56 CMC faculty projects supported by the Creative Stimulus and Artist Support Grant for Faculty to stimulate and support creative work during the pandemic. Other projects include work by jazz artist Marcus Shelby, pianist/composer Allison Lovejoy, tenors Jonathan Smucker and Michael Mohammed, and saxophonist Charlie Gurke. 


Listen to “Hello Chorus” first 10 songs

Making the musical connection with Gabi Díaz-Hernández

Deciding what instrument to learn, what kind of music to play, and finding the right teacher can be a lot to navigate when signing up for music lessons. This decision-making process at CMC is facilitated with the help of the registration team.

Gabi Díaz-Hernández has been a smiling face in the registration office since 2018. As an adult music student, multi-instrumentalist, and someone very familiar with the CMC faculty she is uniquely equipped to help students. As she says, “Since I’m an adult music student myself, it reassures older music students that it’s never late and our teachers love working with adults.” For people who are unclear about what instrument to study, the half-off group class discount is very helpful too. Gabi says, “One student I had last year was interested in a bunch of different instruments. Because we have the group class discount, I could set her up with a voice lesson teacher and then she got half off on the Latin Percussion class so she could learn percussion as well.” Sometimes students may be very sure what they want to study. In these cases, Gabi makes suggestions and uses the faculty bios on the CMC website, so potential students can read about the teachers and feel confident in the match. It’s also important to know that in making a match with a teacher, it’s not set in stone. As Gabi says, “When someone is uncertain they have made the right choice about a teacher, I tell them that we want them to be happy with their teacher because it’s a commitment for a quarter. But, if it’s not a good fit for them, students can let us know after the first lesson and we can change teachers for them. It’s reassuring for them to know that.”

Even as CMC offices are closed to in-person appointments with registrars, the registration team is a phone call away.


“What we’re listening to” with Michael Mohammed: Twists & Turns

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

This month’s Spotify playlist called Twists & Turns is curated by Michael Mohammed, voice faculty member. As he says about the playlist, “It’s all vocalists, of all different stripes. It’s a little bit of singers behaving badly…legit singers stepping outside their genres…and pop singers who might be sounding a little more legit. I think there’s a lot surprises on this list.”