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wilford kelly headshot"A supportive musical community and amazing professional opportunities make SFCM an incredible place to hone our craft and have our voices heard."

Wilford Kelly '20

MM, Voice

I grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, in a family of amateur musicians and music lovers. My first instrument was the alto saxophone, which I played for ten years. By my senior year of high school, I was leading the choir group at my school. I was also in a neuroscience degree program, which would have fast-tracked me into a career in the sciences. However, when my choir went to an all-state conference that year, I wondered for the first time if music was something I could pursue seriously. My mother saw how happy I was in a musical environment, and she encouraged me to apply to an undergraduate music program, where I was awarded a scholarship and spent the next four years developing my voice.

I’m proud to be the first person in my family to pursue music as a vocation, which is only possible because of the support I’ve received. My family contributed all that they could to my musical studies, but coming from a single-parent household, I’ve pretty much been on my own financially since age 18. Right after high school, I started working three jobs to make ends meet. To become a successful musician requires a tremendous investment of time in lessons, classes, practice, rehearsal, and performance. The only way I’m here today is because of scholarship support and the generosity of donors.

I’d heard about SFCM from a friend who’d attended, and I knew that it has one of the best voice programs in the country. When I came for my graduate school audition, it felt like the perfect fit. In the past year, I’ve learned so much studying with my teacher, César Ulloa, and have already been in ten main stage productions. I’ve had more performance opportunities here than I could have imagined, and I’ve tried to take advantage of every chance to gain experience by singing in musical theatre, opera, and historical performance productions.

When I graduate with my Master’s in Music degree, I plan to continue my training as a performer by completing an artist residency or young artist program. I hope to stay in ߲ݴý Francisco because I am inspired by this city, and there is never a dull moment here!

What I didn’t anticipate before coming to SFCM was that I would become committed to making teaching a part of my future plans. I’ve always wanted to give back and help young people discover music, but I didn’t know if I would be good at it. In my first year at SFCM, I taught in the school’s new after-school program, Bridge to Arts and Music (BAM), where I got to introduce grade-school children to music, teaching them fundamental skills and helping them gain confidence, which will serve them in music and in life. Growing up as a student of color, I wasn’t exposed to classical music. Many young people of color do not have access to music education because of financial barriers, which is why it’s so important that programs like BAM are free for any student to attend. Being able to share my experience with these youth and see how quickly they progress musically with one-on-one instruction has been extremely rewarding.

Music is our most useful universal language. It brings us together and makes the world feel smaller and more connected through our shared passion. I am incredibly grateful to be the recipient of your generosity and a part of this wonderful community.

Consider making a gift in support of scholarships so that students like Wilford can help others thrive through music.

"The support I’ve received at SFCM enabled me to discover my passion and talent for audio engineering. Thanks to my scholarship and the incredible professional opportunities here, I’m already building my career as an engineer, and loving it!"

Seira McCarthy '20

BM, Technology and Applied Composition (TAC)

I came to SFCM from Tokyo, Japan, where I grew up and was involved in music in every way I could be. I started playing piano at age three, but I also played in bands and in the orchestra at my international school. I just loved music! In high school, I arranged a piece for our orchestra and had so much fun that I decided to arrange, and then compose, on my own. When it came time to apply to colleges, I could only think of musical options. Technology and Applied Composition (TAC) was a brand-new program and sounded exactly like what I was looking for—a contemporary curriculum in composition and technology that would give me hands-on experience learning from top composers in the industry.

When I arrived at SFCM, I thought I’d be a composer for video games. I made the switch from composing to audio engineering after taking my first course from Jason O’Connell, the Director of Recording Services. What I love about working in audio is that you need a certain level of knowledge to be successful. It’s part science, part art, and the “rules” provide a flexible space to be creative. I find that very gratifying.

My mentor and Executive Director of TAC, MaryClare Brzytwa, noticed my interest in audio engineering when our Composition Workshop class was working on a project with Sony Playstation. She gave me the opportunity to audio engineer for the class as we worked with Sony to record and produce a piece in their studios. MaryClare’s encouragement was incredibly important, especially because there are so few female sound engineers.

At SFCM I’ve learned to see challenges as opportunities. In the professional world, female audio engineers often need to work extra hard to be noticed. Now, I try not to see this bias as a barrier, but as an opportunity to prove how talented we are. Whenever someone doubts my abilities because I’m a woman, I know their perception of me will completely change once they’ve seen me work. It motivates me to help make audio engineering a welcoming field for other women.

The training and professional opportunities I’ve had at SFCM have enabled me to build my career while I’m in school and have a path forward when I graduate. My second year, I started a part-time work-study job in SFCM’s recording studios as a student engineer, where I am now the studio manager who trains younger student engineers in the school’s recording services. In this role I’ve gotten to work on music in every genre that SFCM musicians create, from classical to contemporary to jazz. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to gain valuable work experience in my field while financially contributing to my education. This job has led to internships at Women’s Audio Mission, Sony Playstation, Dolby Laboratories, and the Aspen Music Festival and School this past summer. Because of TAC faculty members’ professional affiliations and the rigorous training and hands-on experience we get in the program, I’ve been able to make important connections and lay the groundwork for my career.

The immediate financial pressures that many musicians have at this pivotal stage in their training often means they forego opportunities for professional growth by taking jobs unrelated to music. Because of my scholarship, I’ve been able to focus on academics and gain invaluable skills through internships, which will pay off tenfold during the course of my career. My scholarship has also enabled me to discover talents I didn’t know I had and pursue a career path I hadn’t considered.

As young musicians, knowing that donors are supporting our hard work and celebrating our success is an amazing feeling. Your belief in us makes us feel that much more valued and capable as we pursue our dreams. Thank you!

Consider making a gift in support of scholarships so that students like Seira can help others thrive through music.


daniela headshot"My scholarship is the reason I can learn from incredible teachers and live my passion. I am grateful for this opportunity to become the best musician I can and to help others discover and express themselves through music. Thank you!"

Daniela Gonzales Siu '23

BM, Cello

I was born in Huánuco, a city in the Andes Mountains. My mother has always loved music, and she dreamed of her children learning to play. Thanks to her, I started with piano lessons at age five. A few years later, I began to play the cello as a hobby, and my skill and love for the instrument quickly grew. In my home city we did not have access to advanced musical training, so my mother helped me apply to the Peru Conservatory’s Pre-College program. When I was accepted, our family moved to Lima so that I could attend. Here, I had a wonderful teacher who inspired me with her passion and dedication, and I knew that I wanted to devote my life to music.

One day in Lima I wandered into a record store and came across an album by Yo-Yo Ma. I didn’t know who he was, but the emotion in his recording was so powerful that I could feel it in my body. I wondered if I could make people feel so much by playing. The intense focus and joy of music unlocked something I didn’t know I was capable of: a higher purpose and sense of fulfillment. At sixteen, I moved again, this time without my family to attend Interlochen Arts Academy, a boarding school for young musicians halfway around the world.

It was at Interlochen that I first heard about SFCM from classmates. When I came to audition, I felt like I’d found my home. The environment was very positive, and after talking with faculty and students, I knew it was the right fit for me. People here are incredibly passionate about their art and love what they do. I’m excited to study with Jean-Michel Fonteneau, who exemplifies the complete musician that I aspire to be. I love my quintet, and I love my theory class and study group!

To teach others has always been at the heart of my musical dream. I want to give back to SFCM and my community here, so I started teaching in SFCM’s Conservatory in the Schools program my first semester. Twice a week, I go to a local middle school, where my goal is to teach my students something new and amazing that they can do with the cello each time we meet. I am learning so much through this experience and SFCM’s pedagogy courses.

Chamber music is how I communicate my thoughts and feelings. I believe that if you can play an instrument, no matter what life hands you, you will be able to find strength and happiness. I want to give as many people as possible access to self-expression through music, whether or not they can afford music lessons. I hope to open people’s minds and hearts to the emotional experience that performers are inviting them to share, not just the notes we play.

I’m awed by how much the community here supports the arts. In Peru, I couldn’t have gotten financial support to study music at this level. There just isn’t the same kind of support for the arts or the same level of music education available. This is why when I return to Peru during school breaks, I volunteer to teach younger students in my hometown. In a few years, I hope to have a successful career as a performer and also establish a school for music in the Andes to improve the level of music education in my home country and show young people the joy and opportunity they can have through music.

When I graduate, I will be the first person in my family to finish college. I can’t wait to share that exciting moment with my family and the SFCM community. Thank you for making my dream possible.

Consider making a gift in support of scholarships so that students like Daniela can help others thrive through music.

cynthia sun headshto"Scholarships are the definition of opportunity, as they help to ensure that those who study music seriously are able to give back musically for the rest of our lives. Thank you for investing in our future."

Cynthia Sun '20

MM, String and Piano Chamber Music

I was lucky to grow up in ߲ݴý Jose, California in a family that values music. My older brother started piano lessons first, and my mom tells the story that when I heard him playing, I couldn’t be kept away from the piano, so they let me begin lessons a year before they’d initially planned. My love for the piano only grew from that point, and I was also fortunate to have a teacher who helped to foster my love for music during these first years.

For my undergrad studies, I attended Johns Hopkins University, where I was able to prepare for a career in medicine and continue to study music at the Peabody Institute by earning a dual degree in neuroscience and piano. This meant that my focus was always split between science and music. Last year, I was deciding between attending medical school and following my dream of becoming a professional chamber musician.  I chose to come to SFCM because I didn’t want to look back and wonder what I might have accomplished if I’d pursued my passion for music.

This was a difficult decision because my path forward is not as clear-cut or financially secure in music as it would be in medicine. However, I felt that if any school could teach me not only how to become the my best as an artist, but also how to make my dream a reality, it was SFCM. Professional development courses offered here, like “Musical Start-Ups,” teach artists how to market ourselves to the public and engage audiences—skills we would otherwise have to learn on our own even though they are essential to building a successful career. When I was admitted, I knew that this was my opportunity to give my dream a chance. But, there was no way I could have made this choice without a scholarship.

My favorite composers right now are Brahms and Schumann because their works feel so personal. Their music can feel like the warmest hug you could get, and then, it can take on the quality of gut-wrenching devastation. The full spectrum of human emotion is packed into their pieces. In my first semester, I’m learning to play Schumann’s Kreisleriana, which I love because it shows so many sides of the human soul: aggressive, gentle, intimate. The way an artist interprets this piece says something about who they are.

I know some people worry that classical music is dying, but the problem isn’t lack of interest. It’s a lack of opportunity for people to hear it and learn it. And scholarships give that opportunity. For me, success after SFCM will look like playing with my own chamber group to bring classical music to wider audiences, as well as teaching young people who wouldn’t otherwise have access to music education.

The incredible mentorship I’m getting will help me build a career in music, but this future wouldn’t be financially feasible if I had to repay the full cost of my education in student loans. Scholarships are the definition of opportunity, as they help to ensure that those who study music seriously are able to give back musically for the rest of our lives. Thank you for investing in our future.

Consider making a gift in support of scholarships so that students like Cynthia can help others thrive through music.

solanch Sosa Headshot"I’ve worked hard for the opportunity to study at SFCM, but it’s only because of your generosity that I’m able to live my dream of learning, playing, and sharing music. Thank you!"

Solanch Sosa '22

BM, Violin

I’ve known since childhood that if I wanted to be a professional classical musician, I would need to work hard to get a scholarship at a conservatory. I started playing violin at age 7 in my home city of Cienfuegos, Cuba, where I was selected to attend an elementary school with a rigorous music program. When my family immigrated to the United States several years later, however, the cost of continuing my music education became a challenge, as my Spanish-speaking parents struggled to cover our family’s basic needs with minimum-wage jobs. So, for the past ten years, I practiced nine hours a day with the hope of earning a scholarship that would enable me to continue my training at the highest level.

For me, music is joy—what I love doing more than anything else—so the hours I devote to playing never feel like “work.” SFCM was my dream school since high school, when I was fortunate to study with an inspiring SFCM alum at a summer music program. I immediately wanted to learn to play like this teacher, who had not only mastered the technical aspects of musicianship, but performed with such feeling that everyone listening was transformed.

When I received my acceptance letter to SFCM and a generous scholarship that made it possible for me to attend, it was one of the happiest moments in my life. By continuing to work hard over the next four years, I hope to have fully transformed into an artist who can uplift and inspire others, the way my teachers have inspired me. At SFCM, I’m also learning professional skills that I’ll need as a musician, such as how to manage my career and explore entrepreneurial opportunities. That’s something I don’t think I would get at another school—the knowledge and hands-on experience to ensure a future for myself in music and a future for the music I love.

Every day when I wake up, I feel incredibly grateful to be alive and able to devote myself to music. Now, I’m able to spend between 5 and 6 hours each day practicing between classes, ensemble rehearsals, homework, and teaching. As a student mentor in SFCM’s Conservatory in the Schools program, every Thursday I board the bus with my violin to Starr King Elementary to teach youth who wouldn’t otherwise have access to one-on-one music lessons. I feel so fortunate to introduce my students to music—to see them experience the joy of holding a violin for the first time and learning their first notes. 

No matter what state a person is in when they come in the door to hear a concert, as musicians, we have a very precious opportunity to help them heal and transform through music in the brief time of a performance. To be able to help others through music is an honor that I never take for granted. Your generosity is the only way I’m able to study with my incredible teachers at SFCM, who are helping me reach my greatest potential as an artist and as an individual. Thank you!

Consider making a gift in support of scholarships so that students like Solanch can create a vibrant future for classical music.

a headhsot"Because of my scholarship, I’m the first person in my family to go to college. Your support enables students like me to learn from the best and achieve what we’re capable of."

Robert Chappa '22 BM

Roots, Jazz, and American Music, Percussion

The new Roots, Jazz, and American Music (RJAM) program at the ߲ݴý Francisco Conservatory of Music gives me the opportunity to explore Latin music and my heritage—training that many jazz programs don’t offer. Being at SFCM means that I also benefit from learning and collaborating with classmates who are studying diverse genres of music, as well as digital composition and recording.

I grew up in inner-city Houston where as a Latino teenager, I had a better chance of ending up in jail if I made it through high school alive. At a time when many of my peers were drawn into crime, music gave me a lifeline and incredible role models, several of whom are now my teachers at SFCM. I was lucky to have several professional musicians in my extended family who encouraged my interest in music. Now in my first semester of the RJAM program, I am proud to be the first person in my family to attend college.

Since I was 3 years old, music has enabled me to express myself and simultaneously step outside of myself—to grow, to empathize, and to dream. But it was later when I discovered that as a musician, I could help others do the same. A year before I applied to SFCM, I played a gig at a senior home, and afterwards a few people from the audience told me that experiencing the performance made them feel like they were 20 years old again! This blew me away. I knew music had a powerful effect on me, but I didn’t know that I could have this kind of impact on others through my playing. That moment was when I knew that music was my calling, not just my way out of the neighborhood where I grew up.

Money has always been the barrier in my life that could keep me from achieving what I know I’m capable of. My parents are divorced and have six other children, so they couldn’t help me financially. My grandparents were my main source of financial support until they were hit hard by Hurricane Harvey last year and were no longer in a position to contribute to my education. After Harvey, I thought I wouldn’t be able to go to school at all, but the generous scholarship I received at SFCM made it possible.

I’m still working to help make ends meet by gigging as much as I can in the community with the ensemble I formed with other RJAM students in our first semester, which is also exciting because it gets us into the community. I’m incredibly grateful for your support, which gives me and other students like me the opportunity to learn from the best and achieve our full potential. Thank you!

Consider making a gift in support of scholarships so that students like Robert can achieve all that they're capable of.

Charlotte Wong headshot"I am grateful for my teacher's support and encouragement every step of the way and thankful for the doors that Pre-College has opened for me."

Charlotte Wong

Pre-College piano student

My name is Charlotte Wong and I am a fifteen-year-old Pre-College student at the ߲ݴý Francisco Conservatory of Music, where I study piano with Corey McVicar. I started taking piano lessons when I was five—three years after my family moved to ߲ݴý Mateo from Hong Kong. That was how my love of music began.

Since enrolling in Pre-College four years ago, I've had amazing opportunities to grow as a musician and to connect with people through music. Last January, the director of SFCM’s Pre-College, Michael Roest,invited me to perform on NPR's Live From Here, to be broadcast live from ߲ݴý Francisco the very next day. I was honored to step in, even though it meant I had just 24 hours to prepare for this opportunity of a lifetime!

When I walked onto the Davies Symphony Hall stage in front of the biggest audience I'd ever performed for, I felt very nervous. But the moment I sat down at the piano, I started to feel at home. And when I began to play — a challenging and satisfying piece by Franz Liszt, my favorite composer — I started to have fun. It was an honor to share this beautiful music with thousands of listeners across the country who otherwise might never get to hear it, and to be on the same stage where so many incredible musicians have performed.

People are sometimes curious to know how much I practice and whether I have any social time outside of school and music. Before performing on Live from Here, I practiced all day! But on most school nights, I play for two hours, and on the weekends, I'm able to devote between four and five hours each day to practice. In Pre-College, though, I've learned that music isn't just a solo pursuit. Here, I'm part of a community of dedicated musicians my age who share my passion for music. Pre-College also introduced me to chamber music, which I love because I get to play with my friends.

I believe that music helps us get to know other people, places, cultures, and parts of our history. Something I love about classical music is that it invites us to listen differently than most popular music does. In return for listening closely, classical music teaches us so much about the composer and about ourselves through the feelings it stirs in us. This is what I hope to share with others through my playing.

I am grateful for my teacher's support and encouragement every step of the way and thankful for the doors that Pre-College has opened for me. Pre-College gives young students like me the support we need to become confident and successful musicians, whether that's through scholarships, master classes, or incredible performance opportunities. It's shown me how I can benefit people in the community with music, wherever I go. Thank you for believing in the power of music and supporting our growth.

Consider making a gift so that students like Charlotte can share the music they love with the world.

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duMarkus Davis Headhsot"I'm living proof that you cannot overestimate the power of your giving."

DuMarkus Davis

BM, Violin

Everything about my musical journey makes the fact that I’m about to graduate from SFCM extraordinary. In middle school, when I asked my music teacher if I could learn to play violin in the school orchestra, I was told that it was too late. My classmates already had a ten-year head start. A few months after I began violin lessons, the recession hit, and both of my parents lost their jobs. We also lost our house. Needless to say, it wasn’t financially feasible for me to continue with private lessons.

Yet, I did continue to play, and during this challenging time something unexpected occurred. The violin gave me a voice, a way to express my feelings about what my family and I were going through. I spent countless hours with my violin, and two years later I was performing as principal second violin with the American High School Honors Orchestra at none other than Carnegie Hall.

When I was accepted to SFCM, I was elated. I came here to train as a performer—but then, after taking a new professional development course on music management my junior year, another unlikely thing happened: I founded a business. Now in its second year, my startup helps aspiring young musicians access quality music education, wherever they may live. At SFCM, I’ve learned that extraordinary things are possible when you have the support of a dedicated community. I am lucky to have had the opportunity to study at this innovative and supportive school.

As someone who could only be here because of your generosity, I’m living proof that you cannot overestimate the power of your giving. Your support enables students like me to get a world-class education here at SFCM and change the world with our talent. You can help us get to places that we never could have imagined before coming here.

Consider making a gift in support of scholarships so that students like DuMarkus can achieve what seemed impossible before coming to SFCM.

"My scholarship has given me the opportunity to study with one of my biggest idols and to be a part of one of the best trombone studios in the world."

Cameron Rahmani '18

MM, Bass Trombone

In the fifth grade, my band director told the story of a student from my elementary school in ߲ݴý Diego, California who started playing the trombone in band and went on to receive a college music scholarship. From that point, my dream was to become good enough at the bass trombone to earn a scholarship to attend college. Through years of hard work, I did just that. In the process, I discovered my purpose: to become a professional bass trombonist.

I chose SFCM because it was a dream of mine to study with John Engelkes, my teacher here. SFCM attracts top-level musicians who push me to become the best version of myself. I value most about my SFCM experience the chance to learn from people who are doing what I dream of. I get to work with the entire ߲ݴý Francisco Symphony low brass section and receive feedback from them on a weekly basis. My scholarship has allowed me to privately study with one of my biggest idols and also be a part of one of the best trombone studios in the world. This opportunity means the world to me.

I am fortunate to be able to give back by teaching public school students as a mentor in SFCM’s Conservatory in the Schools (CIS) program. CIS brings intensive music education to young people who wouldn't normally have access to this opportunity. It is deeply rewarding to watch my students learn, improve their skills, and develop a passion for music. Most of the middle-school students I teach will not pursue careers as professional brass players, but my goal is for every one of my students to know that I believe in them and their ability to succeed, no matter what field they eventually choose. Like my teachers have done, I hope to show younger musicians how playing music, along with the amazing support of the music community, can help them achieve their dreams.

Music has allowed me to express myself to the world. Music has also taught me the importance of hard work and being a team player, the power of patience, and most importantly, that I have a purpose in life. Thank you for making this possible.

Consider making a gift in support of scholarships so that students like Cameron can become the next generation of leading performers and teachers.

"Your generosity inspires me and my classmates to work our very hardest and to share our love of music with as many people as we can."

Ziying Hu '19

BM, Double Bass

When people learn that I play the double bass, their reaction is often a double take. It’s true that female double bassists are relatively rare. When I fell in love with the double bass’ sonorous tone and decided I had to learn to play, I was nine years old and not the least daunted by this.

Growing up in Suzhou, China, I excelled in academics, but found that music helped me stay balanced. Whenever I’m confronted with a challenging situation or need to solve a problem, playing will cause a light bulb to go on in my mind and the solution to present itself. A few hours of working on a piece brings calm and clarity. As I discovered this, I played more and more, and I began to realize that music is both a passion and a refuge for me. It’s part of who I am. That’s when I decided to apply to conservatories.

Attending SFCM has been life-changing. It meant leaving the country where I grew up and making my home in a city where I knew no one, with a different language and culture to learn, including a different educational approach. My teachers here encourage me to develop self-expression in addition to technical mastery; to articulate my opinions and lead discussions. Being able to study at SFCM has been an incredible gift to me as a musician and a person. Thanks to my scholarship, I am able to be at this amazing institution where students support and encourage each other as we work to become the best artists possible.

When I first came to SFCM, the language I felt most comfortable expressing myself in was music. My teachers and classmates have helped me find my voice—not just on the double bass, but in the classroom and in the community. Because of the generosity of scholarship fund donors, I have been able to grow here in ways I couldn’t have anywhere else.

I am grateful for the incredible performance opportunities I have here, including playing in the ߲ݴý Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra. I didn’t fully realize the impact I could have through music until coming to SFCM on my scholarship. After graduating, I look forward to connecting with people as an orchestra player and helping younger music students find their voices and develop their confidence as I have been lucky to do.

Your generosity inspires me and my classmates to work our very hardest and to share our love of music with as many people as we can. I hope you will come hear us play!

Consider making a gift in support of scholarships so that students like Ziying can find their voice and inspire others.

Day in the Life Video

DuMarkus Davis '18

Experience a day in the life of SFCM senior DuMarkus Davis as he navigates through classes, lessons, and rehearsals, and shares his big plans for after graduation.

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