In Heaven, Meeting Old Ghosts
In 2001 the building at 50 Oak was home to SF Dance Center, and occasionally I substituted as class accompanist. The relationship between ballet class instructor and accompanist never wants for drama, sometimes symbiotic, sometimes a power struggle, and sometimes something between Savior and Saved. On one particular day, I, er ... failed to meet the instructor's expectations ... and was kindly given the "we'll call you" boot out the door. Undeterred, I returned a week later with Michael Lowe, a friend, mentor, and well-known bay area teacher/choreographer, and together we delivered an exhilarating and exhausting advanced ballet class. (Ha! Beware of giving me the bootsie!) Over the next few weeks, I sat in on classes, sometimes with Michael, who analyzed the exercises in detail and offered musical suggestions, and sometimes on my own. I learned to tune out the music, finding more valuable inspiration for dance accompaniments in the rhythmic skip-and-swish of slippers and shoes against the floor.
I still play for ballet class, but I left that green accompanist at 50 Oak Street, a building where sunlight, too, determinedly found its way, fleeing the tortuous interior corridors and flooding the cavernous Beaux-Arts inspired dance studios. The San Francisco Conservatory of Music acquired the building a few years ago and took official residence there this fall, and in the week before holidays, a Conservatory alum and I made our pilgrimage to the new site, curious to see if any of our Ortega Street ghosts had made their way downtown. I jumped up and down when I saw The Light again, not to mention the gilded columns and their ornamental filigree, in one of the small concert halls. My friend whispered,
Can you imagine? For anyone who clocked hours on Ortega Street since the seventies --faculty and staff, even those students, you know, the ones who never leave-- they must feel like they've gone to heaven. The sunlight, these never-ending stairwells, all this beautiful wood, and the clean classrooms...it's too good to be true. Then, rounding a corner, you bump into all the familiar faces, the same cast of characters. What else can they think but that this must be heaven!I had to agree. I like this new Conservatory. It feels hip and urban and offers step-out-the-door access to the symphony, opera or ballet. The building, taller and more storied than its rancho predecessor out in the sunset, also seems more serious. Forget the proximity to the city's best wine bar, a great wine shop, designer shoe stores and the place to be seen for late hours dessert, students can get down to work at 50 Oak, learning their Modus Novus, whittling perfect oboe reeds, juggling mallets, and practicing, gossiping, and then practicing some more. The library is still a disaster, and the "cafe" is less than adequate, but it's year one, and according to a professor, "part of this year is going to be about learning to use the building." (Ah, that helps explain these amusing postings.)