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Riki Rafner

Commonwealth Club Presents “Music Matters”

SAN FRANCISCO (July 14, 2015) Does music really matter in human life? What do we know about the relevance of music to human development and enjoyment? This August, the Commonwealth Club will examine the meaning of music in our lives. The Club will host prominent speakers and performing artists of the Bay Area, exploring jazz to symphony, hambone to choirs, the gamut of instruments, film sound tracks, and glorias to gospels. It will bring outstanding artists to their stages to make music and describe in detail—and show—why Music Matters. 

Dr. Carol Fleming, director of the Commonwealth Club Member-Led Forum, who spearheads and founded our popular August series, says, “Those who love music can become more effective in helping it survive and thrive. This art form, while growing on a global scale with new artists, cross-pollination of culture and styles, and digital creativity, is under pressure economically. On-line and digital downloading of music is changing the landscape in unanticipated ways. To our long term detriment, music has seen declining support in our public schools where it benefits young people. We need to make the case that music matters. Music is vital to the human experience!”

Country Joe McDonald of the renowned 60’s and 70’s Country Joe and the Fish will not only perform, but share how he continues to use music as a vehicle for social justice. For the first time in 112 years, the Club will showcase a variety of outstanding Bay Area musical artists including jazz musician Sonny Buxton, composer Jake Heggie (“Moby Dick”), Oakland symphony conductor Michael Morgan, renowned traditional Indian singer Mahesh Kale, and singer/activist Melanie DeMore and more.

The Commonwealth Club will hold this series in its new temporary headquarters at 555 Post St. in San Francisco. 

Those who attend will not only get an update on the world of music from the inside out, but perhaps even hum something wonderful or whistle a happy tune on their way out the door.

This 2015 Platforum series Music Matters is sponsored by Ernst & Young and the John and Marcia Goldman Foundation.

The Club’s Platforum series is an annual month of programming organized by the volunteer Member-Led Forums.

"Music Matters" August Lineup:

A Beacon for Jazz

Mon, August 3–12:00pm

Sonny Buxton, Broadcaster, Musician, Impresario & Educator

A beacon for jazz since the 1960s, KCSM Jazz 91’s Sonny Buxton has been a spokesperson for how and why music matters throughout his career as a musician, nightclub impresario, talk show host, jazz historian, archivist and advocate. Renowned as a master storyteller, Sonny will share highlights of the jazz experience (his own and others) that led to his 2013 award as a "Jazz Hero" by the National Jazz Journalists Association.

Enchanted Evenings: The Broadway Musical from "Show Boat" to Sondheim

Mon, August 3 – 5:30pm

The Commonwealth Club Book Club will discuss Enchanted Evenings, Geoffrey Block’s study of Broadway musicals that eschews backstage gossip and instead treats musical scores as structures worthy of serious analysis. The book considers various stagings of major works and the participants who left their marks on them. In the discussion, "Anything Goes," "Porgy and Bess," "On Your Toes," "Pal Joey," "The Cradle Will Rock," "Lady in the Dark," "One Touch of Venus," "Carousel," "Kiss Me Kate," "Guys and Dolls," "My Fair Lady" and "West Side Story" will receive thoughtful attention.

Who's Afraid of Opera? Exploring the Wonderful World of Music’s Grandest Art

Wed, August 5—6:00pm

Clifford Cranna, Dramaturg, San Francisco Opera

It’s glorious. It’s grand. It’s larger than life. It’s opera. San Francisco Opera’s longtime staff member Kip Cranna, a noted Bay Area music-appreciation speaker, will offer an insider’s look at the world of opera and a whirlwind tour through opera’s 400-year long history. He will use video examples (with subtitles) to illustrate the evolution of this multi-faceted, fascinating and continuingly vital art.

Sunset Youth Services Music Program for High-Risk Kids

Thu, August 6—6:00pm

Dawn Stueckle, Co-founder and Executive Director, Sunset Youth Services

Stueckle has discovered that music plays a vital role when working with high-risk youth and families. At Sunset Youth Services, Stueckle and her team aim to create programs that cater to youths' desire for change while acknowledging the barriers they face. This line of thinking has led to innovative services such as a youth-run record label and mobile recording studios that meet the young people where they are in life. She will discuss the use of digital arts and music as a tool for health and wholeness.

Cracking the Music Ceiling: Why Women Matter

Fri, August 7—6:00pm

Lisa Bielawa, Composer, vocalist and choirmaster; Artistic Director San Francisco Girls Chorus

Rome Prize-winning music composer Lisa Bielawa will share her passion and describe her advocacy for women’s experiences in music careers. A San Francisco native, Bielawa was born into a musical family, sang in the New York Philharmonic’s professional chorus, has held residencies worldwide and has been an artistic collaborator with Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson and Paul Simon. Her groundbreaking composer-led projects include the spatialized symphony airfield broadcasts at Crissy Field in 2013 and the opera Verio, performed in 2015 via broadcast and online media release.

Playful Piano

Fri, August 7—6:00pm

Mauro ffortissimo, Artist; Musician; Founding Member, Enso Art Collective; Founding Member, Miles Davis Memorial Hall
Dean Mermell, Owner and Director, Storyfarm Productions

When Mauro ffortissimo placed an old piano onto the bluffs of the San Mateo coast in February, 2013, played it for two weeks, and burned it, a lot of people noticed. Filmmaker friend Dean Mermell joined forces with Mauro, forming the Sunset Piano project, which began installing (and deconstructing) pianos at select outdoor locations in the Bay Area. On the heels of their Flower Piano project in Golden Gate Park, Mauro and Dean will talk about their work and play a “liberated” piano in concert with a “prepared” piano in the style of John Cage.

Pythagoras Thought Music Matters

Mon, August 10—6:00pm

George Hammond, Author, Conversations With Socrates and Rational Idealism

Monday Night Philosophy understands thoroughly that music matters. Pythagoras (whom we all know from basic geometry) thought so, too – he is well known for having uncovered the mathematical ratios underlying musical harmonies. He was so taken with his discovery that he proclaimed "all is number," and that there is a divine harmony, a music of the spheres, caused by the planets racing around a central fire in perfectly circular orbits. This first idea led directly to the development of the lush harmonies that came to define European classical music. Hammond will share his excitement and insight into the genesis of sound and harmony.

Music Education and the Complete Human Being

Tue, August 11—6:00pm

Joan Gordon, Director, Pre-College and Adult Extension Divisions, San Francisco Conservatory of Music

The study of the arts, particularly music, is well documented as having a positive effect on the brain. This presentation will address the importance of providing young people with a comprehensive musical education that sets private study of an instrument within the context of ear training, theory and ensemble participation. These skills serve the students in all aspects of life in addition to their musical endeavors. The evening will include performances by student musicians.

Music of Remembrance

Wed, August 12—6:00pm

Jake Heggie, American Composer and Pianist
Mina Miller, Founder and Artistic Director, Music of Remembrance

Heggie, the distinguished American composer, will present excerpts from his magnificent work, "Farewell Auschwitz," which unfolds the incredible life of Krystyna Zywulska, Polish poet and Resistance member. He and Mina Miller will describe the philosophy of "Music of Remembrance." Since 1998, this work has been dedicated to remembering Holocaust musicians and composers, presenting concerts and educational programs and commissioning new pieces about the Holocaust such as "Farewell Auschwitz."

Why Music? The Confessions of a Willing Prisoner of the Violin

Wed, August 12—6:00pm

Mark Volkert, Assistant Concertmaster, San Francisco Symphony

Volkert’s talk will blend biography and his philosophy on music, peppered with interesting anecdotes and tales from the trenches. A violinist with the San Francisco Symphony since 1972, he has been assistant concertmaster since 1980.…

“And She Can Sing…” Music as a Portal to the Person

Thu, August 13—5:00pm

Mary Hulme, LCSW, ASW-G, C-SWHC, Geriatrician
Odile Lavault, Recreational Therapist
Theresa Allison, MD, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Geriatrics, UCSF

The panel will discuss the remarkable role of music in engaging people who are suffering from memory loss and disorientation. Combining film clips, a PowerPoint presentation and live music, the speakers will show how to use improvisation, openness, patience and optimism in the practice of validation to see that there is a reason behind all behaviors. They will demonstrate, through observing and listening with empathy, how one may learn what to say and do to engage those with dementias.

Nicholas McGegan: Baroque Music Matters

Fri, August 14—Noon

Nicholas McGegan, Music Director, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra; Conductor
Kate van Orden, Professor of Music, Harvard University

Kate van Orden, professor of music at Harvard University, will sit down with Nicholas McGegan, who is increasingly recognized for his probing and revelatory explorations of music of all periods. Gain insight into McGegan's career as a conductor, his leadership of a world class orchestra, and his views about baroque music. He will also explore its continuing appeal as an art form and why that matters.

The Music of Cinema

Mon, August 17, 2015—6:00pm

Scott Foglesong, Chair, Department of Musicianship and Music Theory, San Francisco Conservatory of Music

Music for the movies has its own language, idioms and styles. It originated, paradoxically enough, in the silent cinema where music served to mask projection noises in addition to providing helpful cues to the onscreen action, then came into its own with the advent of talkies. We’ll be covering that film music in a rich multimedia presentation. The evening will begin with a close look at Max Steiner’s breakthrough score for the 1933 “King Kong” and the late-Romantic language of Hollywood, including composers Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Franz Waxman. Then came the inevitable reaction by a younger generation of composers such as Bernard Herrmann and Alex North, who approached film music with a distinctly eclectic and experimental sensibility. The evening will conclude with today’s leading film music composers, and examine the music for one extended sequence in a major film.

Full Body Forward

Tue, August 18—6:00pm

Melanie DeMore, Singer/Songwriter; Composer; Conductor; Vocal Artist

“A song can hold you up when there seems to be no ground beneath you,” says Melanie DeMore. With an established career of 30 years in music, Melanie has used her voice to inspire social and political change as well as preserving the African American folk tradition through song and Gullah stick pounding. Now Melanie is bringing her musical talent to The Commonwealth Club to show how one raises one’s voice with power, determination and energy. Full Body Forward is intended for all those who have longed to raise their voices with power, determination and energy. Participants do not need singing experience to attend.

Cole Porter: The Music and the Man

Wed, August 19—6:00pm

Noah Griffin, Music Historian, Composer, Singer

Local music historian and singer Noah Griffin will be on hand to perform and address the musical nuances of Cole Porter. Sophisticated, worldly, witty, passionate, romantic, irreverent and downright bawdy are all apt descriptors of Cole Porter. Those who attend will learn about Porter’s seminal contributions to musicians of his day and get an update on his influence on today’s composers.

Music as a Vehicle for Social Justice

Thu, August 20—5:15pm

Country Joe McDonald, Lead Vocals, Country Joe and the Fish

In the late 1960’s to early ’70’s, music was one of largest tools used in the protest against the Vietnam War. The “music as a weapon” mentality is still very much alive today, and one of the artists from the Vietnam Era will show us how. Country Joe McDonald has been a lifelong advocate for peaceful social change. Equipped only with a guitar, Country Joe will delight and entertain the Commonwealth Club with song and story that inspires everyone to make a positive difference in this world. Fair warning, there may be a sing-along or two.

Vox Mundi: Sound and Voice

Fri, August 21—6:00pm

Silvia Nakkach , Award-Winning Composer, Former Psychotherapist; Faculty Member, California Institute of Integral Studies; Founder and Artistic Director, Vox Mundi
Val Serrant, Traditional Drum and Steel Drum Performer; Vocalist; Caribbean Arts Lecturer, U.C. Berkeley

Silvia Nakkach, classical Indian musician, and Val Serrant, drum/steel drum percussionist, will display the richness of their indigenous musical traditions from their different backgrounds, through performance and dialogue. They will also engage the audience’s participation in the healing power of music, so prepare yourself to personally embrace why music matters around the world.

Why Music Therapy Matters for the Special-Needs Student

Mon, August 24—12:00pm

Susan Rancer, Registered Music Therapist
Henny Kupferstein, Graduate Student; Musical Savant; Autism researcher

Many parents dream of their children studying piano. For parents of special-needs children, this dream can be realized through channels that honor children's individual strengths and needs. Non-verbal and special-needs students often do not have the opportunity to realize their musical gifts. Rancer is a registered music therapist who works with clients one-on-one, teaching students in a highly specialized manner. Kupferstein is a musical savant who says she lives inside the sensory experience of her music students. They will discuss how they developed a methodology and evidence-based practice for successful musical and educational outcomes.

Singing for Our Lives: Music in the Time of AIDS

Mon, August 24—6:00pm

Jon Bailey, Conductor; Composer; Professor Emeritus, Pomona College

More than 1.2 million people are living with HIV infections in the United States, and gay and bisexual men are the ones more severely affected by HIV. Jon Bailey, artistic director of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles for 13 years, uses his past experience and knowledge during the dark time of the AIDS crisis to speak about how the power of music can create a community and heal spirits.

Why Music Education Didn’t Disappear

Mon, August 24—6:00pm

Michael Hammond, Music Teacher, Berkeley Public Schools

Under Proposition 13, music education in California elementary schools could have easily disappeared due to the lack of state funding. Fortunately, private funding has stepped up in many communities for example Berkeley’s 1986 local tax, the Berkeley Schools Excellence Project (BSEP). Almost $2 million of Berkeley’s funds for music and the visual performing arts came from the BESP this past year. Michael Hammond, a native of Berkeley’s public schools and current music teacher for the community, will tell his stories of teaching music to Berkeley’s newest generation and making music matter in their lives.

Orchestra Music Grown Locally

Tue, August 25—6:00pm

Michael Morgan, Music Director, East Bay Symphony Orchestra and Sacramento Philharmonic Orchestra; Artistic Director, Festival Opera, Walnut Creek

Music can be a catalyst for pulling together communities. The Bay Area, specifically, has benefitted from orchestras and the wide variety of music being written by local composers. Michael Morgan, music director of the East Bay Symphony Orchestra, has helped bring in awards for adventurous programming and excellence in community engagement. Morgan and several other composers and conductors will discuss the significance of locally grown music.

How We Listen to Music

Wed, August 25—6:00pm

Gabe Meline, Music Editor & Curator, KQED Arts

Streaming has given everyone instant, and mostly free, access to any type of music they wish. This music revolution seems like a giant leap forward for listeners and aspiring artists alike. However, Gabe Meline sees this as potentially harmful to both the art and the industry. How can the industry make any money when listeners can stream a song for free? How does a musician get the time their song deserves when the average listener has an increasingly diminishing attention span? Award-winning music writer and editor, Gabe Meline will consider the implications of our listening habits for the near future in which an elevated form of art is becoming increasingly disposable.

Mozart and Masonic Semiotics

Wed, August 26—6:00pm

Steven Machtinger, Attorney; Violist; Independent Mozart Scholar

Steven Machtinger and the London Quintet return to The Commonwealth Club for the Music Matters series, this time exploring how Mozart expressed Masonic attitudes toward death and immortality in the third movement of his G minor String Quintet of 1787.

The Crossroads of Food and Rock ‘n’ Roll

Wed, August 26—7:00pm

John Paluska, Owner, Comal, The Advocate
Ken Friedman, Co-Owner, Tosca Café, The Spotted Pig, The Breslin Bar & Dining Room, The John Dory Oyster Bar, Salvation Taco
Dave McLean, Founder & Brewmaster, Magnolia Brewing Company
Dan Stone, Founder & Editor in Chief, Radio Silence – Moderator

In recent years, the confluence of food and music has become more apparent with festivals like Outside Lands and restaurants that double as concert venues. Both industries seem to overlap and intertwine as longtime music industry vets are leaving their careers to open restaurants, and people who are passionate about food and music are finding ways to incorporate the two. In this panel discussion, moderated by Dan Stone, you’ll hear perspectives from several Bay Area luminaries who’ve helped shape our city’s food and music scenes.

Changing Times and Indian Classical Music

Thu, August 27—6:00pm

Mahesh Kale, Indian Classical Music Performer and Theoretician

Since the time of its birth, a few thousand years ago, Indian classical music has undergone several changes in its form. Every time there was a social impact on Indian civilization, its classical music morphed beautifully, lending itself to the changing times. Kale's talk will touch upon how the music adapted itself to major social impacts right up to the recent times of globalization, which poses a new challenge to the music and its followers, yet continues to demonstrate how much music matters.

The Gift of Music: Building Sanctuaries of Learning and Hope

Thu, Aug 27 2015—6:30pm

Owsley Brown III, Producer; Director
Sandy Tolan, Journalist; Author
Eugene Rodriguez, Executive Director, Los Cenzontles Cultural Arts Academy
David Stull, President, San Francisco Conservatory of Music – Moderator

Stull will lead a discussion on how music can rebuild and uplift communities through hardship and conflict. Brown, Tolan and Rodriguez will explain how they use their work to positively influence the community.

Music from the Inside Out: Film and Q&A

Thu, August 27—6:30pm

Cyrus Ginwala, Music Director, San Francisco State University

Late filmmaker Daniel Anker won an Oscar nomination and Emmy for the 2001 film “Scottsboro: An American Tragedy.” Anker’s most personal film is his engaging documentary, “Music from the Inside Out,” released in 2004, about the Philadelphia Orchestra. Because Anker was a lifelong musician himself, his film offers special insight into musicians’ lives and their creative energies and illuminates further why music matters. The San Francisco Chronicle termed it, “Unforgettable! Beautiful and utterly entrancing!” and the Raleigh Observer found it “lifts the veil that separates musicians from their audiences.” This will be a rare opportunity to see it on the big screen at Oakland’s New Parkway Theater, followed by a Q&A led by Cyrus Ginwala, music director at San Francisco State University. Local orchestra musicians will perform.

Death With Interruptions

Fri, August 28—6:00pm

Thomas Laqueur, Librettist
Helen Fawcett, History Professor, UC Berkeley
Nikki Einfeld, Soprano
Leighton Fong, Cellist

"Death with Interruptions" is an opera about what happens when death, after taking a break, agrees to come back to work on the condition that she gets to send victims a week’s notice. One letter inexplicably keeps being returned. She becomes human to investigate and discovers that the would-be recipient is a cellist. His music beguiles her and she falls in love. Thomas Laqueur will introduce the program and speak about Nobel Prize winner Jose Sarramago’s novel Death with Interruptions on which the opera is based. Opera excerpts are by Left Coast Chamber Ensemble.

Body Music: An Interactive Lecture and Demonstration by Keith Terry

Mon, August 31—6:00pm

Keith Terry, Percussionist; Rhythm Dance; Educator

Called a "unique master of percussive motion" by The San Francisco Chronicle, Keith Terry will explain how as a "Body Musician" he incorporates— music, dance, theater, and performance art into his one-of-a kind artistic expression. He will show us how he is able to use his own body as a basis for percussion, creating the gamut of traditional and modern sounds.