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.