A Day in the Life of An RJAM Saxophonist

Jazz, Music, roots jazz and american music, saxophone, busking
"Childhood Flashbacks" Skyler Nolan "Childhood Flashbacks" by Skyler Nolan.

A typical Saturday for SFCM student Skyler Nolan includes practicing at the Bowes Center, lessons, and busking

I’m often asked, what does an average day as an SFCM student look like? The vague answer is that it’s varied, depending on the day; oftentimes, though, it’s a fun mixture of preparing for lessons and classes, working, performing, exploring the city, and hanging out with friends. That said, I’ve enlisted the help of my friends and colleagues to answer that question but to give an inside look into their experiences as SFCM students. 

First up is Skyler Nolan. Skyler is a third year saxophone student in the RJAM program studying under David Sánchez and Chad Lefkowitz-Brown. I asked Skyler to tell me how he spent his last Saturday. His answer? A mixture enjoying his home at The Bowes Center, performing safely in the heart of San Francisco, enjoying time with friends, and prepping for lessons. 

8:00 Breakfast

Skyler started his day with good old fashioned eggs and toast. While breakfast may seem insignificant, the demanding lifestyle of a conservatory student requires us to fuel right from the get go. Some of my friends prepare their meals at The Bowes Center and others grab a bite and a cup of caffeine at the Conservatory’s Bluebird Cafe—it’s great knowing that the onsite facilities at both 200 Van Ness and 50 Oak provide all students with the nutrition they need to succeed.

10:30 Practice

Skyler reviewed his transcription of Sonny Rollins’ “God Bless the Child” in his dorm room before his weekly lesson with Chad. One incredible thing about the student units at The Bowes Center is that they also function as practice rooms. Between the soundproofed practice rooms and classrooms at 50 Oak and our apartments at 200 Van Ness, we students have the ability to jam whenever we like. What a luxury! 

11:30 Lesson

Next on the agenda was Skyler’s 50 minute weekly lesson with Chad Lefkowitz-Brown. Weekly lessons are arranged differently this year depending on one’s instrument. Wind instrumentalists and vocalists primarily use the Dante Audio Networking System. This allows students to play or sing in one room while their teachers instruct them in another with 4-10 milliseconds of latency. So, Skyler and Chad can play at the same time and vocalists like me can collaborate with their pianist coaches. I didn’t believe it until I experienced it myself, but trust me it’s amazing!

1:00 Busking

Performing safely during COVID can be difficult, but where we students see obstacles, we also see opportunity. Skyler and his roommates, Jason Hayashi and Gavin Harris, took all of these precautions into consideration and busked outside in Hayes Valley with fellow RJAMers Julian Esparza and JC Grady. They played favorite tunes like “Freedom Suite'' by Sonny Rollins, learned with and from each other, and spent a portion of their day sharing music—an artist’s dream.

4:30 Tackling the To-Do List

Skyler spent the next portion of his day doing homework for Dr. Hohmann’s History of Musicals class which involved researching the early beginnings of theatre in America. Even required humanities and history coursework at SFCM aim to enhance and inform artistry. These courses weave art, culture, and literature to music in a way that broadens students’ knowledge of the world which, in turn, informs dynamic musicianship. 

After completing his assignments, Skyler then went to 50 Oak to work on-campus as a digital signage assistant. While Skyler helps to advertise events like concerts, recitals, and masterclasses by updating signage, there are many on-campus jobs that students can apply for. From PDEC to Marketing and Communications, Admissions, Pre-College, the Box Office, Production, the Library, and more, student employment opportunities on campus are endless.

6:00 Dinner & Chats with Friends 

Skyler then picked up chicken adobo at Bluebird Cafe for dinner. Take it from me, the meals offered at Bluebird are atypical to those served at an average university. Some popular meals include ginger salmon with rice and roasted veggies, kale chicken caesar salad, and vegan sweet potato curry hand pies. Eating good food as an SFCM student is oftentimes coupled with spending time with friends—the SFCM community is super tight-knit. Students here are open minded, caring, collaborative, encouraging, curious, and enthusiastic about learning from and getting to know their colleagues. 

10:00 Winding Down

Skyler finally made some time for himself.  We’re asked to do so many things as musicians. As I’ve said before, balancing everything can be tricky, but it’s incredible to study at a conservatory that supports us students in all areas of who we are. Beyond educational and performance pursuits SFCM students are encouraged to explore and develop who they are during free weekly yoga classes (via Zoom), sessions with our onsite therapist, and fun activities hosted by the SAEC, PDEC, Student Affairs, and Residential Life. 

I must say, that was quite a fun day! I hope Skyler’s Saturday gave you a bit of insight into the SFCM student lifestyle. It’s wonderful getting to experience such a variety of activities each day, it truly makes life as a music student an adventure. 

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