What to Expect at a SFEMS Summer Workshop

The SFEMS Summer Workshops have been going strong for almost 40 years. Each has developed its unique programs and special traditions, so exactly what you will experience at any specific workshop any given summer will vary. But what you will find is the shared enthusiasm and camaraderie of students and faculty as you immerse yourself in a week of new and astonishingly beautiful music.

Classical Workshop “Sample day in the life”

Sample Schedule

9:00 Posting of the day’s Chamber Music Groups
9:15–10:30 rehearsal/coaching #1
10:30 break for coffee/tea and freshly baked goodies
10:45–12:00 rehearsal/coaching #2
12:00–2:00 lunch, practice and individual coaching time. All faculty are available to help you with your music.
2:00 rehearsal/coaching #3
3:15 break for cheese, wine tasting,
or coffee/tea
3:30–5:00 rehearsal/coaching #4
5:00 sherry hour with the NEQ in open rehearsal
6:00–7:30 dinner
7:30 Evening Performance of the day’s chamber music, usually one movement from each group
9:00 well-deserved rest

For those who stay on campus, or commuters who can manage to arrive early, there sometimes are optional warm-up sessions, getting your body relaxed and tuned through stretching, breathing, or vocalizing. Some workshops have an all-workshop choral session to open the day.

Detail of a Sample Day

The main, first class usually begins around 9:00 a.m. and is typically centered on the technique of your primary instrument or voice. It may be in lecture-demonstration-discussion format or it may be a masterclass in which students are critiqued and coached on a prepared piece. Masterclasses usually require an audition. In any case, your class will be small, no more than a half dozen students or so, and it will be taught by a recognized expert and performer.

Lunch often finds students and faculty in the cafeteria engaged in animated discussions about the merits of some recorder maker’s new model or some new recording of a previously unknown work. Others will be sitting outdoors, or perhaps wandering to one of the many fine eateries in the Rockridge to grab a bite.

Afternoon classes (usually there are two each afternoon) focus on repertory and ensemble work. You may be placed in a group to work on a particular piece, perhaps a cantata, trio sonata, vocal quartet, or viol consort. You will get seriously into your piece, have a wonderful time, perhaps working with people playing instruments you’ve never had a chance to play with before; and at the end of the week you may end up performing your piece at the workshop’s final concert. Or your class may be focused on the work of a particular composer or type of music, and students will just play or sing through a variety of pieces to become familiar with that literature. Or it may be a special skills class, like how to read original notation or how to write or improvise ornaments in 16th-century style.

Recreation. In the late afternoon, people tend to relax, maybe drink a little sherry, and socialize. The relaxed conversation continues through dinner, as some people sneak off to practice.

Evening activities are wonderfully varied. Some nights there are faculty concerts, sometimes lectures or other special presentations. Sometimes there are student performances. Almost every night there will be informal jam sessions. People inevitably bring reams of music for multiple voices hoping to find people to play it with them; and soon they form impromptu ensembles and head off various rooms to sing madrigals or play through volumes of Holborne and Brade dance music. And some nights people even dance!

Usually, at least one afternoon is free, to allow everyone to explore some of the fantastic natural and cultural riches this area has to offer.

Performance. The workshops always end (the last night and final morning) with a performance of some large, all workshop project, perhaps a large-scale choral and orchestral work or early opera; and with performances by small student ensembles.

Expect a very full and heady week at any SFEMS Summer Workshop, and expect it to go by very quickly.

“The first Baroque Workshop blew my mind in so many ways. It opened doors into musical realms I’d never known or imagined. And it introduced me to a community of creative, supportive, friendly people, some of whom became teachers, some good friends, and some colleagues.” Baroque Workshop Attendee

“I started going to the SFEMS workshop when I was fourteen…I can’t overemphasize how empowering the SFEMS workshops were on me as a young musician! Particularly the wonderful sense that everyone of all ages was equally respected and nurtured as players. SFEMS, especially in its workshops, has always nurtured an amazingly vital sense of an ongoing community that links players, teachers, listeners, builders, and lovers of these different musics together.” Robert Mealy, Violinist and Director, Juilliard Historical Performance

San Francisco Early Music Society