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Black Student Union Lifts Up Student Composers and Collaborators from All Corners

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The concert featured work from students, faculty, and the Chromatic Brass Collective, part of their weeklong residency at SFCM.

February 26, 2024 by Alex Heigl

It was appropriate that the SFCM Black Student Union's February 23 concert ended with a rendition of "Lift Every Voice and Sing," as the evening was an exercise in just that.

BSU members Jay Hernandez and Adrian Jackson spearheaded this year's concert with the idea of not just showcasing the range of Black talent at SFCM, but the Bay Area as a whole. "BSU is not only about the club itself, but about Black kids and the community as well and how we can celebrate everyone around us, not just at the Conservatory," Hernandez said. To that end, participants in the concert from outside the SFCM community included music students from SFCM's Bridge to Arts and Music program, jazz guitarist Terrence Brewer, and the Chromatic Brass Collective, performing as part of their weeklong residency at SFCM. Musicians from SFCM's Pre-College were on the program as well, as well as students from Music Mission SF, an after-school music program for underserved children in the Mission District.

Everyone involved in the concert donated their time for free. "No one decided, 'Hey, I need X amount of money to make this equal,'" Hernandez said. "They decided, 'I want to support you guys and whatever you have going on because I've been in your shoes.'"

The evening's program was filled with everything from jazz songs by recognized icons like Wayne Shorter and SFCM students like Morgan Harrison to compositions for mallets by SFCM's Roots, Jazz, and American Music Executive Director Jason Hainsworth, who also contributed an arrangement of the evening's closing number, the rendition of "Lift Every Voice and Sing." Cellist Joshua Gordon contributed two original compositions to the evening, and the concert also featured the West Coast premiere of SFCM faculty Jonathan Bingham's arrangement of Mark Fax's String Quartet, a work nearly lost, now preserved thanks to Bingham's efforts. Other works programmed were by William Grant Still, performed by Pre-College student Sydney Li-Jenkins, and Margaret Bonds.

Black Student Union Rehearsal

"Our goal was just to connect with the community as much as possible," Jackson said. "We really enjoy the small community that we've all been able to foster here at the Conservatory, and there's so many ways that we want to grow this community. It's been really eye-opening as to like all the moving parts that it actually takes to go into something like this, and I feel like it's doable now."

Hernandez, who graduates this year, was moved by the response to one of her last organizational pushes with the BSU. "I'm just very grateful and honored that we have people willing to take time out of their day to come spend it with us and be willing to share their gifts with us. It's a sacred thing and we just want to make sure that we respect it, we honor it, and we make sure that Black voices are lifted in these universities. Not just the voices, but the music: We wouldn't be here without Black music and Black music is American."

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