An interview with Dave Burkhart

Did you know that faculty member Dave Burkhart was in a rock band called Medieval Times: The ancient sound of rock and soul? Hear that story, and many more, in his oral history interview!

Dave Burkhart in the Conservatory's archives, June 2016

Dave Burkhart in the Conservatory’s archives, June 2016

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Marilyn Thompson’s memories

Pianist Marilyn Thompson studied at the Conservatory with Adolph Baller, receiving her Bachelor’s degree in 1964. On June 29th, Marilyn visited our archives to record an interview for the Conservatory’s Oral History Project.

While a student, Marilyn lived for several years in a house behind the Conservatory that faced out to 20th Avenue:

There were six girls living upstairs in this house, and downstairs was the house matron, who was Winifred Jones. Two of us shared a room, and the rest had their own room. There was one shower room, which had maybe three shower stalls, and toilets, etc. And then there was a tiny Pullman kitchen about three feet long which had a refrigerator, a stove, and was always filthy!

Marilyn remembered listening to Adolph Baller perform with the Alma Trio:

It was always that non-percussive style (I was listening to the pianist of course, mostly). That beautiful, mellifluous sound that he had. It matched the string sound so much better – there was never any percussion to his playing. When he was teaching, the way he would achieve that with the student was to say, “Close to the keys.”

Of the Conservatory’s auditorium that was used for performances before Hellman Hall was built, Marilyn remembered:

There was a funky organ in there…. And there was a Bösendorfer on stage…. It was my first encounter with a Europen piano, and I thought it was just like butter, it just melted as you played it, it was wonderful.

But it wasn’t all perfect:

The hall had radiators, and right in the middle of a performance they would start popping. It was very loud, and there was no way to turn them off because it was water heating. It wasn’t pretty.

Today, Marilyn teaches at Sonoma State, where she has been on the faculty since 1976. Marilyn’s advice to young musicians is:

Always keep the glory of music as your guide. Give a lot of heartfelt thought to the music you are playing. Develop your own signature interpretation, and stick to it. It then becomes your personal story.

Marilyn Thompson

Marilyn Thompson





We are grateful to Marilyn for her stories and advice! Read and listen to the interview through our Oral History Project.

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An interview with Yaada Weber

On June 16th, flutist Carmen Lemoine and archivist Tessa Updike visited former SFCM flute faculty member Yaada Weber in the East Bay to record an interview for our Oral History Project. Yaada’s story began in Honolulu, Hawaii, where she was born and grew up. She was sixteen when Pearl Harbor was bombed, and remembers watching the planes with her father near their house.

Yaada studied composition at Mills College with Darius Milhaud, and flute with Herbert Benkman. As a composition student, she wrote twelve-tone music, and had a prize-winning piece played by the French National Orchestra. Yaada also studied with flutist Doriot Dwyer, and with physiotherapist Amos Gunsberg. After college, she joined the Oakland Symphony and began teaching flute at SFCM.

We are honored to share Yaada’s memories here. Enjoy!

Carmen Lemoine and Yaada Weber, June 2016

Carmen Lemoine and Yaada Weber, June 2016

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1201 Ortega Street, 1956-2006

Sixty years ago the Conservatory moved from the location of its founding, 3435 Sacramento Street to 1201 Ortega Street. The Conservatory would stay at Ortega Street for fifty years, and move to its current home at 50 Oak Street in 2006.

Before becoming the Conservatory, the Ortega Street building was an Infant Shelter. The Infant Shelter was founded in 1874 and was originally located at 512 Minna Street. After the 1906 earthquake it was relocated to 1025 Shotwell.

The building on Ortega Street was designed for the Infant Shelter by architect Louis Christian Mullgardt. Mullgardt was born in Missouri, apprenticed in St. Louis, and worked in Boston, Chicago, and in England before arriving in the Bay Area. The Infant Shelter building was constructed in 1928-1929, and was designed in the Mission Revival style, with terra cotta, brick, bronze, and painted stucco and wood.

1201 Ortega Street as the Infant Shelter, SFCM Library & Archives

1201 Ortega Street as the Infant Shelter, SFCM Library & Archives

In 1956, the Conservatory’s President was Albert Elkus. In an oral history conducted with Albert’s son Jonathan Elkus in 2012, Jonathan remembered of the building:

“I remember my first impression of the location, the first look at the building: my gosh, what a marvelous funky thing this is, you know? I liked it, I think everybody did.”

Trustee Emerita Kris Getz joined the Conservatory as a volunteer in the late 1950s, when it had newly arrived at the Ortega Street building. Among many other projects for the Conservatory, Kris created a garden courtyard in memory of her late husband, which was enjoyed by staff, faculty, students and audience members over the years. Of the courtyard, Kris remembered:

“It was very worthwhile, because it was beautiful when everything grew up. I remember Conrad [Susa] taught a class in one of those classrooms that had a door, he would open it up and I would be able to hear him. I told him, “I’m really enjoying your lectures, Conrad!” I had some wonderful meetings with people out there, or because of the garden – the openness of it.”


Fifty years of memories were created at the Ortega Street building, some of which are now preserved in interviews conducted for our Oral History Project with former faculty, staff, students and trustees. As we move closer to our centennial in 2017, we look forward to hearing more memories of Ortega Street from our community, and sharing them via our archives pages!

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Visit from Ramon Sender

Composition alum Ramon Sender (’62) visited the Conservatory last week with his wife Judy to take a tour of our TAC (Technology and Applied Composition) studios.

Taurin Berrara, Ramon Sender and MaryClare Bryztwa visit in the TAC studios, June 2016

Taurin Berrara, Ramon Sender and MaryClare Bryztwa visit in the TAC studios, June 2016

When he was a student at the Conservatory, Ramon built our very first electronic music studio in the Ortega Street building attic. In an oral history recorded for the Conservatory’s Oral History Project, Ramon remembered:

“One night I took a cold chisel and a hammer, and I just started hammering holes in the floor (the whole building was concrete) so I could lay down that first two-by-four, the floor plate for the wall. I could fill those holes with a wooden plug, and then screw into that plug through the plate, and so forth. The next day my hand that had held the chisel – I had to force it open it finger by finger. But I did get the wall done, and a circuit breaker installed. Then I started collecting equipment.”

“I began to collect sound-making devices – there was an old section of a bed frame and I could put a magnetic contact mic on that. If I rubbed a drumstick up and down it very slowly, I would get a wonderful, gorgeous gong-like sound – like all the bells in a European city going off. By September I had the beginnings of a little studio.”

We have seen a lot of changes since those early years, but are honored to learn how it all began, and to keep those memories alive.

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1906 Earthquake – Ada Clement’s story

110 years ago today an estimated 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the coast of Northern California. At least 3,000 people died from the quake and fires. Conservatory co-founder Ada Clement was living with her mother in a little cottage on Washington Street at the time, and dictated her memories of that morning in her memoirs:

That morning my mother and I were awakened by the violent shake and crash and as we were in adjoining bedrooms we talked it over without getting up at first. At that time I was going to the houses of some of my pupils in the early morning before they went to school, so we both got up and started into the dining room, but found the doors were jammed by a cupboard of cups and saucers which had fallen over. We pushed through and went into the kitchen so that I could start forth for my lessons right after breakfast. When I came through the studio, to my amazement there was a pile of bricks from the chimney next door, lying on the floor just about four inches from my beloved piano. I went on out expecting to take the car in front of the house but I began to meet people coming from down town saying the city was on fire. The Palace Hotel was burning, and, in fact, the whole city was in a state of panic. I began to realize that piano lessons were not in order for that day so I returned home.

Ada and her mother were ordered to leave their home by 6pm that day by firemen, as the flames had crossed Van Ness Street. They went to a nearby hill to camp out.

There were many homeless people but they sat around in groups eating, making coffee and even singing to keep their spirits up. Finally around 10pm, the news came that the fire had been controlled and we could return to our home. You can imagine the joy in that for those of us who had homes to come to. After that one awful day and night we had weeks and weeks when we had to cook out in the streets and stand in line for provisions and water.

Ada said that the city was put under martial law, which was excellently managed. It took months for their roof to be repaired, and the street cars did not run for some time after, but she was able to get a ride to the Ferry in “any old wagon” or walk to her destinations.

A Few Reminiscences by Ada Clement

Ada Clement, San Francisco Conservatory of Music Archives

Ada Clement, San Francisco Conservatory of Music Archives

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Oral History Winter Term

This January, the Conservatory held its first Winter Term since the mid-
1970s. Students and faculty returned from their winter breaks to immerse
themselves in unique class offerings. The Conservatory’s archives
participated with an Oral History Workshop, with two of our graduate
students, Brian Fitzsousa (Composition, ’16) and Nicolina Logan (Clarinet,

For their first week of Winter Term, Brian and Nicolina learned about the
history of the Conservatory and its archival preservation projects, as well as the
fundamentals of oral history projects and interview skills. During
the second week, both Brian and Nicolina conducted their own oral history
interviews with Conservatory faculty members. Brian interviewed Composition
Department Chair David Conte, and Nicolina interviewed Voice teacher Ruby Pleasure.

Nicolina Logan interviewing Ruby Pleasure, January 2016

Nicolina Logan interviewing Ruby Pleasure, January 2016

Nicolina wrote the following about her Winter Term experience:

I was very excited this Winter Term to participate as an interviewer in the Conservatory’s Oral History Project. Being new to the school I was pleasantly surprised to discover that we have an archives here and was very interested in getting involved, as I love history!

Before starting the project I did not know much of anything about the formal side of oral history, but over our few days I learned an incredible amount this way—about the public and personal significance of oral histories, how to conduct related research and navigate conversation as an interviewer, how oral histories function in professional and educational settings, and what kind of recording equipment and software to use for this purpose. I have come to understand more deeply how the preservation of storytelling is itself an art form—and a performing one at that!

I had the great honor of interviewing our wonderful Ruby Pleasure, and very much look forward to sharing her story with the community. A huge thank you to her and Tessa for this opportunity!

David Conte being interviewed by Brian Fitzsousa, January 2016

David Conte being interviewed by Brian Fitzsousa, January 2016

Brian Fitzsousa wrote:

Working on the Conservatory’s Oral History project has been an exciting and illuminating experience for me both as a composer and a musicologist. Having a chance to talk in such depth and detail with my own composition professor, David Conte, is incredibly valuable, not only to learn more about his own personal history, but to see how the Conservatory has shaped it. With the crazy schedules that students at SFCM have, it is natural to be living completely in the moment, without giving much thought to how the Conservatory has become what it is. These interviews are an amazing window in the remarkable history that surrounds this institution.

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Behind the scenes of the Oral History Project

The Conservatory’s Oral History Project was established in the winter of 2012 with the goal of collecting and preserving memories of longtime members of our community. To date we have conducted twenty-nine interviews with faculty, staff, alumni, trustees, and families of Conservatory members. Sixteen of these interviews are now available to read and listen to via our project website:

This project has been a wonderful way to honor members of our community, to learn about their love of and lives in music, and to document their contributions to local music history. Many of our narrators are musicians who have spent the better part of their lives working with music in the Bay Area.

As the Conservatory’s archivist, I take care of most of the administrative work for each interview – I reach out to our narrators, schedule the interviews, and recruit volunteer interviewers from our faculty and staff. Matching a narrator with an interviewer is extremely important. It must be someone with whom the narrator will be comfortable, but should not be a close friend (who has already heard their stories, and with whom it would be tempting to chat). Interviewers should also be respectful listeners who are able to refrain from adding their own voice too much. I have been fortunate to recruit some wonderful interviewers for the Conservatory’s project, and have conducted fourteen of the interviews myself.

Before conducting an interview, I do some research on the narrator’s life, and their relationship with the Conservatory so I can create a unique list of interview questions. If they have had a long history with the Conservatory, I can use materials in our archives to conduct my research. If I need more information, I talk to their friends and colleagues, conduct research in other archives, and sometimes sit down with the narrators themselves to make sure our questions cover what they consider to be the most important subjects.

We have a portable recording kit (including a digital recorder with two shotgun microphones and stands) in our archives, which allows us to travel to the homes of narrators to conduct interviews. Of our twenty-nine interviews to date, nine were conducted offsite. I am present at each interview to set up the recording equipment, to make sure our interview release form is signed, and to take photos if both the narrator and interviewer agree. Traveling to a narrator’s home can be a wonderful experience – usually narrators are more comfortable in their own space, and are happy to bring out old photographs, recordings or compositions to share throughout the interview. Often there are pets and family members present for the interview, or at least walking in and out of a recording session. In at least two of our interviews, barking dogs can be heard in the background! Sometimes pets can be a little disruptive – while interviewing Conrad Susa at his home on Eureka Street in San Francisco, a neighbor’s cat sauntered in to attack our audio cables. After being shooed away several times, we paused the interview to put the cat outside.

Most of our interviews are between three and six hours long – usually conducted in multiple sessions on different days. Interviews can be exhausting both for the narrator and the interviewer, and we find that taking time between sessions to reflect on what was said, and what is to come, can be very helpful. Often I listen to recordings a day after to revise questions for the next session based on what was already covered, and what we want to hear more about.

Once the interview has been finished, I back up the audio to hard drives and to our network storage space, and start the transcription. Using a software called Express Scribe, I can fast-forward and rewind the audio easily with keyboard controls while typing into a Word document – which is much more convenient than constantly switching back and forth between the transcript and the audio file. It takes me two to three hours to transcribe every hour of recorded audio. Once transcribed, I do some basic editing and give the transcript to one of our wonderful volunteers to edit. They look for misspellings, and highlight grammatical errors. When our volunteers return the transcript to me, I send that draft to the narrator for final review. Narrators are able to make edits to their transcripts before they are shared online. Only after a narrator has given their final approval will the interview transcript and audio clips be made available on our website.

Our Oral History Project has become a successful and valued program at the Conservatory. We look forward to continuing our interviews through the Conservatory’s centennial (2017), and to sharing more online as they are completed! In January we will have an Oral History Workshop for Conservatory students who will have the opportunity to learn important research and interview skills. These students will conduct interviews with faculty members which will then be added to our collection. This will be an exciting opportunity for our students to be involved in the process of preserving the Conservatory’s history, and we look forward to sharing those stories here.

John Bischoff interviews Conrad Susa for the Conservatory's Oral History Project, July 2013

John Bischoff interviews Conrad Susa for the Conservatory’s Oral History Project, July 2013

Tessa Updike interviewing Bonnie Hampton for the Conservatory's Oral History Project, April 2013

Tessa Updike interviewing Bonnie Hampton for the Conservatory’s Oral History Project, April 2013

Robert Commanday and Corey Jamason after an oral history session, November 2014

Robert Commanday and Corey Jamason after an oral history session, November 2014

Ramon Sender with Riqui after an oral history session, 2014

Ramon Sender with Riqui after an oral history session, 2014

Elinor Armer being interviewed by Emily Laurance, July 2013

Elinor Armer being interviewed by Emily Laurance, July 2013


Smith Smith and Tessa Updike interviewing Jonathan Elkus, winter 2012

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Afternoons in the Archives

Wendy started volunteering with the archives in August, and has been spending two afternoons a week helping out at the Conservatory. Wendy started her volunteer project with the cataloging of archival sound recordings – creating library records for Conservatory in-house recordings from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. Over the past eight weeks, Wendy has been an enormous help while we organize, inventory, preserve, and catalog archival collections. Her current project is to preserve and create an inventory for our print photograph collection.

Wendy helping to preserve and inventory our print photo collection! October 2015

Wendy helping to preserve and inventory our print photo collection, October 2015

It is thanks to volunteers like Wendy that we are able to make progress with our archival collections, and prepare historical materials to be searched and used by researchers and staff members at the Conservatory. We couldn’t do it without our volunteers – thank you, Wendy!!

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Archival Recordings on YouTube!

We are excited to unveil our new SFCM YouTube playlist for archival recordings! This is a space for us to share selections from the Conservatory’s archival in-house recording collection. This collection dates back to 1967, and includes performances by faculty, students and guest artists, orchestra concerts, masterclasses, events and lectures.

The first recordings in this playlist are both from 46 years ago. In January of 1969, composer Lou Harrison visited the Conservatory to give a lecture and concert. The lecture was titled “Music East and West” and the concert was of Chinese and Japanese music. To listen to the lecture and part of the concert, you may visit our new YouTube playlist. Enjoy!

Former archives assistant Anna Bush digitizes an archival tape in the Conservatory's library.

Former archives assistant Anna Bush digitizes an archival tape in the Conservatory’s library.

We thank the Lou Harrison Estate for granting permission to share these wonderful recordings online.

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