Hear from Our Students
Day in the Life Video
DuMarkus Davis '18
Experience a day in the life of SFCM senior DuMarkus Davis as he navigates through classes, lessons, and rehearsals, and shares his big plans for after graduation.
"I am grateful for my teacher's support and encouragement every step of the way and thankful for the doors that Pre-College has opened for me."
Pre-College piano student
My name is Charlotte Wong and I am a fifteen-year-old Pre-College student at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where I study piano with Corey McVicar. I started taking piano lessons when I was five—three years after my family moved to San Mateo from Hong Kong. That was how my love of music began.
Since enrolling in Pre-College four years ago, I've had amazing opportunities to grow as a musician and to connect with people through music. Last January, the director of SFCM’s Pre-College, Michael Roest,invited me to perform on NPR's Live From Here, to be broadcast live from San Francisco the very next day. I was honored to step in, even though it meant I had just 24 hours to prepare for this opportunity of a lifetime!
When I walked onto the Davies Symphony Hall stage in front of the biggest audience I'd ever performed for, I felt very nervous. But the moment I sat down at the piano, I started to feel at home. And when I began to play — a challenging and satisfying piece by Franz Liszt, my favorite composer — I started to have fun. It was an honor to share this beautiful music with thousands of listeners across the country who otherwise might never get to hear it, and to be on the same stage where so many incredible musicians have performed.
People are sometimes curious to know how much I practice and whether I have any social time outside of school and music. Before performing on Live from Here, I practiced all day! But on most school nights, I play for two hours, and on the weekends, I'm able to devote between four and five hours each day to practice. In Pre-College, though, I've learned that music isn't just a solo pursuit. Here, I'm part of a community of dedicated musicians my age who share my passion for music. Pre-College also introduced me to chamber music, which I love because I get to play with my friends.
I believe that music helps us get to know other people, places, cultures, and parts of our history. Something I love about classical music is that it invites us to listen differently than most popular music does. In return for listening closely, classical music teaches us so much about the composer and about ourselves through the feelings it stirs in us. This is what I hope to share with others through my playing.
I am grateful for my teacher's support and encouragement every step of the way and thankful for the doors that Pre-College has opened for me. Pre-College gives young students like me the support we need to become confident and successful musicians, whether that's through scholarships, master classes, or incredible performance opportunities. It's shown me how I can benefit people in the community with music, wherever I go. Thank you for believing in the power of music and supporting our growth.
Consider making a gift so that students like Charlotte can share the music they love with the world.
"I'm living proof that you cannot overestimate the power of your giving."
DuMarkus Davis '18
Everything about my musical journey makes the fact that I’m about to graduate from SFCM extraordinary. In middle school, when I asked my music teacher if I could learn to play violin in the school orchestra, I was told that it was too late. My classmates already had a ten-year head start. A few months after I began violin lessons, the recession hit, and both of my parents lost their jobs. We also lost our house. Needless to say, it wasn’t financially feasible for me to continue with private lessons.
Yet, I did continue to play, and during this challenging time something unexpected occurred. The violin gave me a voice, a way to express my feelings about what my family and I were going through. I spent countless hours with my violin, and two years later I was performing as principal second violin with the American High School Honors Orchestra at none other than Carnegie Hall.
When I was accepted to SFCM, I was elated. I came here to train as a performer—but then, after taking a new professional development course on music management my junior year, another unlikely thing happened: I founded a business. Now in its second year, my startup helps aspiring young musicians access quality music education, wherever they may live. At SFCM, I’ve learned that extraordinary things are possible when you have the support of a dedicated community. I am lucky to have had the opportunity to study at this innovative and supportive school.
As someone who could only be here because of your generosity, I’m living proof that you cannot overestimate the power of your giving. Your support enables students like me to get a world-class education here at SFCM and change the world with our talent. You can help us get to places that we never could have imagined before coming here.
Consider making a gift in support of scholarships so that students like DuMarkus can adhieve what seemed impossible before coming to SFCM.
"My scholarship has given me the opportunity to study with one of my biggest idols and to be a part of one of the best trombone studios in the world."
Cameron Rahmani '18
MM, Bass Trombone
In the fifth grade, my band director told the story of a student from my elementary school in San Diego, California who started playing the trombone in band and went on to receive a college music scholarship. From that point, my dream was to become good enough at the bass trombone to earn a scholarship to attend college. Through years of hard work, I did just that. In the process, I discovered my purpose: to become a professional bass trombonist.
I chose SFCM because it was a dream of mine to study with John Engelkes, my teacher here. SFCM attracts top-level musicians who push me to become the best version of myself. I value most about my SFCM experience the chance to learn from people who are doing what I dream of. I get to work with the entire San Francisco Symphony low brass section and receive feedback from them on a weekly basis. My scholarship has allowed me to privately study with one of my biggest idols and also be a part of one of the best trombone studios in the world. This opportunity means the world to me.
I am fortunate to be able to give back by teaching public school students as a mentor in SFCM’s Conservatory in the Schools (CIS) program. CIS brings intensive music education to young people who wouldn't normally have access to this opportunity. It is deeply rewarding to watch my students learn, improve their skills, and develop a passion for music. Most of the middle-school students I teach will not pursue careers as professional brass players, but my goal is for every one of my students to know that I believe in them and their ability to succeed, no matter what field they eventually choose. Like my teachers have done, I hope to show younger musicians how playing music, along with the amazing support of the music community, can help them achieve their dreams.
Music has allowed me to express myself to the world. Music has also taught me the importance of hard work and being a team player, the power of patience, and most importantly, that I have a purpose in life. Thank you for making this possible.
Consider making a gift in support of scholarships so that students like Cameron can become the next generation of leading performers and teachers.
"Your generosity inspires me and my classmates to work our very hardest and to share our love of music with as many people as we can."
Ziying Hu '19
BM, Double Bass
When people learn that I play the double bass, their reaction is often a double take. It’s true that female double bassists are relatively rare. When I fell in love with the double bass’ sonorous tone and decided I had to learn to play, I was nine years old and not the least daunted by this.
Growing up in Suzhou, China, I excelled in academics, but found that music helped me stay balanced. Whenever I’m confronted with a challenging situation or need to solve a problem, playing will cause a light bulb to go on in my mind and the solution to present itself. A few hours of working on a piece brings calm and clarity. As I discovered this, I played more and more, and I began to realize that music is both a passion and a refuge for me. It’s part of who I am. That’s when I decided to apply to conservatories.
Attending SFCM has been life-changing. It meant leaving the country where I grew up and making my home in a city where I knew no one, with a different language and culture to learn, including a different educational approach. My teachers here encourage me to develop self-expression in addition to technical mastery; to articulate my opinions and lead discussions. Being able to study at SFCM has been an incredible gift to me as a musician and a person. Thanks to my scholarship, I am able to be at this amazing institution where students support and encourage each other as we work to become the best artists possible.
When I first came to SFCM, the language I felt most comfortable expressing myself in was music. My teachers and classmates have helped me find my voice—not just on the double bass, but in the classroom and in the community. Because of the generosity of scholarship fund donors, I have been able to grow here in ways I couldn’t have anywhere else.
I am grateful for the incredible performance opportunities I have here, including playing in the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra. I didn’t fully realize the impact I could have through music until coming to SFCM on my scholarship. After graduating, I look forward to connecting with people as an orchestra player and helping younger music students find their voices and develop their confidence as I have been lucky to do.
Your generosity inspires me and my classmates to work our very hardest and to share our love of music with as many people as we can. I hope you will come hear us play!
Consider making a gift in support of scholarships so that students like Ziying can find their voice and inspire others.
"By supporting scholarships, you change young people's lives and the lives of those whom we will go on to serve."
Christian Burgs '21
BM, Roots, Jazz, and American Music (RJAM)
In August, I moved halfway across the country to start my freshman year at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) as a proud member of the inaugural class of the Roots, Jazz, and American Music (RJAM) program. Being a part of this brand-new program where I get to study with jazz masters is a dream come true. I have many people to thank for being here at SFCM, which is only possible because of my scholarship.
I’ve learned that it takes tremendous dedication not only to play music well, but to have the opportunity to study it in the first place. When I was quite young, my father bought me a real drum set that he’d saved for. A few years later, my mother worked a job with a grueling commute so that I could attend a performing arts high school with a jazz program in inner-city Houston.
Because of their hard work and sacrifice, I was able to pursue my passion for music. But with four children in our family, and my brother and me both starting college at the same time, the next step was daunting. Without my scholarship to cover what my parents’ savings and my own work-study earnings would not, I couldn’t be here.
When Dr. Simon Rowe, Executive Director of RJAM, called to tell me that I’d been accepted to the program and offered financial aid, I felt that I already had a community of support in my soon-to-be home of San Francisco. Knowing that donors who have never met me are willing to invest in me and my future is an immense honor.
Music has always been there for me, but during my first few weeks of college, its ability to unite and uplift became especially clear. On my first day of classes, Hurricane Harvey was surging towards Texas on its path towards my hometown, where only days before I’d said goodbye to my family and friends. Thankfully, my family was safe from the worst of Harvey’s destruction. Although I was far from home, I found a warm and supportive community in my new classmates and teachers at SFCM. Being able to play music at that time made me feel strong and resilient. After the storms that followed Harvey and the devastating fires in California this fall, we will continue to need music to help our communities heal.
I believe that as a composer, performer, and teacher, I can reach people in uniquely meaningful, positive ways. In this I’m not alone: each year, SFCM students—almost all of whom attend on some level of financial aid, like me—choose to serve our community with music, mentoring underserved youth and playing for people in schools, hospitals, homeless shelters, and other places throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. My life goal is to empower others through music, such as those who have lost their homes due to natural disasters, poverty, or other circumstances. Here at SFCM, I’m growing as a musician and gaining the leadership and business skills I’ll need to succeed in this calling.
Your generosity is proof of music’s power to connect people, to make all of us more joyful and resilient. By supporting scholarships, you change young people’s lives and the lives of those whom we will go on to serve. I can’t say it enough—thank you.
Consider making a gift in support of scholarships so that students like Christian can grow as musicians and give back to the community.
"My scholarship made it possible for me to come to SFCM."
Molly Monahan '20
BM, Technology and Applied Composition (TAC)
Before I heard about the new Technology and Applied Composition (TAC) program at SFCM as a high-school junior, I had some reservations about applying to music conservatories. I’d studied piano and been an avid improviser all my life, teaching myself to notate my compositions with software I received as a gift when I was ten. In high school, I couldn’t imagine not pursuing music professionally, yet I wondered whether I would be able to find a job with a degree in traditional composition.
Composition classes weren’t offered in my hometown of Holland, Michigan, but the town is close enough to Interlochen Arts Academy that I could attend for my junior and senior years. At Interlochen, I first met MaryClare Brzytwa, Executive Director of TAC. When I found out about TAC, I immediately wanted to come to SFCM. MaryClare’s presentation about TAC at Interlochen addressed all of the worries I had about a future in composition. It was clear that TAC would help me hone my skills in writing concert music and gain hands-on experience in technology and commercial composition. There isn’t another program like it anywhere else.
Receiving a scholarship made it possible for me to come to SFCM, where I’m thriving. Everything I wanted in a music school is here. In my first year, I got to work with composers at Sony PlayStation and to record in their studios. Here, I’m able to take concrete steps towards establishing a career in composing. It’s amazing to learn about companies in the Bay Area like Sony that support the creation of art.
Working with MaryClare has been a highlight of my time at SFCM. You don’t hear much about female composers, and until I came to SFCM, I was often the only female student in composition classes. The pressure to prove yourself as a female composer, along with the fact that women are often deterred from pursuing careers in technology, makes TAC’s diverse and supportive environment especially wonderful.
Thank you for supporting scholarships that allow students like me to grow and find our place in the world as musicians. I can’t say enough how much your generosity means!
Consider making a gift in support of scholarships so that students like Molly can prepare for successful careers in music and beyond.
"I am so grateful for the incredible generosity of everyone who gives to the Scholarship Fund."
Auburn Joseph '19
The first recording of me singing was taken by my mom when I was just two years old. Growing up, music was a large part of my life. I sang in choirs from before I can remember through high school. In middle school and high school, the class I most looked forward to was vocal music. Singing was my release. I don't know what motivates other people to get up and go to school in the morning, but I would wake up singing.
I know that I was extremely fortunate to attend an art school where I was surrounded by other artists and musicians. My dream since the tenth grade was to study voice at SFCM in the hopes of becoming a professional opera singer. However, attending a music conservatory was a huge financial challenge. Without my scholarship from SFCM, it wouldn't have been an option.
When I first walked through the doors at SFCM, I was overcome with a feeling of contentment. The focused professionalism of SFCM students and faculty was apparent. Here, I could see myself transforming from a person who sings into a singer. SFCM prepares us to be professional musicians by exposing us to the real world. The school's relationships to the SF Opera and SF Symphony mean we have opportunities that conservatory students elsewhere do not.
The education I'm getting at SFCM makes me a better artist and a better person. I love my music classes, but I also love my humanities coursework. In my first year, these courses prompted me to think deeply about the importance of striving to create positive change with all of our actions. This institution not only teaches us how to be better musicians, but also how to be better people and contributing members of society.
Music is to be shared. All of us at SFCM are united by this belief. In middle school and high school, I taught vocal music to students at elementary schools, and this experience had a great impact on me. As a long term goal, I hope to open an art school for youth with limited access to other arts education so that they can have the same opportunity I did to learn through artistic expression.
I am so grateful for my scholarship and for the incredible generosity of everyone who gives to the Scholarship Fund. Because of your kindness and your contribution, I am able to share the music that I love with the world.
Consider making a gift in support of scholarships so that students like Auburn can become skilled performers, teachers, and community leaders.
"You are altering the trajectory of someone's life. There are not many opportunities to have this kind of impact."
Anisha King '17
PSD, Technology and Applied Composition
My path has taken me through many challenges. Without music, I don’t know where I’d be. Music is cathartic. It brings unlikely people together. It communicates across boundaries in a way no other language can. Music has always been an important part of my life, but I didn’t know until relatively recently if I could successfully write music.
I was working in production offices in Los Angeles as a recent college graduate in film production when I composed my first piece of music one night. Feeling the music flow from my mind to the page in front of me felt like an epiphany. I knew I’d unlocked a part of me that needed to be expressed. So, I managed to save enough money to take local classes in composition while working full-time.
When I began composing, however, I was full of doubts about my ability. I didn’t know if I had the talent or the skill to communicate the music that was in my mind to an audience, or how that music would be received. Learning that I was admitted to the TAC program at SFCM was wonderful news, but even after working and saving all that I could, I did not have nearly enough to cover the cost of attending. Fortunately—because there is no other way I could be here—SFCM gave me a generous scholarship, which is the reason I am now here living my dream.
I love so much about SFCM. San Francisco is progressive, and the people at SFCM are positive problem-solvers. The equipment in the TAC lab is amazing. This year, I’m looking forward to creating music that did not previously exist in the world. I’m also really excited to work with SONY as we compose music for a video game.
The world of film scoring is not very diverse—there are not many women or people of color. My dream is to be a successful black female film composer. I chose SFCM because I know that being here will help me to launch my career and reach my goals.
But that’s not all I want to do with music. After completing the TAC program, I plan to work as a film composer while pursuing a Master’s Degree in music therapy. Music therapy has enormous benefits and is a way that I can directly help people. When I step foot into a hospital, I immediately want to do something to help. Music is profoundly healing, and I am motivated to integrate music as therapy into my career as a composer.
All of us need support to become successful. The people who we know as successes today got to where they are because others believed in them before they were well known. Donors enable tomorrow’s musicians to devote themselves to developing their potential.
My scholarship is life changing. As a scholarship donor, you are altering the trajectory of someone’s life. There are not many opportunities in life to have this kind of impact on another person. Thank you.
Consider making a gift in support of scholarships so that students like Anisha can help others heal and thrive through music.
"You have changed my life and the lives of students like me with your generosity."
Ricardo Balderas '18
I was studying in Mexico City to become a doctor when I decided to move to San Francisco to pursue my dream of singing opera.
My choice to leave medical school and the city where I grew up to study at a music conservatory did not exactly surprise my family. They had encouraged my singing in a church choir throughout childhood. But it never occurred to me or them that singing could be a career until I began taking private lessons at age 18, and my teacher told me that I had the talent to sing professionally.
Once I'd made this decision, I needed to find the right conservatory. SFCM stood out with its reputation for focusing individualized attention on voice students and its abundance of professional opportunities. But I still didn't know if I was talented enough to even audition. When I was not only admitted but received a scholarship large enough to allow me to come here, it felt too good to be true. Without this scholarship, my family would never have been able to afford to send me.
When I started at SFCM, I had almost no background in sight reading, theory, or analysis—an intimidating feeling. But my dedicated teachers helped me to become confident in this aspect of training. There is a tremendous sense of community at SFCM. The faculty care about our well-being as students and are always trying to help us make our experience the best it can be.
Last summer, I held a recital back home, which many of my friends attended. Some of them were skeptical when I'd told them I was leaving medical school to study opera. They could not envision what I would do in life as a classically trained singer. After the concert, they told me how amazed they were to hear me sing, and how clear it is that I'm on the right path.
Knowing you're in the right place in the most rewarding feeling. I know SFCM is the right place for me because I can see my progress from year to year. I'm able to do things I couldn't have done a few months ago. I'm constantly growing and getting closer to my goal of becoming a professional opera singer.
I am deeply grateful to everyone who has donated to the scholarship fund. You have changed my life and the lives of students like me with your generosity. Because of your kindness, I have been able to find my place in the world and fulfill my greatest dream.
Consider making a gift in support of scholarships so that students like Ricardo can pursue their dreams and realize their full potential.
"Because no matter how talented and dedicated a young musician may be, we cannot do it alone. Your support inspires us to work just a little bit harder."
Juliana Rodríguez '20
My name is Juliana Rodríguez, and I am a first-year undergraduate pursuing a degree in viola performance at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. You might be surprised to learn that my path to SFCM started when I learned to play the violin at four years old with a mariachi band in the South Central Los Angeles neighborhood where I grew up.
When I was nine, my family heard about a free music program for young people in low-income neighborhoods like ours. At first, I didn’t believe that someone would give me an instrument to practice on whenever I wanted. My family could not afford music lessons, let alone a violin, and music classes were not offered at my school. This was an incredible feeling that I wouldn’t experience again until I was awarded my scholarship at SFCM.
It was not long before I joined the local youth orchestra and realized that most of the other students knew something I did not: how to read music. Though the spirited solos and lyrical passages of mariachi had developed my musical instinct, I had no idea how to read the notes on the page in front of me. I felt lost, useless, and afraid that this opportunity would turn into a failure. I even thought about quitting. Instead, I borrowed a book about sight reading and taught myself to read the notes that my ears and hands already knew how to play.
In high school, I was selected to perform with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. This experience of playing with skilled musicians for an expectant audience captivated me. I knew I had to find a way to go to a music conservatory. SFCM was my first choice, but I still had a lot to learn before auditioning. A year before applying, I began to take private lessons to prepare.
The first time I visited SFCM was for my audition. Even though I was nervous, I immediately felt welcomed by the warm, collaborative atmosphere. Receiving the acceptance letter two months later was an amazing feeling, but it was the scholarship award that made it feel real. My scholarship is the reason I am able to be here.
As a music student in San Francisco, I have access to incredible opportunities that exist nowhere else. I am fortunate to study at SFCM for so many reasons. And my generous scholarship means that I will not struggle to repay student loans after graduation while beginning my professional career.
The community here comprises so many talented, hard-working, and caring people. My teacher, Jodi Levitz, has been wonderfully supportive. I am thrilled to be part of our extraordinary orchestra. I am also enjoying music theory for the first time in my life. It’s a new and fascinating piece of my music education that enables me to fully join the conversation with my peers.
Coming to SFCM was a huge transition, but the school already feels like a second home. I know that because I am here, if I continue to work hard, I will be able to achieve my dream of playing in a professional orchestra.
Every student I’ve met at SFCM has a story to tell. We believe our time here is worth any sacrifice. Music uniquely allows us to communicate across boundaries—of language, culture, and time. What we are studying is not for ourselves, but to share with others.
No matter how talented and dedicated a young musician may be, we cannot do it alone. I am here thanks to the generosity of others. Any support, even a little extra, not only helps us to continue our studies but inspires us to work just a little bit harder.Thank you for reading, and for your consideration of a gift to SFCM’S scholarship fund.
Consider making a gift in support of scholarships so that students like Juliana can have the opportunity to excel at the highest level.
"SFCM is the only school I ever imagined attending, and my scholarship is the only way I was able to come."
Natalka Georgievova '17
My relationship with the guitar had a seemingly unremarkable beginning. I started playing in sixth-grade music class. By the time I reached the eighth grade, my teacher observed that I possessed the ability to play at a level beyond our class. So I began taking private classical guitar lessons from an alumnus of my school who had gone on to study at the Yale School of Music.
I enjoyed these lessons, but nothing suggested that guitar would become the centerpiece of my life—until I fell in love with one extraordinary piece of music. My teacher handed me Sonata for guitar by Alberto Ginastera, a very technically difficult piece. I took it home and learned it. After that, my path was set. I knew I wanted to devote myself to studying the guitar. There was simply nothing else that I was so passionate about.
Luckily, my teacher knew about Sérgio Assad and told me about his studio at SFCM. I’ve wanted to study with Sérgio since the tenth grade, so it was a dream come true to be accepted to SFCM and become his student.
When I arrived at SFCM, I was focused on perfecting my technical skills as a performer. SFCM has broadened my understanding of what it means to perform. During my first year, following a guitar ensemble recital, a man from the audience approached the stage and thanked us for playing a piece so beautiful that it moved him to tears. I was pleased and a bit bewildered by this extraordinary emotional response. But this experience showed me how profoundly performers can connect with audiences. Now, I approach all my performances as an opportunity to reach others through the transformative power of music.
SFCM has given me so many opportunities, including to compose. I didn’t have a background in composition, so at first I was nervous to perform the pieces I had written. My confidence has grown with the incredible support and encouragement from Sérgio and everyone in my program. SFCM is the place to be to make important career connections. Just as significantly, SFCM has helped me develop as an artist and as a person.
Through performance and composition I strive to create in the world what I find to be missing. My goal is to create pieces not just written and performed for other guitarists, but designed to holistically engage larger, diverse audiences.
At the risk of sounding idealistic, I believe that music is something the world needs—that music is often capable of healing us in ways that nothing else can. Every day, I am motivated to share the regenerative power of music with others.
SFCM is the only school I ever imagined attending, and my scholarship is the only way I was able to come. I am deeply grateful to everyone who has made it possible for me to be here by giving to the Scholarship Fund.
Consider making a gift in support of scholarships so that students like Natalka can inspire audiences with their passion for music.
"No matter how much I wanted to come to SFCM, I wouldn't have been able to attend without my scholarship."
Jana Ma '19
Technology and Applied Composition (TAC)
I discovered my passion early in life. When I was six years old, my mom--who moved to the U.S. from Taiwan and raised me as a single parent--signed me up for every conceivable music class offered near our home in Arcadia, California. Cello, violin, singing, piano, jazz, and pop were just a few of the classes I attended. Classical piano pleased my mom the most, but writing and recording my own songs led me to lock myself in my room for hours on end. While composing, I would forget to eat--I would actually forget hunger.
When I was choosing a college, my mom told me, "You should go to the place that is going see your talent, because if they see potential in you, if they see that seed planted, they're going to give you the water to get it to grow." When SFCM offered me a scholarship, we were overjoyed. It was very important to me to choose a school like SFCM that truly values its students and supports us in reaching our greatest potential from day one.
I came to SFCM to pursue my dream of becoming a film composer. I knew that my first year of college would be the first year that SFCM offered a new major in Technology and Applied Composition (TAC). Not many programs like TAC exist, so I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. TAC has wildly exceeded my hopes. I get to study with amazing faculty and dedicated classmates. Every Friday, we have a seminar with guest artists who are well known in the film and game scoring industry. TAC offers classes catered to every goal and need that one could have throughout a career as a musician, composer, or producer.
TAC is full of exciting opportunities to learn from industry professionals and inspiring mentors who genuinely value each and every student's goals and well-being. We have a wonderful chair who is a classically trained performer and composer of electronic music herself--MaryClare Brzytwa. She is dedicated to bringing female students into the male-dominated field of digital composition, and her encouragement is one of the main reasons I enrolled at SFCM. But, no matter how much I wanted to come to SFCM, I wouldn't have been able to attend without my scholarship.
SFCM has already given me so many opportunities to develop my skills and earn recognition, beyond what I could have imagined. I was able to compete in SFCM's first-ever competition to create a sound logo for the radio station KDFC--the acoustic equivalent of a visual logo, which is often used to enforce brand recognition. I was so proud to be named the winner.
As part of the TAC program, I have already started an internship with microphone manufacturer sE Electronics. The internship has even turned into a part-time job, which I love and hope to continue for the rest of my undergraduate career. I get to research instruments and sound quality, work with distributors and customers, and solve challenging problems. TAC has opened my eyes to electronic music, which I never would have thought I would pursue. I realize that there are a lot of ways to create music and to develop a musical career that I haven't experienced yet. All of us in TAC have learned so much in our first year, and I cannot wait to see what each of us does when we graduate.
Music is my life. There really is nothing else that drives me forward as much as music does, and it's something that I cannot imagine living without. Perhaps this isn't so unusual, though. After all, what would a film be without a soundtrack? What would a game be without music? What if your phone was silent all the time and had no ringtone? What if the world was silent? All artists and composers strive to bring life into the world with our art, and that is our purpose and calling in life.
My dream is to pursue my calling as a composer, and thanks to SFCM, I am already living it. I am incredibly grateful for the support of others who understand my passion and are making my path possible through their generosity. The truth is, if it weren't for my scholarship, I wouldn't be here!
Consider making a gift in support of scholarships so that students like Jana can nurture their talents and live their dreams.
"My scholarship helps to keep me going, and makes me want to do more for others."
Ben Shirley '19
BM, Technology and Applied Composition
My name is Ben Shirley and I am a proud member of the very first class to major in Technology and Applied Composition at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. I am also a 51-year-old undergraduate. That's not a misprint. It's also not the most unusual thing you will read here. No one is more surprised by my story than I am, or more grateful for the telling. One thing is for sure: I wouldn't be where I am without a lot of help from a lot of people.
From a young age I loved music, even the kinds that weren't popular with my friends. Nothing else gave me so much joy or satisfaction. I learned the bass - the first of a number of instruments I would pick up - and knew that I wanted to create my own sound. By the age of 15 I was playing in clubs, and I got noticed. I ended up touring with some of the biggest bands of the time. I earned a little fame and fortune. You could say I was living the dream. But I wasn't happy.
I ended up on Skid Row in Los Angeles, and you can probably guess why. Addiction cost me my career, my relationships, my home, my health, and every cent I had. But losing everything was the greatest thing that could have happened to me. I've been in recovery - and sober - for five years.
I wouldn't have made it without the people at the Midnight Mission, an L.A.-based organization that not only met my basic needs but also helped me to feel alive again. I got the chance to go back to school. Being a versatile musician I wanted to learn Pro Tools - a computer-based program for composing, recording, and editing music - and I discovered that I had a knack for it. But at the local college, music and electronic media were separate majors, and it wasn't possible to mix and match. They were extremely supportive of me though, enabling me to do both simultaneously. That was 24 credits of coursework at once!
Eventually it was time to transfer. I couldn't have guessed that there was a program for music and media in the way that I imagined. But I discovered that it was just about to launch at the Conservatory: it was called Technology and Applied Composition (TAC for short). I was so excited that I didn't stop to think about how I was going to afford it. Once again help appeared, this time in the form of the Conservatory Scholarship. I wouldn't have been able to make the leap to the Conservatory without it. It's that simple.
Every Conservatory student has a story to tell, and I'm glad to tell you mine. If you have already made a gift in support of scholarships, I thank you. And if you haven't, please consider a gift at this time.
If I had to describe my Conservatory education in one word it would be "beautiful". I've never known a school to look after its students so well. All of the time I am asked, "What do you need? What can I do for you? Is this working out for you? Have you thought of trying this?" And no matter what I ask, the answer is yes, yes, yes. I've rediscovered the reasons I fell in love with music in the first place. It's like being a kid again.
I love my program. The studios and faculty are unbelievable. I also get to work with exceptional classical musicians, and this has been a rich resource for my compositions. The general education is mind blowing, especially my class with Nikolaus Hohmann. Academic study like this feels a lot like playing music - fluid and soulful with all kinds of unexpected connections. In short, I am immersed in cutting-edge production techniques, the finest classical music, and tremendous thought work - and this has been just the right formula for me to continue to explore my sound.
Outside of study I have a job in the library and I serve on the Student Advisory Council. We've come up with a lot of ideas for my fellow students, and we're talking about doing more things in the local community. I think that's important because we have it really good: most of us don't know what it's like to be down and out. Working in our community means helping others and learning the value of service.
I have known need in my life. There are so many kinds. People need food, shelter, clothes, kindness. So why support scholarships? Because you never know where someone is going to end up. My scholarship helps to keep me going, and makes me want to do more for others. Music means giving back. If you can't use music to help someone, what's the point?
As part of my application to the Conservatory I wrote a piece called Midnight to 12:01. The title refers to the end of a day and the start of a new one - a metaphor for my life. I'm blessed beyond anything. I feel like I'm in a dream every second I am in school at the Conservatory. And I am profoundly grateful to everyone who has helped me get here and stay here.
Consider making a gift in support of scholarships so that students like Ben can have the opportunity to pursue their talents and realize their full potential.
“Scholarship support is not just welcome, but critical. And it’s an investment that will provide a return.”
John Jaworski ’17
I first became interested in percussion at the age of 11. I’ve always been passionate about jazz, rock, and other genres, but I feel most drawn to classical music at this point in my life. To me, playing in an orchestra is as much about the personal challenge as it is about creating a cohesive whole. The repertoire embraces tradition, yet still manages to remain technically demanding for modern players. In that sense, classical music is simultaneously old and new. Plus I just happen to love it.
When I was selecting a school, SFCM ran neck and neck with other institutions. The deciding factor for me was how remarkably accommodating and considerate everyone here was. It turned out to be the right choice for me.
At the Conservatory I get excellent musical training—my teachers, Trey Wyatt and Jack Van Geem, are among the best at what they do—plus a complete education. I think it’s extremely important to learn about all facets of music and also be well-educated in non-musical areas as well. I am pursuing orchestral playing but I don’t want to feel limited. My goal is to be as well rounded as possible.
The SFCM curriculum emphasizes not only musical training but personal growth and professional development. Students feel motivated to work individually, collaboratively, and for others. For example, we are encouraged to apply for internships, and I recently obtained one with a prestigious new music organization in the area. On top of everything, San Francisco is incredible when it comes to exposure to cultural events. I have amazing access to all kinds of music and other forms of art.
When I graduate I know I will have options. I’m going to pursue orchestral work and I plan to teach privately, but there are many other avenues I can take. No matter what, I will create my own path—one that utilizes the strengths I’ve gained throughout the course of my education.
Money is always a major concern. It’s no secret that San Francisco is expensive. I am beyond grateful for my scholarship. I wouldn’t be here without it. Support like this is not just welcome, but critical, and it’s an investment that will provide a return. This kind of training readies students like me for a lifetime of giving back. Donors are supporting the community as much as they’re supporting the students themselves.
Consider making a gift in support of scholarships so that students like John can have the opportunity to pursue their talents and realize their full potential.
“I wouldn’t be here without a scholarship. I just couldn’t have done it.”
Cristóbal Selame ’17
Guitar is different from other instruments. The sound is more intimate and personal. Every player has a unique touch with its own power.
I was born in Chile, and my father is a self-taught guitarist. He started to teach me when I was young but I didn’t want to learn. That changed when I was 13. I fell in love with a piece—a guitar transcription of a Bach cello suite—and I taught myself to play it. I must have been pretty good because my father immediately arranged for me to study with a local professional named Jaime Calisto. It was quite a big deal for me.
In 2012 I came to California for a vacation. While I was visiting a music store I picked up a guitar and started to play. Someone heard me and pointed me to a guitar teacher at the local state university. Long story short: my vacation turned into a relocation. The teacher invited me to attend his classes. It was unofficial though, as I still had to finish high school.
Like every guitarist, I knew about the Conservatory’s guitar department. It’s one of the best in the world. At my audition I got to meet all of the department teachers, and it was like meeting childhood heroes. I already knew Sergio Assad a little bit, but when I got accepted, I couldn’t believe that I was going to be able to study with him. It was a dream come true.
I love the atmosphere at the Conservatory. Everyone is friendly and helpful, and I have amazing opportunities. Last year I won the guitar concerto competition. As a result I have the honor of performing with an orchestra at the International Maurizio Biasini Guitar Festival in January. The event takes place here at the Conservatory so I am especially conscious of making sure that my performance reflects not only the standards of our guitar department but my gratitude for the support I’ve received.
My goal is to be a professional solo artist but my studies have broadened my horizons. Take my Western Civilization class, for example. It was difficult because English isn’t my first language but I see how useful it was. Previously I was closed to thinking about anything but music, but this course made me realize that other things can be just as important.
I could say the same about teaching. Each week I teach nine middle school kids through the Conservatory in the Schools program. It’s been a demanding experience for me because I had never given much thought to teaching. But now that I’m doing it, I see how helpful it is. After all, in the music world everyone has to teach.
There is so much talent at the Conservatory. But sometimes it’s not possible for talented and dedicated people to keep going without help. I wouldn't be here without a scholarship. I just couldn’t have done it.
Consider making a gift in support of scholarships so that students like Cristóbal can have the opportunity to pursue their talents and realize their full potential.
“If you’ve ever wondered what a donation to the Conservatory accomplishes, I am living proof.”
Tamara L. Richards ’16
I was born in New York but spent almost all of my childhood in Jamaica. At 14 I returned to the United States and have been supporting myself ever since. I had to work for everything I got. It was a struggle.
I enrolled in an historically black university in Alabama to study Spanish, and spent time in Spain. But I had been singing for as long as I could remember, mostly in church, and I knew it was my life’s purpose. I made music my priority and earned an undergraduate degree in vocal performance and pedagogy.
Perhaps you are familiar with the saying, “When the birds are happy, they sing!” Well, the opposite is true too. At that point my personal life was in turmoil, robbing me of the confidence that every singer needs. I stopped singing.
But when something is for you it finds you. I moved to Korea to teach English. When the people there learned about my background they asked me to teach music—and to sing for them. My confidence slowly began to return.
Then I heard a voice—literally. I worked with a brilliant young singer and asked him where he had studied. His response? The San Francisco Conservatory of Music. I knew I had to apply.
Receiving the acceptance letter was an affirmation of something I had known my whole life: I have a gift. But it was the scholarship award that overwhelmed me. Knowing that others were willing to invest in a stranger reminded me that I have to share that gift.
From the moment I arrived at the Conservatory, I have been embraced. This environment exceeded all that I was promised and everything I had hoped for. I love working with my teacher, Sylvia Anderson. Teaching Artistry is one of my favorite classes, and it includes an internship at a community program that helps young people to write and perform their own operas. Watching my kids in action is inspiring.
The Conservatory’s focus on the business aspects of music has been eye opening. We learn that it’s smart for an artist to have multiple sources of income, and this helps me to think of how I can innovate. I don’t believe in selfish art. While I will always perform, I also want to share music in other ways such as teaching, arts administration, or even executive coaching.
If you’ve ever wondered what a donation to the Conservatory accomplishes, I am living proof. You are changing someone’s future. Studying and living in San Francisco is a challenge, but it would be impossible without the scholarship support I receive.
I suppose my story is unusual, but every student I’ve met at the Conservatory has a story to tell. We believe our time here is worth any sacrifice or hardship because we are passionate about music and we know our Conservatory education will last a lifetime.
Thank you for reading, and for your consideration of a gift in support of scholarships.
Consider making a gift in support of scholarships so that students like Tamara can have the opportunity to pursue their talents and realize their full potential.