Share Your Memories: Alumni Reminiscences
The San Francisco Conservatory of Music Archives has the goal of collecting, preserving, and providing access to materials of permanent historical value to the Conservatory. In preparation for its upcoming Centennial, the Conservatory’s Archives has begun a project titled “Share Your Memories.” This project is devoted to collecting and preserving personal memories from alumni of their time at the Conservatory. Submissions by alumni will be used for a variety of Conservatory events and materials. They will also become a permanent collection in the Archives, alongside the records and files of illustrious Conservatory members such as founders Ada Clement and Lillian Hodghead, and former Director Ernest Bloch.
B.M. 1971, Piano Performance
Noel Benkman in 1968 and on concert tour in China, 2008
What inspired you to study music, and how did you choose to attend the Conservatory?
The first time that I heard a solo piano performance in grammar school, I was hooked.
I chose the Conservatory because I received a full scholarship and it was 1967 - the Summer of Love in San Francisco, and I really liked the intimate atmosphere at Ortega Street where everyone knew everyone else, and the faculty and students intermingled freely.
What specific memories of your classes or teachers at the Conservatory would you like to share?
Adolph Baller cancelled my lesson and instead invited me to his home to hear him and Gabor Rejto perform all five of the Beethoven cello sonatas in one sitting.
Many of us practiced every night until the Conservatory closed at 10 pm. Late one evening Robert Helps invited me and two other students to hear him perform Roger Sessions' 3rd piano sonata in the darkened auditorium: no lights - just candles.
I had a 20th century music class with Robert Moran. Once he invited the class to his flat in the Castro district. We listened to Schoenberg and Berg and drank hot buttered rum and one of his neighbors happened to be Janis Joplin! To this day I associate the 2nd Viennese School with hot buttered rum and Janis Joplin.
Do any concerts or performances stand out to you from your time at the Conservatory?
Mack McCray came from Juilliard, where he was working on his DMA at the time, and performed Petrushka for us. It was brilliant. I also heard him play the first Brahms Concerto with the SF Symphony later that week.
Milton and Peggy Salkind performed four-hand Mozart from memory: impeccable and elegant.
Seeing John Cage and Milton Salkind in conversation and laughter in the student lounge.
Playing Debussy's Poissons d'or for Irwin Freundlich and Beethoven's Fourth Concerto for Leon Fleisher.
Performing Beethoven violin sonatas for Stuart Canin at his home.
Hearing the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Pavarotti in the Park Band Shell - no announcements, just word of mouth.
Living on 22nd Avenue in a three story house with a guitarist, trombonist, trumpet player, cellist, and another pianist. Wonderful time.
Driving to Mt. Tamalpais late in the evening and spending the night watching the lights of the Bay Area from a meadow high on the mountain then making it to my 8 am class.
Advice to current and future students....
Travel, study in Europe, get as many degrees as you can stomach - preferably from different schools.