How Judy Garland Inspired This Prize-Winning Composition Premiering at SFCM

Mike Kropfer and Judy Garland.

Mike Kropfer and Judy Garland.

Alum Michael Kropf won every prize available in SFCM's composition department while completing his master's degree, and returns to debut his new work at the Chamber Music Tuesday concert on November 1st.

By Alex Heigl

If you've ever wanted to hear how David Lynch might interpret Judy Garland, Michael Kropf is here for you.

The 2022 winner of SFCM's annual Hoefer Prize competition is returning to San Francisco at the top of November for the premiere of his composition Sweet Baby Movie Child, performed as part of the Chamber Music Tuesday series on Nov. 1.

Kropf grew up an hour from New York, and describes himself as "very culturally influenced by the East Coast," but explained his piece is a middle ground between the two.

"The things that I've taken from New York have met the things I learned in California and those are both present in Sweet Baby Movie Child, because it has some very strong musical theater influences, but it also has a larger overview. Something about being in San Francisco and being able to see for miles no matter where you are has this deep impact on, I think, any artist that lives there," he said.

"There's a very Tin Pan Alley, movie-musicals-of-the-Forties" element to Kropf's piece, he explained, calling it a "longform song-cycle-slash-monodrama … somewhere in between those things." The text for the piece was written by Patrick Smith, a fellow SFCM student and guitarist whom Kropf befriended and ended up rooming with for a time.

Smith is also a poet who writes "these incredibly surreal and expressive and strange texts," and while he and Kropf had collaborated on shorter pieces before, Kropf immediately thought of his friend for the piece. (Another student, friend, and repeat collaborator from his time at SFCM involved with the piece is soprano Erin O'Meally.)

Sweet Baby Movie Child was built from a shorter song Kropf had written with Smith dating back to the 2020 holidays. "Patrick and I were sharing videos with each other of the Judy Garland Christmas special from the 1960s, and there was something so David Lynchian and strange and beautiful about this special," he said. "He ended up writing a poem about it, I ended up setting it as text, and it hung around in my psyche for a long time and wound up as the inspiration for this larger piece."



He continued, "As I was writing it, I was thinking of California a lot. I had watched from afar as a lot of my favorite places in California had gone up in flames over the last couple of years, and all the unrest and unhappiness… so I was thinking of all that on one hand, but on the other, I was thinking of all the beautiful memories I had here and all the ways that it's amazing, and strange and wonderful. The piece is me trying to work through those two realities existing at the same time."

“Michael Kropf is one of our most outstanding recent graduates," SFCM Composition Chair David Conte said of his former student. "While at SFCM he won every prize available in our department; he then became a valuable teacher for the Pre-College faculty for two years before beginning his doctoral studies at the University of Michigan. He has continued to receive important commissions, including from the Cabrillo Music Festival. Our department is proud and excited to welcome him back to SFCM for the premiere of his Hoefer Prize composition.”

Kropf returned the kind words, saying of Conte, "David was such a wonderful and important mentor to me: He helped me figure out what I wanted to do with music, as opposed to pushing me in the direction of what I was 'supposed to do, and that has to do not only with him being a wonderful teacher but also how we share a connection in how we experience music."

The Hoefer Prize is awarded each year to an SFCM graduate and is drawn from a bequest made by devout San Francisco arts patron Jacqueline Stanhope upon her death in 2006. The winning composer receives a cash award and visits the Conservatory for a week-long residency that includes rehearsals, seminars, masterclasses and other activities.

Also programmed for the evening is Leoš Janáček's Mládí, Ravel's Rapsodie espagnole and Brahms's Piano Quartet No. 3 in C minor, Op. 60.

For the first time since 2020, concessions will be offered during this concert including beer, wine, hard seltzers, and snacks!

Guests are asked to reserve tickets for this free Chamber Music Tuesday event at the Barbro Osher Recital Hall in the Bowes Center on Tuesday, November 1, at 7:30 pm.

Learn more about studying composition at SFCM.