Like the Opening Bell heralding the start of trading, convocation ceremonies ring in the start of the academic year. This year’s ceremony on Monday, September 25—a congress of students, faculty, staff, and Conservatory trustees—turned out to be one of the most inspiring forums held at SFCM. In celebration of its 100th year, the Conservatory brought San Francisco Symphony Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas to its Centennial Convocation ceremony to speak to students about the role they’ve undertaken as ambassadors of music.
At the beginning of the ceremony, SFCM President David Stull greeted attendees to usher in the 2017-18 academic year. After putting the Conservatory’s founding in context, referencing the First World War, the Bolshevik Revolution, and the rise of communism, Stull noted the fearless nature of Ada Clement and Lillian Hodghead, SFCM’s founders. These two pioneers started a music school all on their own, blazing a trail at a time when women were not expected to lead.
“Now more than ever we need trailblazers,” said Stull. “That is why all of you are here.”
It didn’t take long for the atmosphere in Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall to hit a fever pitch. The room, packed to the gills, held the collective attention of hundreds and it was focused directly on Michael Tilson Thomas. As guest speaker for SFCM’s Centennial Convocation, the decorated conductor found himself welcome and in the company of like-minded music lovers.
Tilson Thomas, inspiring as always, delivered a message built on togetherness. “All the music we play is in the Key of Human,” he said. He also spoke of the need to “form a new social contract” to preserve the art, to engage musical communities, and to expand its relevance in today’s society. In directly appealing to the students, Tilson Thomas remarked, “You’re going to have to be the ones to invent a personal and caring way in which new technology, new life plans, can be used productively and sustainably.”
After Tilson Thomas’ speech, President Stull presented percussion faculty chair Jack Van Geem with the Sarlo Family Foundation Award for Excellence in Teaching. Clearly moved by the honor, Van Geem made a few brief remarks before watching performances by two ensembles comprised of both his current students (Diego Becerra ’18, Mika Nakamura ’18, Tim Padgett ’19, Sohrab Bazargannia ’19, and Sam Rich ’19) and former students (Stan Muncy ’06, Fred Morgan ’07, Divesh Karamchandani ’14, Ben Paysen ’05, and Justin Sun ’14).
Just prior to the performances, Provost and Dean Kate Sheeran presented Stephen Talarman with the Presser Scholarship, a prize given to an outstanding student entering their Senior year who has been recommended by the faculty on the basis of extraordinary academic and musical accomplishments. Talarman, a composition major currently studying with David Conte, plans to study classics at the Humboldt University of Berlin upon graduating from SFCM.
As far as ceremonies go, SFCM’s Centennial Convocation was one in a hundred, but perhaps it could be described more fittingly as one in a million.