Albany Music Fund Newsletter

September/October 2011

–       Calendar of AUSD music events

–       AMF Interview: Vocal Music instructor Mary Stocker

–       Alumni News: where are they now?

–       In The Spotlight: Madrigal Delights

–       More music, please! Where I can hear great music in the area, preferably for free?

–       AMF Thanks: Frank Bliss

Calendar of AUSD music events

Thursday, October 13: Vocal Soul (Albany High jazz vocal group) performs for a birthday gathering at the Albany Senior Center.

Wednesday, October 19, Advisory: Informational meeting for AHS Musical.  Sign up for passes to Advisory.  Sign up at Room 22 for auditions November 7-8

Thursday, October 20, 7 p.m.: Albany High School Little Theater. Fall Concert: Wind Ensemble, Chorale, Jazz Band. Free!  Donations appreciated.

Friday, October 21: Youth Chanticleer Festival in San Francisco. Albany Middle School Chamber Choir joins Grammy-winning vocal group Chanticleer and other school choirs.  Free, but seats are limited: contact Mary Stocker at Albany Middle School for information.

Thursday, October 27, 7 p.m., Albany High Little Theater: Choir Movie Night, The Little Mermaid. All are welcome to this singalong!  Cost not yet set- check the AMF calendar for details.

Monday, November 7 and Tuesday, November 8, Albany High Little Theater, 1 – 2 p.m.: Auditions for the Albany High Musical.

Friday, November 18, 8am – 4pm: CSM Jazz Festival.  Albany High bands travel to San Mateo for jazz festival.  Free!

Friday, December 2 and Saturday, December 3, Memorial Hall: Albany High School Choirs present Madrigal Delights at Memorial Hall.  Tickets available through Ms. Stocker or AHS choir students. $12 – $17.

Thursday, December 15, 7 p.m., Memorial Hall: Albany High School Choirs Winter Concert. Free!

Thursday, December 15, 7 p.m., Cornell School multipurpose room: Cornell School Choir Winter Concert.  Free!

Friday, December 16, 7 p.m., Marin School multipurpose room: Marin School Choir Winter Concert.  Free!

Monday. December 19, 7 p.m.: Albany High School Jazz Concert. Free!

Tuesday, December 20, 7 p.m., Ocean View School multipurpose room: Ocean View School Choir Winter Concert.  Free!

AMF Interview: Mary Stocker, Vocal music instructor, Albany Middle School, Albany High School, Albany Community Chorus

Q: Tell us a little about your music and educational background.  Also, one little-know fact about music educators is that they play many instruments.  What do you play, and what’s your “primary” instrument?

A: I grew up as a pianist, actually. It’s my main instrument, though now I guess I would say my voice is! I started choir in middle school as the class accompanist and actually could not sing well until college (but good enough and with enough sight-reading ability that I was able to sing with the higher-level choirs when there were no accompaniments). For the teaching credential, I was required to learn to play all of the orchestral instruments to 5th or 6th grade level (my favorites were the French horn and the trombone!). I do also play a lot of guitar, mostly folk and pop tunes.

I started on piano because I was jealous at a friend’s house after 3 or 4 sessions of her taking piano lessons while I had to study. As mentioned earlier, I accompanied choirs in middle and high school and sang a bit as well. I had planned to become an orthodontist but skipped that to do music education instead, studying music at De Anza College and Cal State Hayward/East Bay. I received a degree in Vocal Performance and my credential in music education there. I also assistant taught at Mt. Eden High School, where I got all of my high school training (the program is state-known, with 7 choirs and 20% of the school involved in vocal music). I also taught elementary school for three months and student taught middle school for six months; after that came Albany!

Q: How did you come to the AUSD, and what are your favorite things about the students here?

A: I was searching for jobs and got a lot of positive responses but none were both high school and in the immediate Bay Area. My mentor, Dr. James at CSU, told me about the Albany position. I applied, was hired, and never looked back! My favorite things about the students…

– They work hard

– They play hard (appreciated 90% of the time 🙂

– Good senses of humor, can laugh and tell it like it is

– Appreciate their teachers, families, and their peers

– Love to spend time singing and looking at extracurriculars—- not afraid to try new things and to be involved with the arts as much as possible

Q: There’s so much music going on in your life, outside what you do at AMS and AHS!  In the last two years, many of your students and their families have seen you shine in radically different performances.  Tell us about the production of Hideo at Zellerbach Hall last year, and also about your barbershop group.

A: Hideo is a theatrical concert featuring music from anime and video games, and my character is the female love interest of the main character. The show itself is a really great spectacle involving over 30 musicians (chamber orchestra + jazz ensemble)and a whole crew of actors, light and sound technicians, artists, and producers. It was a wonderful performance that I was honored to have so many Albany students and families come to see, and the show really gives the community a sense of just how rich and vibrant anime and video game music can be!

My barbershop group, On A Rainbow, was formed after my first year in Albany; I knew I wanted to keep singing but didn’t know exactly how. I used Craigslist to find the three ladies, and we’ve been through many transitions, but it’s been a wonderful ride. We’ve sung music of all styles, from Renaissance to jazz, Sweet Adelines/barbershop to modern choral. We’ve performed in a lot of different venues, most notably at the Academy of Arts and Sciences in SF. We mostly get together for fun, though, and sing for our friends at gatherings and during the holidays.

Q: What advice do you have to get students to practice?

A: Funny, I’m a teacher but I hate advising on paper—- !

I would say…. you can only get so far without practicing. If you focus, spend time in class, and work through music during those times, you can do x amount of work. But really, if you want to be great, if you want to excel (and it’s hard, some of us don’t!), you need to do x+y+z+a+b+c… and the way you do it is by practicing. It’s like homework… our group functions when everyone’s at the same level, and students feel the need to do it, not for me, but for themselves and for their music.

I mean, there’s of course the obvious “make it worth credit”/”there will be a test” thing, but that doesn’t really get it. Every student’s motivations are different, and when I know their motivation, we can work on making practice happen using it.

Q: You play and sing so many different kinds of music.  Give us a sample of some of your current favorites.

A: Aesop Rock

Any quality video game and anime (Final Fantasies, Secret of Mana, Civ 4 🙂

Unwritten is one of my favorite songs

A lot of the things they’ve done in “The Choirs” and “The Sing-Off” I’m a fan of

Alumni News: where are they now?

Calvin Barthel, trombonist, (AHS 2011), is studying at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, on a full scholarship.  Calvin writes:

My life at Berklee is great! I practice all the time and I’m really enjoying studying what I love. The amount of musicians with different interests here continually astounds me, and new music is never hard to find. You can find ensembles to play in ranging from the music of Art Blakey, to a turntable ensemble, to a contemporary orchestra. I’m never lacking for things to do and musicians to learn from

In The Spotlight: Madrigal Delights

Albany High School Choirs present their annual fundraiser, Madrigal Delights, on Friday, December 2 and Saturday, December 3 at the Albany High Little Theater at 7 p.m.

If you’ve never been to a Madrigal Delights concert before, you’re in for a treat.  Join us on a musical journey to the Renaissance, with period costumes and plentiful food.  Madrigals are complex and difficult to sing- but oh so easy to listen to, with rollicking rhythms, satisfying harmonies and exciting counterpoint.

Don’t eat dinner before the concert!  There will be a full spread of seasonal and period edibles, both savory and sweet.  This is a great concert to bring younger students to, with delicious food, great revelry, humorous skits, wonderful madrigals, carols, and instrumental music. You will encounter the King, his family, the Royal Court, and our Jester, who will narrate our tale through Renaissance times. There will be wandering minstrels, recorder and viol music, and madrigals a-plenty!

It’s also an effective way to interest elementary and middle school students in vocal music; seeing and hearing the high school students all dressed up and having such a great time inevitably results in the “I want to do that!” reaction.

Tickets are $17 for adults, and $12 for students and seniors.  Tickets are available at the door, through any Albany High School vocal music student, or by calling 510-558-2575.

Questions?  Contact Mary Stocker, AHS Vocal Music department at 510-558-2575 or

More music, please! Where I can hear great music in the area, preferably for free?

San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music present:

Chamber Music Day 2011 will take place on Sunday, October 16th at the De Young Museum – from mid-morning to late afternoon. On two main stages and at several other locations throughout the museum, over thirty professional small ensembles (ranging from classical music from the early baroque to living composers, to the latest avant-garde music including improvisation, to jazz and crossover-genres, to ensembles who specialize in music from different cultures) will perform throughout the day.  In addition, local chamber music presenting organizations are invited to publicize their upcoming 2011-2012 seasons and attendees can learn about the extraordinary range of small ensemble concerts in and around the San Francisco Bay Area.  Admission to Chamber Music Day is free to the public.

Chamber Music Day offers musicians, local chamber music presenting organizations and audiences an unusual opportunity to gather at one venue in a casual atmosphere. Programs are presented in half-hour segments and are organized so that audience members are encouraged to move from venue to venue within the museum, enjoying a variety of musical styles and enhancing their overall experience by discovering unfamiliar repertoire, genres or ensembles.

Here’s the schedule:


10:00 Bridge Chamber Virtuosi

10:30  Real Vocal String Quartet

11:00  Delphi Trio

11:30  Quinteto Latino

12:15  Ultra World X-tet

12:45  sfSound

1:15    Voices of Music

1:45   martha & monica

2:15   Alexander String Quartet

3:00   Cascada de Flores

3:30   Bella Trio

4:00   Del Sol String Quartet

4:30   Claudia Villela Quartet  
5:00   Marcus Shelby Trio


10:00   Rob Reich Trio

10:40   DU UY Quintet

11:15   Rootstock Percussion

11:40   Quartet San Francisco

12:15   Lisa Mezzacappa’s Bait and Switch

12:55   Erik Jekabson String-tet

1:35     Prasant Radhakrishnan’s VidyA

2:15    Sarah Wilson Ensemble

3:00    After Everything

3:40    RW3

4:20    The Nice Guy Trio + Strings


11:00   DoubleTake — Landscape Gallery

11:35   Duo Revirado — Textile Lobby

12:00   Halifax & Jeffrey — Landscape Gallery

12:30   Kora-Didge Danstep – Oceanic Gallery

2:00     Nils Bultmann Duo — Landscape Gallery

2:30     Nordeson Shelton — Oceanic Gallery

3:00     Cançonier –Hamon Tower (free admission)


11:00   Thingamajigs DIY Musical Instrument

1:00     Magik*Magik Musical Petting Zoo

3:00     Outsound GearExplore

4:00    Teslim — Textile Lobby


AMF Thanks: Frank Bliss

In every Albany Music Fund newsletter, we will bring our readers’ attention to a person, business or organization who has been a supporter of AMF, keeping music strong in our school district.

To inaugurate this new feature, we are proud to present Frank Bliss, Albany resident since 1973 along with his wife Roberta, who have been the “angel donors” behind our successful annual spring phonebanks.

For the past three years, Frank has provided “matching grants” to AMF. For every donor who gave $100 or more, Frank Bliss matched that donor’s gift, up to a total of $5000 in both 2009 and 2010.  In 2011 his $5500 match was for donor increases of $100 or more.  The phonebank has become one of the AMF’s most successful fundraisers- but we could never have done it without Frank’s matching grant.

But Frank doesn’t just write checks.  His connection to Albany’s student musicians is immediate and effective.  A former professional musician who now works as a State Farm Insurance agent in Albany/Berkeley, Frank goes to Albany High School every week, where he coaches string players in technique.  Working with Craig Bryant, instrumental music instructor at Albany High, Frank is part of a successful outreach/mentoring program that has now expanded so that Albany High students (coached and mentored by Frank) are now coaching and working with Albany Middle School students.

This all came to pass because four years ago, Frank attended a joint concert of Albany High School instrumentalists and the Albany Community Chorus.  He was blown away by the quality of music produced by the students, and afterwards spoke to conductor Craig Bryant.  When he learned Craig’s background was in brass instruments, not strings, Frank offered to come and coach the string players at Albany High weekly, to help with technical matters best addressed by a professional string player.

This brings us to Frank’s own musical background.  A Berkeley High, Cal and U of Illinois graduate, Frank comes from a very musical family.  His mother was a music major at Cal, and instilled a love of music in her children.  Sometimes it was difficult to find time and space for everyone to practice their various instruments, but they always did!  Frank remembers playing his trumpet in the closet, while his brother played the cello in the next room.  (It’s hard to fit a cello and chair in the closet.)  Frank plays both violin and viola, and has been active in another Bay Area student music association: the Young People’s Symphony Orchestra, now celebrating its 75th year.  Frank played violin in YPSO from 1962-1964, moving from principal second to concertmaster.  (In later years he served on the YPSO Board of Directors, and also as President.)  Fast forward to Frank’s own family, and note that he has passed on his joy in music: all three of his children played music while in Albany schools, and it’s still a big part of their lives.

After high school and undergraduate work, Frank went to the University of Illinois.  There he earned a Master of Music degree, studying with Paul Rolland, founder of the American String Teacher Association. Frank then worked as a professional musician, playing with the Amsterdam Philharmonic, the Oakland Symphony, and the San Francisco Opera.  He was also the coordinator of the San Francisco Symphony’s education program.  Though he has been a State Farm agent since 1985, he remains active in chamber music, and will be performing Beethoven’s 10th violin/piano sonata Opus 96 later this month in Saratoga, with accompanist Bill Horne.

I asked Frank about his wishes for the future of music in Albany schools.  He answered that first, he would like to see consistency in including music as part of the regular curriculum. It takes many years to build a good music program- but only one year of no music education (because of budget cuts) to undo all that hard work.  (The Albany Music Fund and AUSD music teachers wholeheartedly agree!).  Secondly, he would like to remind people that it takes 6 years to learn to play an instrument really well, and advocates starting our students’ music education in 2nd grade, rather than 4th grade.  If you start an instrument in 4th grade, you’re in 10thgrade by the time you’ve got a excellent command of your instrument- but if you start in 2nd grade, you’ll enter high school as a skilled musician.

Finally, Frank reminds us that music, unlike many sports, can be a lifelong activity, surviving the inevitable physical decline of our bodies.  For Frank, his musical education and joy in music has afforded him tremendous opportunities.  He has traveled to and played music in all 50 states, visited 21 different countries and almost every continent.

When the phonebank callers call your home next spring, you’ll now know a little more about the man whose passion for music and music education for Albany students translates to big checks for the Albany Music Fund and weekly coaching sessions with our students.

You can reach Frank at 510-527-2000, or or

If you know of an individual, business or organization who has been a strong supporter of music in Albany’s schools, and would like to recommend them for this column, please contact the newsletter editor, Debbie Carton at:

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