Music resources for when you’re stuck at home

Now that the Corona Pandemic has disrupted our music life we’re reminded how dramatically music plays a part in keeping people’s spirits up. Let’s collect “stay-at-home” music resources here.

Our local (SF Bay Area) musicians are playing and broadcasting their music. Here are some wonderful streams to continue to connect with local artists. Please post ideas below or send via our contact page and we’ll add them to the list.

SF Symphony’s principal oboe Eugene Izotov plays Bach for you:

SFJazz has a great YouTube channel, and so does Voices of Music.

SF Symphony is streaming its great Keeping Score series for free.

Please send us links of your own or to your favorite local artists!

Check out this terrific NPR site that updates worldwide livestreams.

And there are some active learning resources online, too, here’s a violin practice tips blog sent out by CMNC (Chamber Musicians of Northern CA).

If you have any other ideas please post here or send via our contact page to share with your fellow musicians. Or write about your experiences as a stay-at-home musician – we’d love to publish your blog entries. Let’s all stay active while we’re stuck at home.

Community Strings: Violin, Viola, Cello, Bass

Midlife crisis: how bass playing changed my life

A Guest Blog by Steve Schaefer

I started playing the bass at the age of 50, and it has become a very important part of my life. Sometimes it just takes a while to be ready.

I got my first guitar in 1967. I fell in love with it and played for fun alone and with friends for several years.

My bass story, though, begins in 1972. I’d been playing the guitar for five years and picked up an acoustic one to go with my first, but I decided I wanted to play the bass. I was 18 and out of school now. I don’t remember why, but something about that deep sound really attracted me. And I loved Paul’s bass parts in Beatles songs.

Having few liquid assets, I decided to take my beloved coin collection to a pawn shop in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district to see if they’d take it for a bass guitar. I brought home what I believe was a green Fender Precision bass. I have no photographs of it. I plunked on it a little while, but before long someone broke into my ground-floor apartment and stole it. Looking back, I’m not sure if it had anything to do with coming from a pawnshop.

Disheartened, I decided to start college and move on. I met a woman, graduated college, got married, and had a kid. I worked a series of jobs. I got divorced and remarried and had another child. We started taking our son to music lessons and I was around musical instruments again. My memories of the bass came back, and I decided I wanted one again. I mentioned it to my wife and she said, “why don’t you go get one?” Now that was music to my ears. And this time, I had the means to walk into a nice music store and select one I liked.

I picked out a Fender Precision Bass special (with the Jazz Bass neck), with a sunburst finish. It was a lot like my first one. I took it home with a small amplifier and started taking lessons at the same store where my son was learning the guitar.

I found a book about basses and bass players. In the back, an appendix featured 30 albums with great bass parts that you MUST listen to. That was the source of my first intentional bass-focused listening, and led me to explore more Jazz, Folk, and Bluegrass.

I never intended to play the upright bass. But those jazz albums started to affect me – Scott LaFaro with Bill Evans’ trio at the Village Vanguard I played over and over. I found numerous albums with Paul Chambers covering the low end. But it was one special song that really motivated me to try the big acoustic bass. My wife had an album by Irish folksinger Mary Black, and on it was a track called Columbus. I credit that bass part, and short solo, with helping me decide to investigate the upright bass. So, a little over a year after I began electric bass guitar, I started taking bass lessons on upright bass, instead.

I found my teacher through a sheet posted on a music store bulletin board with the little tear-off tabs. After a satisfactory first lesson, my new teacher and I went to A&G Music in Oakland to rent a bass. I took my lessons and improved, and after eight months of renting, A&G let me apply the entire amount I’d already spent towards my own Chinese made, hand-carved upright bass. (Photo: with my bass before a concert with the Castro Valley Orchestra, 2014)

Meanwhile, I still played my electric Fender, with a band, Red Paint, from late 2006 until early 2013. We rehearsed weekly and played a few local gigs. Then, I helped form a five-member blues band, which evolved into a four-person group, Fault Line Blues Band. I play mostly electric with them, but I have started adding in the upright part of the time. I’ve also started playing a five-string bass guitar—it was my 64th birthday present.

As my upright abilities improved, I wondered what to do. My local adult school sent a flyer that listed an orchestra class. I had some classical background from my childhood clarinet playing and my mom’s participation in community orchestras on the cello. So, in the first week of January 2007, I went to my first class meeting.

It was scary at first, but I took to the music quickly. In the 10 years I spent with the orchestra, we rehearsed weekly and performed about 100 pieces, including three Beethoven symphonies, Mozart, Dvorak, Shostakovich, and many more, including a couple of original debuts by local, living composers.

During that time, I also discovered chamber music workshops, including weekends with the Chamber Musicians of Northern California (CMNC) and the wonderful week-long sessions at Humboldt State University. The local workshops were great for improving my skills and meeting lots of like-minded players. The week-long sessions at Humboldt are a joy – summer camp for grownups! I attended in 2010 and 2012, and I’m going back this year for a third time.

Today, I play two or three paid gigs a month with my band and take occasional chamber music workshops. I also participate in music events with my local Odd Fellows lodge, which puts on a summer concert series that benefits school music programs. And I’ve started bringing the upright into the Blues band—a new and exciting synergy.

I made a fateful decision 15 years ago to take on the bass, and it opened a world of enjoyment and friendship. It shows that when you love something, it’s never too late to start.

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Community Orchestra and Symphonic Music

Orchestra music is Awesöme!

I had such a great experience at the Awesöme Orchestra reading that I just can’t resist telling you about it. Awesöme is a collective that presents open readings for local musicians. It’s all about people having fun playing orchestra music – how is that not great???

The reading I attended was of the Kyrie movement of Requiem without Words, a beautiful new work by local composer Arturo Rodriguez that was written in response to the Ghost Ship tragedy in 2016. Which made it all the more resonant for me: current music with community impact and meaning, played by community members — for the joy of playing.

Find out more about Awesöme Orchestra Collective on the AMN website

Community Talking about Music

17 reasons to love amateur musicians!

A friend just sent me this great article by Ariane Todes! You should read the whole thing HERE. Ariane is a terrific writer who lives in London and runs the website Elbow Music. Check it out!!

17 ways amateur musicians contribute to the classical music world:

  1. We go to concerts
  2. We offer solo performing opportunities for young stars, orchestral players and international celebrities who need try-out gigs
  3. We support venues by booking concerts in them and usually filling them up
  4. We promote classical music to our non-music friends who might never have engaged before
  5. We commission composers and perform new works
  6. We raise money for charity
  7. We hire music from orchestral libraries
  8. We buy gear – strings, music, accessories, cases, sheet music
  9. We buy instruments – old and new. (Judging by some of the intense conversations I’ve had about modern instruments, there seems to be more openness and enthusiasm towards them in amateur orchestras than among professionals)
  10. We benefit local schools by paying to rehearse in their halls. (We’re usually desperate to find good rehearsal spaces. Are you listening, whoever is planning Simon Rattle’s new concert hall?)
  11. We offer an alternative outlet for conservatoire students who choose not to become professionals
  12. We pay musicians for lessons
  13. We influence young musicians – whether as parents, relatives or friends
  14. We support young conductors, both through concerts and masterclasses
  15. We offer chances for recording engineers to practise their skills
  16. We support young players by going to their concerts, spreading the word and lending them instruments
  17. We support the local economy. (Rehearsals usually end in the pub.)