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SFCM Faculty and Alumni Sound off on San Francisco's Music Scene

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Eighth Notes

Faculty and alumni speak on San Francisco's vibrant live music scene, where SFCM students can also play a part in performances.

August 23, 2023 by Mark Taylor

A city celebrated for its artistic spirit and cultural heritage, San Francisco also has a live music scene as diverse and captivating as its panoramic landscapes.

In addition to classic staples like the San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Opera, San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, and SFJAZZ—all of which are steps from SFCM's campus and employ many faculty members in their ensembles— the city has numerous opportunities for musicians to perform live at venues across the city in both traditional and creative ways. 

For local alumni, on the classical side, SFCM graduates Leah Froyd '20 and Ericsson Hatfield '22 perform as part of their chamber series Insight Chamber Players, which they formed last year to provide a more intimate music experience. "Insight started as a dream collaboration. Ericsson and I are both avid chamber players…we originally planned for a few concerts, but that blossomed into a first season of seven concerts," Froyd said. They perform at some of the most iconic private homes, such as the Blue Painted Lady and the historic Fisk House in Hayes Valley. 

insight chamber players

Insight Chamber Players perform. Photo by Jason Henry.

"SF’s live music scene is in a good spot and is getting better. There are many great opportunities to hear different kinds of classical and contemporary music," Froyd continued, "Insight’s success is a testament to the engagement of the audience in San Francisco and how they are open to new ideas. Since there isn’t a steep barrier of entry for new groups into the market, it’s a great city for young artists"

For faculty, performing often goes hand in hand with teaching, "As far as jazz goes, we are actually in a golden moment, with multiple clubs opening in the last year and presenting great things," said Patrick Wolff, a professor in the Roots, Jazz, and American (RJAM) program at SFCM. Wolff, a saxophone and clarinet player, averages about two gigs a week but can reach up to four during a busy time, "Which is plenty for a family man with a heavy teaching load!" Wolff added. 

Patrick Wolff headshot

Wolff is a regular performer at several venues for live music, dining and drinks, and many shows are for audiences of all ages. Most notably he'll perform August 24 at San Francisco's Keys Jazz Bistro to celebrate the release of his collaborative original work, You Can't Stand Still. Wolff describes it as, "a powerful and exciting sonic exploration," and is looking forward to the performance, which "will be a rare alignment of stars, joining together musicians from different geographic and stylistic corners of the jazz universe," Wolff said. 

RJAM Assistant Director Amelie-Anna Hinman and saxophone faculty Tony Peebles are also frequent giggers around town. Hinman has an already-sold-out tribute to Amy Winehouse at SFJAZZ in January and both perform at Mr. Tipple's, an intimate jazz club one block from both of SFCM's buildings in Hayes Valley. 

For current SFCM students, performance opportunities are plentiful, SFCM is the only conservatory in the area, so there are plenty of live performance opportunities. Last semester Hire SFCM marked one of its busiest semesters ever, having placed students in performances with high-profile artists like Chris Potter, the Kronos Quartet, and All-Elite Wrestling, and paying out more than $100,000 to students.  

Wolff recommends for students interested in getting more performance opportunities, to get involved first as audience members to make connections, "The best things a young cat can do is get out to shows often, introduce themselves in person to people they want to play with and sit in as often as possible. Professional relationships in this scene come from actually playing together, not social media," Wolff continued, "I think the moment is ripe for musicians to seek out and create new venues and opportunities for playing,

For Froyd's Insight Chamber Players, starting in October they have a new series of lectures, rehearsals and open rehearsals across the city, ending with some larger-scale performances, "There are lots of opportunities to perform in the city. If you have the energy and entrepreneurship, there’s space to make your own group too! It’s an encouraging city to engage in many different types of organizations and concerts," Froyd added.