Colin Murdoch and Mrs. Jaquelin
Hume strike a blow for music education in the City.
Music in the City, from sunrise to the Sunset
by Hank Donat
the Loma Prieta earthquake, 14 years ago next Friday, San Francisco
has hosted a seemingly endless number of ground-breaking and ribbon-cutting
ceremonies. Each has marked the construction or reconstruction of a
new or venerable institution.
The staggering list of projects, which includes Union Square, Portsmouth
Square, Pac Bell Park, Mission Bay, the New Main Library, City Hall,
and the Ferry Building to name just a few, will be enumerated often
in the coming weeks, as Mayor Willie Brown reflects on the accomplishments
of his administration in its twilight.
Brown says he'll show up at the 2006 ribbon cutting for the new San
Francisco Conservatory of Music at Civic Center, lest anyone think the
$80 million campus at 50 Oak Street was made possible by his successor.
Last week's ground-breaking ceremony for the conservatory project, a
block from Van Ness Avenue and Market Street, was unique among such
events and was suitably up-tempo.
A hundred people arrived under a tent promptly at the close of business
on Monday to celebrate the occasion. A hundred more would arrive shortly
The famously tardy mayor was early, arriving only ten minutes after
the start of the official program.
Conservatory President Colin Murdoch called the event, "Day One among
many Day Ones" for the internationally acclaimed music school, which
purchased the site in 2000.
San Francisco Symphony's Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas set the
tone. He told the standing-room only crowd that California
continues to be the vanguard of culture and that the planned 73,000-square
foot facility would be a nexus for future musicians in San Francisco.
The new conservatory will offer twice the space of the current campus, the
1928 building designed by Louis Christian Mullgardt at 1201 Ortega Street.
As the sun began to set, a pink light filled the tent. Murdoch and philanthropist
Mrs. Jaquelin H. Hume wowed the audience when, instead of the familiar tradition
of turning over a patch of dirt, they raised a mallet and bashed a hole
in the wall of the existing structure.
I expected to hear something from the third movement of a violin sonata
by Bach coming from the other side of the wall, but there was only dust.
In this heavenly pink dust rose a dream of something new made from something
Classical guitarist David Tanenbaum exemplifies the masters who teach
at the conservatory. New York native Tanenbaum made his debut at the
age of 16. His long list of credits includes performances throughout
the U.S., Canada, Europe, the former Soviet Union, and Asia.
In 1988, Tanenbaum became the first American guitarist to be invited
to perform in China by the Chinese government. He is also a graduate
of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
On the TV series Fame, the dance teacher played by Debbie Allen used
to say, "You got big dreams? You want fame? Well right here is where
you start paying - in sweat."
Willing to start paying in carpal tunnel syndrome, I accepted an invitation
to visit Tanenbaum for a class from the master. It didn't matter to
Tanenbaum - who teaches experienced students and rarely gives a private
lesson - that I had never picked up a guitar.
In the Sunset, the Ortega Street building is a former orphanage characterized
by Mission Revival gables and a center tower. It has housed the conservatory
Inside, the building is decidedly cramped and institutional but not
without its charm. The sound of random strings and chords and voices
is a constant.
Tanenbaum is the picture of a music world figure whose cultural experience
reads like a map of the world. With his brown curls and naturally tanned
skin, the youthful fiftysomething resembles the writer Jerzy Kozinski.
Tanenbaum is a splendid teacher. He is never once impatient or unhappy,
even when my so-called music sounds like a duet for Lucy Ricardo and
An hour later I know the difference between a pluck and a rest stroke,
why up is down, how to use the frets, and what makes a $25,000 guitar
sound like a $25,000 guitar - plus 15 notes of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
Like the conservatory itself, I'm several steps closer to Davies Symphony
Further proof that if Mark Twain were alive today he'd be edited: Written
in chalk on the sidewalk at Polk and Hayes was this take on summer,
"The longest ice age I ever saw was 11 weeks in San Francisco."
Not to be missed this weekend are some of San Francisco's best indigenous
events of the year.
The 135th annual Italian Heritage Parade starts at 12:30 p.m. at the foot
of Jefferson and Stockton Streets in Fisherman's Wharf on Sunday, October
12. This is the city's oldest civic event and the oldest Italian-American
parade in the country. When North Beach rolls out its red and green
carpet, this parade captures the heart of the city like yet another
street fair kabob or macrame stand could never do.
Sunday afternoon will also see the Excelsior Festival at Ocean Avenue and
Mission Street. The Excelsior is one of the city's most diverse and
under-appreciated neighborhoods. No other festival has Frank Jordan
Jr. with his Irish folk band, Culann's Hounds, and DJ DISK teaching
kids the art of turntablism known as skratch.
Monday, October 13, the International Indian Treaty Council commemorates
511 years of indigenous peoples' resistance to colonization in the Americas
with a sunrise observance of voices, stories, songs, dances, and drums
on Alcatraz Island. The first boat leaves Pier 41 at 6 a.m. Tickets
are $11 but children under five winters ride free.
Did you remember to vote today? Or did you not recall?
to MisterSF.com. Please visit the site often to keep in
with San Francisco, for your own amusement, and to use the Local
Joints section as a portal for independent businesses. Keep your
in the neighborhoods... Watch this space for observations, interviews
more from around town. All other sections of MisterSF.com are also
continually, so come back and watch us grow!