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SFCM Brings Bach to Everyone

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SFCM is teaming up with the Amateur Music Network for a six-week workshop, March 8 to April 12, exploring Bach’s beloved cello suites and making them more accessible to everyone.

March 16, 2022 by Mark Taylor

By Alex Heigl

Bach’s six solo cello suites are among the handful of pieces in the classical repertoire to achieve true mainstream recognition. (In fact, a study last year found that many companies rely on the suites and other Bach pieces in commercials to evoke a sense of trust or reassurance.) 

But as any cellist or devoted Bach fan can tell you, there’s far more to enjoy than just the first suite’s famous prelude, and SFCM’s Continuing Education program has teamed up with the Amateur Music Network (AMN) to deliver an in-depth exploration of each suite, Imagine: Six Suites in Six Weeks, aimed not just at cellists, but any Bach enthusiast—or music fan, period.

One enrollee is Dr. George Tanaka (pictured below), an amateur cellist—and full-time ophthalmologist—who’s long been a fixture in SF’s classical community. “I’ve participated in just about all of the live in-person string/cello workshops,” he said, “the Mendelssohn Octet, Irene Sharp’s cello workshop, and improvisation.” 

“I think each cellist’s relationship with the suites changes as they mature and grow as players,” Dr. Tanaka said of the series. “You can never fully master them or play them perfectly. They challenge you as a musician and grow with you. You never grow out of them.” 

“The suites were really the first music to be written for the cello treating it as a solo instrument,” SFCM instructor and cellist Bonnie Hampton—who will be leading the workshop on Suite No. 4 in Eb major on April 5th—explained. “Before that, the cello was a support base instrument for the violin, voice, and keyboard instruments.”

Headshot of George Tanaka
“Each cellist will be presenting their suite in a different way,” she continued, “sharing their own thoughts about the music. For myself, I am going to speak about each movement of the Eb suite, the character, the different dance movements, and how I need to try to project it as a performer. Any cellist who is listening will hopefully learn something specific to the instrument, but it will be relevant for anyone who loves hearing Bach's music.”

“Our vision for Imagine! is that there will be a different topic each time to really let people into the space in a unique way,”  Michael Roest, Associate Dean & Executive Director of Pre-College and Continuing Education at SFCM, explained. “We've brought together six extraordinary cellists, all with very different backgrounds. We anticipate each week will be a slightly different experience and a different perspective.”

Roest continued, “It's not just a lecture, it's a very engaging seminar, and the participants have the opportunity to really speak with artists, performers, and experts in the field.” 

For AMN’s Lolly Lewis, the program fits into her organization's larger mission of bringing music to the masses, “We feel like everyone is a musician,” she said, “Even if all you're doing is singing in the shower."

“People have been told for so long that their experiences aren’t valid unless they know what key the piece is in or when it was written,” she continued, “So we want people to gain confidence in the value of their own emotional reactions to music while deepening their understanding of those reactions.”

Dr. Tanaka has seen the suites performed live in San Francisco at Grace Cathedral, but in the spirit of bringing Bach to everyone, has a specific vision for a future performance he’d like to see: “I’m waiting for someone to play them at a coffee shop or bar in town,” he said.

After the Imagine series wraps, maybe someone will be inspired to grant him his wish.

Register for Imagine: Six Suites in Six Weeks! and learn more about SFCM’s Continuing Education programs.