“Musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul.” Plato wrote this more than two thousand years ago, and today, his words still ring true. In early November, SFCM student mentors, students from the San Francisco Unified School District, and the legendary Kronos Quartet came together for a concert that stirred the souls of everyone involved.
The concert was the product of the Conservatory in the Schools program in which SFCM trains new generations of teachers by pairing its student mentors with underserved San Francisco schools. These efforts culminated in a moving event where student musicians from the San Francisco School of the Arts, Lowell High School, Abraham Lincoln High School, and Presidio Middle School, took the stage alongside their SFCM mentors and the Kronos Quartet.
Leading up to the side-by-side performance at the Conservatory, student mentors from SFCM’s Conservatory in the Schools program coached SFUSD students on repertoire from the Kronos Quartet’s “Fifty for the Future” project—an initiative commissioning fifty new works designed expressly for the training of music students.
“We were thrilled, inspired, and energized when our ‘Fifty for the Future’ pieces were performed by so many wonderful young San Francisco United School District musicians at the Conservatory,” says David Harrington, violinist and founder of the Kronos Quartet.
“The evening had an elevated and charged feeling as though we all won back some measure of hope. There was a bit of perfection in how the San Francisco public schools, the Conservatory, and the Kronos Performing Arts Association all worked together at maximum pitch to provide something special for the next generation.”
In times when we may feel more divided than united, the Kronos Quartet and SFCM are committed to reaching out to their communities and encouraging young people to engage with each other and collaborate through music. The results have been heartening.
Cynthia Ryan, a Conservatory in the Schools mentor and SFCM student, reflects on her time teaching in the program. “My students were motivated and worked hard, devoting time outside of school to prepare for the performance…It was an honor to participate as a teacher and performer.” Especially fulfilling, she notes, was the program’s ability to highlight the importance of community partnerships.
These partnerships require far-reaching collaborations between schools, students, and professionals, something which Conservatory in the Schools has been able to achieve. And with decades of community outreach initiatives and a deep connection to Bay Area cultural life, the Kronos Quartet was an exceptional partner and example for both the Conservatory mentors and the students they were teaching.
Shiqi-Cherry Li, a mentor with the program, characterizes her experience as “absolutely delightful.” She adds that it was not only exciting to help guide students along their musical paths, but also inspiring to work and perform with the Kronos. “I thoroughly enjoyed the experience as a whole and would do it all over again!”
Kate Sheeran, Provost and Dean of SFCM, explains that the concert was an uplifting event and a success because it gave people hope for what can be accomplished through community partnerships. “Seeing the inimitable Kronos Quartet, young musicians from San Francisco's public schools, and our SFCM students together on stage playing new music was both joyful and inspiring,” Sheeran says. “We were witnessing the results of many layers of artistic mentorship in action, and what resulted was not only a fantastic concert, but also a joining together of forces in music education in San Francisco that was uplifting to all.”
Looking ahead, Sheeran notes the recent project “is most certainly a model for future collaborations and we are excited to build on this success.”