AMN mentors Talking about Music Woodwinds

Jerry Simas: home-grown musician

This is a guest post by Jerome Simas, clarinetist with the San Francisco Symphony and a founding AMN board member.

I’ve been a professional musician for so many years now that I’m not even sure I could figure out how long. I grew up in a family that was so passionate about music. Metropolitan Opera broadcasts blaring throughout the house during weekend chores, Boston Pops on PBS, folk singers visiting our house when my sister was a 1970s high school student, marching band practice, and the best-of-all story of family lore of my mom apparently putting me in a laundry basket underneath the piano while she accompanied her amateur singing friends from church and community theater: Fiddler on the Roof, Church hymns, Arthur Fiedler, and La Boheme are all just a big blur in my musical DNA.

My father was an accordionist of some renown in Sacramento and the Bay Area back in the heyday of the post WWII can-do optimism. He played gigs, taught lessons, repaired instruments and kept all seven of us Simas kids fed and clothed…that is until the Beatles hit our shores, and no one wanted to play the accordion anymore. So off he went to other professional pursuits. The clarinet seemed like a natural fit for me…a reed cousin of the accordion. My mom was relatively frugal with expenses, but music lessons were something she could get behind. Sacramento Youth Band, Sacramento Youth Symphony, state honor bands in Fresno, Santa Cruz, and Long Beach…Mom and Dad always made time for these things.

I have three of my dad’s accordions sitting on shelves in the garage. I also have a ukulele that I bought as a fun gift for my partner, Robert. That, too, is sitting forlornly in a corner of the living room gathering dust. Now that I’m home for an undefined period of time and with actual time to practice the clarinet the way I want to and should, I’m finding myself more drawn to these other instruments that remind me of family and days gone by. I don’t even know where to begin, but begin I shall.

During this time of uncertainty, let music be your go-to place. Make music if it means singing your own tunes, producing your creations on your computer, or fumbling your way on a dusty old accordion or ukulele.

I’m blessed to have landed a gig with the San Francisco Symphony with our deep connection to the symphonic greats, world class conductors and soloists, tours (weeps inwardly that we had cancel our last and greatest tour with dear MTT), and playing for our marvelous audiences in San Francisco and beyond. Since my involvement with AMN, I have also been so inspired meeting with and mentoring the Bay Area’s wealth of music makers of all levels. We’ll get through this national crisis. Along the way, the rhythms and melodies of who we are will help to ease the way.

AMN mentors Orchestra and Symphonic Music Strings: Violin, Viola, Cello, Bass Workshops

Side By Side

Amateur Music Network’s Lolly Lewis spoke with SF Chamber Orchestra Music Director Benjamin Simon about AMN’S Third Annual Side by Side partnership with the SFCO: what drew him to this music and why he keeps coming back to working with amateurs.

Ben Simon has successfully made the transition to conductor following twenty-five years as a violist performing in several of the United States’ most elite ensembles, including the New York Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Naumburg award-winning New World String Quartet, and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. In 2002 he was appointed Music Director of the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra and has transformed that organization into one of the premiere professional ensembles in northern California.

Mentor Benjamin Simon, Music Director of the SF Chamber Orchestra, leads a Side By Side workshop in 2017.
Ben leads the Side By Side in 2017

Lewis says, “Ben was one of the first people I thought of when I started Amateur Music Network. We had worked together many times over the years, and I loved how the SF Chamber Orchestra, with its free concerts, was all about making the highest-quality music and giving back to the community. I knew he would really understand what AMN was trying to do. And right away he suggested the Side by Side – bringing audience member string players right onto the stage after a concert for a reading with professional musicians as stand partners. We’re in our third year of the partnership now and each one is better. I’m really grateful for his visionary leadership. Plus, we always have such a great time!”

Amateur Music Network: Elgar’s music really seems like it comes from another world, and so does Piazzolla’s. What do you hear in these pieces?
Ben Simon: I agree, Elgar comes from a gentler time. There’s so much emotion and deep feeling, but there’s a civility and ease about the music that just warms my heart. And I think Piazzolla is the greatest South American composer of the 20th century. His music captures the spirit of time and place in the way all great music does. This just happens to be the bordellos and brothels of some dark waterfront street in Argentina. The danger, excitement, and sensuality of the Tango infuses his music with a life we can hear and experience today.
AMN: What do you hope people will experience playing in the Side By Side?
Simon: It’s so much fun for our professional musicians to relax a bit with a new friend and stand-partner. We hope that fun communicates throughout the group and that we all have a great time. Making music with other people is what it’s all about!

Learn more at our workshop!

Join Maestro Ben Simon and the SF Chamber Orchestra in a reading of Elgar’s Serenade and Piazzolla’s Libertango on Sunday, April 28, at 5pm at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley.
The Side By Side takes place right after the SFCO’s FREE Main Stage Concert: come listen to some splendid music and then come make music together!

AMN mentors Vocal and Choral Music Workshops

Learning Medieval singing

Medieval Singing Workshop mentor Phoebe Jevtović Rosquist
Medieval Singing Workshop mentor Phoebe Jevtović Rosquist

AMN’s Lolly Lewis asked mentor Phoebe Jevtović Rosquist about what drew her to Medieval music and how she approaches this repertoire, music that can sound so alien to modern ears. Here is a sample of her thinking.

Amateur Music Network (AMN): I’ve always been really fascinated by the rhythms in medieval music. How is the meter structured, and why does it sound so different from music we’re used to?
Phoebe (PRJ): There is so much variety in how music was organized metrically—in some cases you get very little information and you get to be creative and decide for yourself—for example, the Cantigas de Santa Maria allow for many rhythmic decisions to be made by the performers. Other times you have syncopated music with parts that fit together like puzzle pieces—I think of Dufay in this category. Then in the ars nova period, you have music with rhythms precisely notated, but in such exacting and complex rhythms that they can be prohibitively difficult (we aren’t doing any of these, don’t worry!)

AMN: Where do the texts come from?
PRJ: When discussing about this expansive time period that lasted nearly a thousand years, the answer has to encompass so much material! Medieval poets and composers used everything from the Bible to their own chivalrous or bawdy imaginations. If you have the opportunity, Ben Bagby’s filmed performance of the epic tale Beowulf is a masterpiece of creative yet plausible performance practice.

AMN: How long did it take you to learn to read the medieval notation?
PRJ: Reading earlier stages of notation comes with practice and time, as you would expect. I spent a summer in Italy reading compline every evening, and the daily exposure to the neumes really sank in to my brain. I sometimes like working backwards—teaching a piece by rote, and then introducing the notation—it makes so much sense once you have already audiated it.