The hall is empty, a sparse seating arrangement is made on stage, some of the best brass musicians in the world take their places. Imagine the experience for a young musician at Davies Symphony Hall waiting to hear the first notes come from this monumental group.
This is exactly the atmosphere in which SFCM’s brass students found themselves this week. Paul Welcomer, a Conservatory faculty member and trombonist with the San Francisco Symphony, put together his annual brass class at Davies Symphony Hall this year on Tuesday, April 30, an event that gets the Symphony’s brass together—many of them on faculty at SFCM—to instruct and play with students on the stage of San Francisco’s most recognized concert hall.
Welcomer was able to secure the space specifically for the class, a hard thing to do with the rigorous schedule of Symphony rehearsals and performances that take place there regularly.
“The side-by-side is the students’ favorite class of the year, hands down,” said Welcomer. “It is so exciting for them to sit next to Symphony players and to hear their sounds close up. And there is no substitute for being coached live, in the moment, by the people you hear every week. It was a special treat to have the class in Davies Symphony Hall this year, with the incredibly lively acoustics helping everyone sound their best.”
A unique aspect of the class was its format. While many side-by-side classes might have students interspersed between professional players all at once, Welcomer had whole sections of students join the other professionals in groups. (In this class, the musicians rehearsed excerpts from Bruckner’s Symphony No. 5.) For example, SFCM trumpets relieved the Symphony’s trumpets and played with the Symphony’s horns and trombones—each instrumental section was offered this opportunity. This allowed the students to see how they would need to play as a section to fill the hall.
“Playing alongside Symphony members, you can directly compare their sounds to our sounds,” said French horn player Alex Moxley ’20. “The most surprising thing was how hard they pushed us and held us to those standards that they’re playing at. They didn’t give us any slack—in a good way.”
“This experience is very valuable because we get to hear what we aspire to do at a professional level,” said tubist Christopher Torrisi ’20, who has played with the Symphony a couple of times as a student.
It wasn’t just the students who benefitted from the experience, too. Participating Symphony musicians were ecstatic to serve as mentors in the atmosphere of Davies Symphony Hall.
“If these students want to learn to be really good orchestral musicians, then what better experience could there be than to be up close and personal with some of the best orchestral brass players in the world?” said San Francisco Symphony trombonist Nick Platoff.
It would seem that, for SFCM’s brass students, there is an unprecedented opportunity to learn from the best, with the best—in the best of spaces.