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AMN mentors Orchestra and Symphonic Music Talking about Music Workshops

Meet Conductor Edwin Outwater

Catching up with Edwin Outwater can be a schedule buster! He has so many assignments and projects in the works that he rarely stops for long in one place. I recently sat down over Zoom with this peripatetic musician to preview his upcoming online conversation with AMN Curator David Landis (October 23 at 2 p.m.). Edwin made time for me while in Miami to conduct a “Welcome Back” concert with the New World Symphony Fellows. He had just completed producing the Kennedy Center 50th Anniversary Celebration, where he was responsible for wrangling more than 70 artists from all genres and styles into “one concert with a coherent narrative and message of what the performing arts are in America in 2021.” If you’ve seen the PBS broadcast, you know it was a great success.

We talked about what he hopes to focus on during our upcoming online conversation, and what makes him inspired about the future.

EO: I’m now beginning my second year as music director of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and the first year was COVID year, and we did all sorts of interesting projects, so maybe talking about what we did during COVID, and also where the institution is headed, which I think is a super exciting thing for people here in San Francisco and the Bay Area. And I think that’s kind of where a lot of my attention is at the moment. And also, what is the direction of the arts in San Francisco, there’s a lot of change right now, a lot of new conductors, I am almost the elder statesman now, and what is my take as someone who’s been around a while in the arts scene. And what I see happening in the near future, and maybe not so near future with the arts in general in the city.

AMN: I just love all the different facets of what you’re doing musically, Edwin, and for me, building community and bringing people together to enjoy music and and promote our music community is really important, so I think that all the things that you’re doing are actually kind of tying into that. Not that you’re specifically working on community advocacy, but it’s a natural conduit to connect people.

EO: Yeah, I really appreciate your saying that, because in the background I am thinking about that – but it’s also just me having fun, and getting to do what I love to do and not being afraid or worried about how I’m perceived, or you know, resisting whatever label people try to put on the position, which is something I’ve managed to pull off for most of my career so far. And now, to go from drag to heavy metal to Schubert V this week is something I’m very lucky to be able to do.

AMN: Yes, and we are all lucky to be along for the ride!

Don’t miss Edwin’s online conversation with David Landis on October 23! 

Get a preview of our workshop as Edwin talks with AMN Founder Lolly Lewis about some recent projects and what’s on his schedule for the future.

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AMN mentors Orchestra and Symphonic Music Talking about Music Workshops

Meet Mentor Scott Foglesong

Blog post by Scott Foglesong.

Imagine … where does music live if not in our imagination? No static thing, unchanging and immutable, music has to be played, and heard. The music is the sounds, not the marks on the paper, not the grooves on the record, not the zeros and ones in the digital media. It only makes sense as something we hear — and it makes its own separate sense to each of us in its own separate way.

That’s where we’re going with our six-week workshop Imagine. We’re exploring the heard experience of music, not what it should be or what’s correct. Sure, along the way we’re going to explore some of the nuts & bolts of symphonies, concertos, and symphonic poems — but always as experiences in our own minds, triggers that elicit reactions, emotions, feelings, physical sensations, memories. For Proust it was a madeleine; for us it can be a moment in a work by Beethoven, Brahms, Debussy, or maybe the song of a skylark in the evening sky. 

Imagine! with Scott Foglesong

Get a preview of our workshop as Scott talks with AMN Founder Lolly Lewis about the surprising joys of listening and what he hopes people will take away from the experience.

Enjoy Scott’s humor and musical insight in this recording of his presentation Unravelling Boléro 

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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 .

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AMN mentors Talking about Music Vocal and Choral Music

A Conversation with Ragnar Bohlin: Part 3

This is the final installment of AMN founder Lolly Lewis’s interview with Singing Saturdays mentor Ragnar Bohlin. Read Part 1; read Part 2.

Our April series focuses on Verdi’s Requiem and some of his choral works. What’s important for singers to know about Verdi?

He didn’t write a lot of choral music, did he? Apart from the opera choruses, we have the Quattro Pezzi Sacri, an Ave Maria for women’s choir, and the Pater Noster for a cappella chorus. That’s another reason to cherish the Requiem, which of course is one of the pinnacles of the high Romantic era, one of the absolute masterpieces, and so focused on the chorus.

In the Requiem Verdi was very democratic, in that sometimes he gives the head role to the chorus—he lets the soloists accompany the chorus. The Requiem has a lot for the chorus to do, with quite a few challenges! It’s almost medieval at the beginning, very chantlike. And then it has the mellifluous lush romantic sound, juxtaposed with fast and virtuosic passages, as in Sanctus. You know, the Requiem has been called Verdi’s greatest opera, and it received some early critiques for that style. But we have to be aware that in Italy in the 19th century there was no distinct barrier between church music and opera. There was a movement started from the mid-19th century, called Cecilianism, that aimed to separate the two and make church music more “churchy.” But obviously Verdi did not pay heed to that.

And we will also be singing some of his opera choruses.

Yes, it will be interesting for us to go full opera chorus with them!

Verdi is such a master of atmosphere and mood, as if he’s developing a character. But the Requiem isn’t character driven.

No, it’s text driven, although it sometimes gets very personal, as with the Lacrimosa.

When we started the Amateur Music Network online choral workshops,  the format was quite different. The first two, in July and September 2020, were single sessions, just under an hour each. Now we have three- or four-session series, and the focus has expanded. 

In the beginning, the focus was more on vocal technique. That was good, but we discovered that people were equally interested in harmonies and theory, and in the poetry of the music. So Singing Saturdays evolved. Now it’s a hybrid of a choral literature class, a harmony class, a vocal coaching class, and a rehearsal. Also, in the beginning we weren’t sure what we were building toward: some sort of outdoor performance together? But that idea drifted away, and the Zoom workshops have become their own goal.

[Read “Virtual Amateur Chorus,” a poem by Alice Elizabeth Rogoff.]

I think it’s healthy for people to get in the habit of making music and listening to music in an active way without it being goal oriented.

It’s that hour together, being in the now. We’re not fighting the clock, not working toward a performance. We can even sing each other’s parts and learn from that experience. Even though we can’t hear each other on Zoom, the connection is very palpable. You feel the presence of everyone there.

Pictured: Ragnar leading a workshop at the San Francisco Symphony’s Community of Music Makers in November 2014.

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AMN mentors Talking about Music Vocal and Choral Music

A Conversation with Ragnar Bohlin: Part 2

In Part 1 of our conversation, Singing Saturdays choral mentor Ragnar Bohlin talked about his development as a singer, pianist, organist, and chorus director. In Part 2, we look at how the pandemic has changed music-making.

It’s now been more than a year since the Covid pandemic upended our lives. For musicians it’s been a pretty devastating year. How have you been managing?

The lockdowns and lack of music-making have of course been devastating. In early March 2020, when the pandemic was announced, I was on tour in Florida with Seraphic Fire. I was supposed to return to San Francisco to conduct the Symphony Chorus in the Bach Magnificat. Instead I went to Sweden, where I’ve been ever since. 

With the lockdowns, have you been stuck in front of a screen?

I’ve been fortunate in that I have a country house, where I’ve been able to do some gardening. I also took up organ-playing again. In the city [Stockholm], I have the keys to a nearby church. I practice almost every day. I picked up all the major organ works I used to play in my 20s–the Bach D-Major Prelude and Fugue, the Widor Toccata, the Franck Chorale no. 3, and so on. I’m very happy that all I had to do was dust it off; it was still there.

What else have you been doing musically?

I’m actually quite busy! Quite early on, I started doing online things. I offered my services to the San Francisco Symphony Chorus to do one-on-one vocal coaching. After a couple months of that, we switched to online open rehearsals, which Amateur Music Network has been hosting. Those open rehearsals turned out to work, and they became the embryonic form of AMN’s Singing Saturdays.

I also work one on one with members of the San Francisco Conservatory Chorus, and I even have some “live” students who come to my home. But I have to say that Amateur Music Network is one of my favorite musical activities! 

So connection is in the air, even if it’s online only.

Next: Part 3 of our conversation with Ragnar Bohlin, on Verdi’s choral music and making Singing Saturdays workshops successful for singers connecting online.

Pictured: Ragnar leading a rehearsal with his professional chamber choir Cappella SF.