Community Composers Jazz and Beyond - Non-Classical Music Vocal and Choral Music Workshops

Juneteeth Choral Celebration

Don’t miss our second annual JUNETEENTH choral celebration, led once again by the wonderful Candace Y. Johnson. If you attended her Spirituals workshop last year, you’ll remember what a joyous occasion it was to sing Moses Hogan’s arrangement of Deep River on the first Juneteenth federal holiday. This June 19, Candace will lead us in singing a new work by Roland Carter, the esteemed choral composer and conductor whose arrangement of Lift Every Voice and Sing has become the iconic version of the Black national anthem.

Carter’s new work Make Some Noise, Get in Trouble honors the great civil rights leader John Lewis who admonished us to get in “good trouble, necessary trouble.” The piece draws its text from Congressman Lewis’s speeches.

It’s a first for AMN: we’re very excited to be part of a commissioning project to perform a new work. And in this case, it’s a project that’s totally aligned with AMN’s values of community participation, amateur music-making, and honoring our diverse American musical heritage. This exciting project was coordinated by the national choral advocacy organization Chorus America.

In a recent conversation over Zoom, Candace and Roland met with AMN founder Lolly Lewis to discuss the piece and the upcoming workshop. Candace noted that she heard a particularly fluid, almost river-like character in one of the sections of the music. Roland noted that yes, in fact he referenced the Spiritual Wade in the Water in that section. “I always like to quote a Spiritual if I can. One that has meaning, not just any Spiritual, but it has to reflect the text and it becomes an important part of what I do,” he explained. “Doing art songs – and I call my solo Spirituals art songs because I like the play of the piano with the voice – is all about the interpretation of the words.”

Listen to Candace and Roland’s discussion about the music and how to interpret the details of this new piece that incorporates traditional choral singing with elements of gospel and even hip-hop! And then join us on June 19 to lift our voices in a Juneteenth celebration of America.

Make Some Noise, Get in Trouble!

AMN mentors Composers Jazz and Beyond - Non-Classical Music Workshops

Meet Producer Jef Stott

Blog post by Jef Stott.

Hello everyone!

Jef Stott here and I’m a music producer and educator here in the Bay Area and I’m really excited to present my class on music production in Logic Pro for Amateur Music Network. Producing music has been the focus and passion for most of my life and I can’t wait to share my knowledge and insights with you.

This is going to be a great series of classes for composers/ producers and musicians interested in digital music production. All students are welcome, these classes are definitely geared towards the entry level.

You’re going to learn how to mix your tracks, produce your own songs, and write your own beats and bass lines. We will also learn to edit vocal and instrumental tracks. We’re going to cover a wide range of genres, from electronic and urban to traditional recordings of live instruments.

It’s not going to be purely technical! We’re going to talk about the aesthetic choices that people are making as they are producing music. We will definitely go under the hood into the mechanics of music production.

We’ll discuss recordings we’ve listened to and learn about the role of the producer:

  • How did they do that?
  • How do they make that drum sound so big?
  • How do they make those vocals sound so powerful?

We’re going to answer a lot of those questions in this class.

We’ll focus on Logic Pro, the music software, but the concepts I’m going to be teaching in the class are going to be universal, and you can apply them to Pro Tools, Ableton or any other music software. We’ll review important basic concepts such as audio editing, MIDI production, microphones, mixing, and more.

It is going to be a fantastic series of workshops and a true intensive with three sessions in one week. I really hope that you can join me.  It is my honor to teach all that I have learned and I can’t wait to share everything with you.

Jef breaks down the power of Logic Pro software for you.

AMN mentors Composers Jazz and Beyond - Non-Classical Music Talking about Music Workshops

Meet Harpist Destiny Muhammad

Wait, isn’t the harp a classical instrument? How does that fit into the history and practice of jazz?

Harpist Destiny Muhammad looks forward to telling you all about it in her workshop on Saturday, September 18. Destiny has been inspired by her musical “mothers” Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby to forge her unique identity as a jazz musician and creative artist. 

Destiny will share her passion for the fundamentals of jazz embodied in the “standards” repertoire that was her musical springboard, launching her creative journey from performing with her jazz trio to curating programs for the San Francisco Symphony. She recently received a prestigious digital residency grant from Chamber Music America, and the journey continues!

Get a preview of our workshop as Destiny talks with AMN Founder Lolly Lewis about her influences and what she hopes people will take away from the experience.

Destiny’s Teaching Artist Concert at SFJAZZ .

AMN mentors Composers Talking about Music Vocal and Choral Music Workshops

Meet composer Jake Heggie

We’re very much looking forward to hosting an online dialogue on February 20 between two people we admire greatly: David Landis and Jake Heggie. David is the president of Landis Communications Inc. in San Francisco and a member of AMN’s advisory board. Jake is one of the premier vocal and opera composers of our era; his compositions include the operas Dead Man Walking (2000) and Moby-Dick (2010). Over email, we asked them to give us a foretaste of their conversation.

Jake Heggie. (Photo: James Niebuhr)

David: We met when I was the public-relations director for the San Francisco Symphony and Jake was doing in-house public relations for the San Francisco Opera.

Jake: I started there as a writer in April 1994. I don’t remember exactly when we met, but it was very shortly after that.

David: The San Francisco Opera’s PR department has brought us some great talent! Besides Jake, there’s Armistead Maupin, author of Tales of the City.

Not many serious composers have a background in public relations like yours, Jake! What did you learn about music, and musical institutions, from working in PR?

Jake: It actually started for me in Los Angeles in the late 1980s. I had suffered a hand injury, focal dystonia. That forced me to stop playing piano, which was pretty traumatic. While I was reeducating my hand with an entirely new technique—starting with scales!—I had to find a way to make a living. I discovered I could write well about music and the arts. I got a job at the UCLA Center for the Arts as the PR and marketing writer, and then moved to Cal Performances [at UC Berkeley] and finally the San Francisco Opera. It was a great education. I met people from every corner of the arts: administration, donors, artists, stagehands, props, costumes, wigs and makeup, front of house, box office, art managers, writers, press, publicists. That education has served me well through the years because I learned early about the totality of the business—not just one perspective. Also, my job at the San Francisco Opera was to write about every corner of the opera house and what was going on in it, and relate that to the world somehow. It was heaven! I attended everything, met the most amazing people, took them to interviews, spent time with them … and then started writing songs for the great singers coming through. It was the best apprenticeship ever for an aspiring opera composer … except I didn’t even know I was an aspiring opera composer at the time! 

David, you used to sing in the San Francisco Symphony Chorus. Have you ever sung any of Jake’s works? Any insights from the singer’s point of view?

David: You give me a lot of credit! I think I only got into the Symphony Chorus because they knew I did PR for the symphony and thought I could help promote the chorus! Sad to say, but I have never sung any of Jake’s works. Let’s put that on my bucket list, please! What I will say as an observer and an audience member is that I’m always impressed with the lyricism of Jake’s music. I think that would be so gratifying as a performer.

Jake, can you tell us a little about what it’s like to receive a commission for a new work?

Jake: A commission is a gift of possibility and a vote of confidence to an artist. It’s the opportunity to find and create something meaningful: to collaborate with great colleagues and go on a wonderful adventure together. I don’t think I’ve ever been told what to write; I’m usually asked what inspires me in the moment. Because if I’m not inspired, it’s not going to be good! It has to be something that gives me musical shivers—where I don’t necessarily know what the music is, but I know the music is there. So I’m asked to create something for a specific occasion, singer, ensemble, company—whatever—and we explore what inspires me that also inspires the company. From there, I suggest the writer, director, conductor, and singers that I want to work with—again, people who inspire me and the team. It’s all about having the right people on the team. One weak link can bring the whole thing down.

Singers like Nick Phan, who has also led an AMN workshop, are huge fans of your work, Jake. Do you write for particular singers’ vocal ranges or abilities?

Jake: I always write for specific singers. Their personalities, idiosyncrasies, and voices are what help me write something specific, clear, and strong. Imagine you’re a screenwriter and you’re asked to write a script for a movie about [former US Secretary of State] Madeleine Albright. You think, hmm, OK, Madeleine Albright. And then they say, “Oh, and we have Meryl Streep as Madeleine Albright.” Well, HELLO! Now, just about anything is possible, right?

David, you’ll be moderating the online conversation on February 20. Want to give us any hints about what you’re planning to ask Jake?

David: I’m always curious not just about the past but about the future. So maybe we can persuade Jake to look into his crystal ball and give us some juicy tidbits that point to the future.

AMN mentors Composers Jazz and Beyond - Non-Classical Music Strings: Violin, Viola, Cello, Bass Workshops

Six things you should know about Lisa Mezzacappa

Our February 13 online workshop, “At Home with Lisa Mezzacappa: A Jazz Listening Session,” is a guided tour of jazz history conducted by one of the Bay Area’s most inventive and versatile musicians. An acclaimed composer, bassist, bandleader, and producer, Lisa Mezzacappa has collaborated with filmmakers, dancers, visual artists, and neuroscientists, and has worked with groups from duos to large ensembles.

But there’s a lot more to Lisa Mezzacappa than that brief introduction. Here are six more things you should know about her.

Lisa Mezzacappa. Photo: Heike Liss.

She grew up in a working-class family in Staten Island, New York.

Lisa started playing the clarinet in fourth grade and became a youth symphony star. In junior high school she took up the electric bass, dyed her hair blue, and “jammed with dudes in garages,” as she puts it.

She planned to become a biologist.

She majored in biology at the University of Virginia before adding a second major in music. Eventually, though, science took a back seat to music: Lisa came to the Bay Area and received an MA in ethnomusicology in 2003. Science still informs many of her compositions, most notably “Organelle,” which Mezzacappa calls “a ‘set’ of pieces inspired by diverse scientific processes – some enormous and unfathomable, others impossibly microscopic – that form a whole through the insights and explorations of master improvisers.” In 2019, “Organelle” was awarded the Pauline Oliveros New Genres award from the International Alliance for Women in Music.

The score for “Cambium,” one of the movements of “Organelle.” Cambium is a tissue layer in plants.

In 2005, she toured with 1960s folk-rock star Donovan.

Writing in the San Jose Mercury News in 2014, Richard Sheinin called the tour “a rare above-ground gig” for this prolific underground musician.

She based an album on themes from film noir and detective fiction.

Written for her sextet, avantNOIR (2017)—an homage to the crime stories of Dashiell Hammet and Paul Auster—uses clues, imagery, and quotations from the novels as well as acoustic and electric sounds, field recordings, and composed and improvised material. From the liner notes: “The musicians find themselves in a room at the Alexandria Hotel on Kearney Street, where they are encouraged to sit and have a drink with the wily Caspar Gutman, explore various objects and personages in the room, ride the elevator, make a phone call, holler to someone in the street below for help, or get the heck out of there.” (Listen to “The Ballad of Big Flora” from avantNOIR.)

She won a 2020 Bay Area Jazz Award.

San Jose Mercury News jazz writer Andrew Gilbert bestowed the puckishly titled In Case NASA Needs a Resident Composer Award” on Lisafor her “antic, playful, and often poignant settings for the album Cosmicomics,” a project inspired by “the whimsical celestial fables of the Italian writer Italo Calvino.”(Listen to the Lisa Mezzacappa Six play “Solar Storms” from CosmiComics.)

Her latest project is a radio opera.

“The Electronic Lover” was released as a podcast in nine episodes. Listen to the first episode here.