AMN mentors Woodwinds Workshops

Meet Clarinet Mentor Jerry Simas

On May 15, we’ll welcome back to Amateur Music Network Jerry Simas, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music professor and San Francisco Symphony clarinetist, to teach a online master class on Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto—one of the most played, and most beloved, pieces in the wind repertoire. We reached Jerry at his San Francisco home to chat about what makes this concerto so richly rewarding. And we asked him about his musical life since March 2020, when he contributed an early-pandemic guest post to our blog.

Last March you wrote: “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.” Have you been able to follow your own advice?

Yes and no. I go through incredible bursts of creativity where I’m practicing a lot. We’ve had online opportunities—master classes, ensemble mashups. But I’ve realized how much of what I do involves making or teaching music with other people, in person. We all miss that! In the meantime, I’ve been serving on several San Francisco Symphony DEI [diversity, equity, inclusion] committees, and doing a lot of reading about anti-racism such as Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist.

Is there any non-virtual performing in your future?

Yes! In May and June the symphony will do some indoor concerts at Davies Symphony Hall with restricted audience sizes. [Check the calendar for updates.] These concerts will initially be with strings and percussion only, but I’m optimistic that winds and brass will be added to the mix for outdoor summer concerts. I’m super-excited about that.

So are we! We’re looking forward to your May 15 master class, too. Tell us a little about your history with the Mozart Clarinet Concerto.

When I was 14 or 15 and playing in the Sacramento Youth Symphony, I received a recording of the concerto with Robert Marcellus and the Cleveland Orchestra, conducted by George Szell. It was revelatory. It’s one of the first pieces every serious clarinet player tackles. It’s often used as an audition piece for players of all levels and backgrounds—for youth orchestras, honor bands, and certainly every professional audition. It’s a piece with many different traditions and ways to interpret.

How will you approach this online master class?

It will be run like a traditional master class. I’ll talk about the concerto and about my own evolution with it—from youth orchestra to hearing great recordings to conservatory level to the professional audition circuit to performances with orchestra, and now teaching it.

I’ve invited three serious amateur or semi-professional performers to join me from their remote locations. For all of them, music is part of their identity, but they do other things professionally—one is a middle-school teacher, one is a fitness instructor and book editor, one is a lawyer. Each one will perform a segment of their assigned movement.

What can our amateur participants expect to gain from the workshop?

The great thing about these workshops is that they’re available to people in a wide cross-section of experience and ability. Everyone can try new techniques without the pressure of having to perform.

With Mozart, we tend to get stuck on the “rules” of rhythm, intonation, and beautiful sound. Good musicianship is important, of course, but I want to take it to a higher artistic level. How can we keep this classical standard fresh and alive? That’s what’s important to me.

AMN mentors Woodwinds Workshops

Meet ‘Weird Sounds’ clarinet mentor Jeff Anderle

Ever wonder what your clarinet could sound like if it didn’t have to sound “perfect”? On November 21, clairnetist Jeff Anderle will take you on a journey of musical discovery in our online “Weird Sounds for Clarinet” workshop, which promises to be fun, funky, and surprisingly practical.

We reached Jeff at his Oakland home to find out more about his own life in music—weird and traditional.

Read More…"Meet ‘Weird Sounds’ clarinet mentor Jeff Anderle"
AMN mentors Talking about Music Woodwinds

Rufus Olivier and the musician’s toolbox

This is a guest post by Nancy Friedman, an AMN volunteer.

We hope you’ve registered for our October 10 online conversation about “the musician’s toolbox” with
the accomplished and delightful Rufus Olivier Jr. A consummate musician and educator, Rufus is
principal bassoonist with the San Francisco Opera and the San Francisco Ballet, and a former member of
the San Francisco Symphony. We chatted with him on a warm September afternoon while he was taking
a break from a nonmusical activity: painting his house in Sonoma County, California.

What is “the musician’s toolbox,” and how can amateur musicians use it?

I came up with the idea of the musician’s toolbox when I had to give a talk to some high school kids. I printed up some signs and brought them in a little Craftsman toolbox—that’s right, a literal toolbox. On each piece of paper was something a musician needs to practice to get better: long tones, scales, arpeggios, etudes, and so on.

What’s an example of one of these tools?

Long tones are one of the most important tools, especially for a wind player. They get you in touch with your instrument—you’re breathing through it, and it becomes an extension of you. It may seem like a boring exercise, but it may the most useful and important one. After a while it almost becomes a meditation.

When was the last time you performed for an audience?

Opening night of the ballet’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” was Friday, March 6. It was also closing night—after the performance there was an announcement that the city of San Francisco was shutting down because of the pandemic. The following Tuesday they let us back into the Opera House, and we made a video for ticketholders. It’s really good! I really enjoyed being able to listen to the orchestra without my brain constantly on what I’m doing. [Watch a one-minute excerpt from the recording.]

How have you spent your time since the shutdown?

I’ve been performing since I was 15, and I’ve been with the ballet and opera for 43 years, so the shutdown has been like a long weekend off. I painted my house, fixed my lawnmower, got my motorcycle working. I’ve also continued teaching—one of my Stanford students did her whole graduate recital online, with her family members accompanying her. It was great!

I’ve also made a ton of videos. I get up in the morning, practice, and make a video. [Watch Rufus Olivier Jr.’s video for Music in May, a festival in Santa Cruz that was canceled because of the pandemic.]

How is online teaching working out for you?

It’s definitely getting better. Zoom is getting better! I was even able to play a duet with one of my students on Zoom

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.