Winter Term Returns to SFCM

sfcm, winter term, conservatory

From becoming a discerning listener, to the impact of Bob Dylan, to wine and music pairing, students at SFCM are choosing between a wide range of creative classes.

By Mark Taylor

Have you ever wondered how to write songs across all genres? If tap dancing can make you a better musician? Or if listening to Bach pairs well with red, or white wine? All these questions and more will be answered during this year's Winter Term at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

Winter Term is the time of year when students who are usually focused on their particular instrument or program are asked to try something new. Conservatory faculty have created an array of class options, some of which are designed to help a musician delve deep into critical listening, while others ask you to put on some dancing shoes. “Simply put, we want enjoyment and a cultivation of curiosity,” said Dean Jonas Wright. There are roughly 90 winter term classes this year with about 40 student projects. This year faculty have brought back some classic favorites, and introduced some exciting new options for the roughly two-week period this January. 

For those eager to grow their musical ear, Music Theory and Musicianship’s Scott Foglesong is offering “Creative and Critical Listening” for students. This is the fourth time he has offered the class, which is aimed at developing a more discerning listener, “One who is relatively free of the, ‘me like, me no like’ mindset in favor of an approach that evaluates every aspect of the performance,” Foglesong said. The class promises to have students listen and analyze both historical and new music with an overarching goal of leaving them with an earful of knowledge. “Discernment comes with breadth and experience. So each day we’ll start out identifying some areas to think about in the piece in question, before launching into as many recordings as we can cover in the time allotted,” Foglesong added. 

He has been called one of the greatest songwriters of all time covering nearly every genre for more than six decades, Bob Dylan. For the first time, SFCM’s Carl Nagin is teaching “Art, Theft, and Invention in the Music of Bob Dylan.” The class delves into the music of the first songwriter to win the Nobel Prize. “On one level, this is really a class about invention, imagination, and musical intelligence. Dylan has said a lot about how he works and creates, I want students to feel that the creative processes that go into his songwriting are accessible to them,” Nagin said. Students are encouraged to find their own paths through Dylan’s songs by composing musical work that arranges, reimagines or evokes his songs. The class will also go through Dylan’s latest work, “Rough and Rowdy Ways” which has some classical roots, “There’s a song that uses Offenbach’s Barcarole, followed by a homage to blues singer Jimmy Reed, and then a 17-minute narrative about the Kennedy assassination that is devastating in its critical awareness of the consequences of that event and how it still haunts us. He released it the day shelter-in-place protocols took effect in California. Talk about relevant!” Nagin added.

What composer best pairs with a daytime rosé? Music History and Literature professor Alexander Stalarow plans to explore that answer with, “Wine and Music Pairing”. The course doubles as an introduction to great wines of France and California, and to the growing world of pairing wine with music. Stalarow spent several years living in France and is a self-taught wine aficionado. “We first study together wine flavor and aroma wheels and how we can use them to describe a wine’s character. Then we think about which of these characteristics have musical analogues,” Stalarow said. The collaborative course then workshops what goes together, “I try to present ideas for music and wine pairings in as many possible ways, regional or cultural connections, contexts for drinking and listening, and of course, characteristics of a wine and given piece of music as we perceive them.” Stalarow hopes students have fun, but learn a valuable lesson in taste, both for the tongue, and the ear, “What we’re tasting affects what and how we listen, and what we are listening to affects what we’re tasting,” Stalarow added. Students must be 21 to attend.

If a student is looking to tap into a new talent, Opera and Musical Theatre’s Lauren Mayer is offering, “Tap Dancing for Musicians”. Mayer has taught the course before and says most of the time, it comes naturally to musicians who are trained to think about counting, accents, and multi-tasking, “Our ability to count is a huge asset, and being able to count while executing something physically comes naturally to musicians,” Mayer said. The class is designed as a basic introduction to tap dancing, where Mayer hopes students learn something new that may make them a better musician, but also let loose and have fun, “Students tend to get stuck in their heads and to focus on the demanding aspects of their instruments, which is important, but music and art are also about entertainment and fun, and tap is the most fun of all dance styles,” Mayer added.

Learn more about Winter Term at SFCM.