Julie Rulyak Steinberg, Executive Director of the Community Music Center, at a piano in her office. Photo by Laura Wenus

Julie Rulyak Steinberg has taken the helm of the Community Music Center on Capp Street, assuming the role of Executive Director in mid-September. She comes to the Mission from a similar program in New York. Mission Local sat down for a quick interview about her plans for the future at the 92-year-old institution. The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity, and links have been added.

You can find information about how to take lessons here.

Mission Local: Maybe you can talk about something you’ve learned about this organization that has surprised you, or is just particularly interesting?

Julie Rulyak Steinberg: When CMC was founded out of the Dolores Street Girls Settlement — that was in 1921, when CMC became its own organization — the idea of using music as a vehicle to bring communities together and inspire folks to be their best selves was a pretty innovative thing at that time. Thinking about what CMC’s doing now, particularly around creative youth development and around working with older adults … it’s amazing that for such an old organization, innovation has been part of its thinking and nature for that long.

ML: There’s now a leadership change, what’s going to be different going forward at CMC?

JRS: For the first part of my time here, I have only the intention of listening, hearing, growing. My hope is that as I’m getting established, that I can be a sponge for folks, that I can learn as much as possible about what’s important to each group here at CMC. Because, we serve a lot of people, and a lot of different folks are invested in a lot of different ways. So I’m just hopeful to get to know all those people, understand their hopes and dreams.

ML: Can you talk about a couple of opportunities or goals that you have?

I think the work that CMC’s been doing with our older adult choir population is super inspiring, everything from thinking about reducing isolation and creating social bonds for older adults is super important. But there are also really important health benefits for older adults in terms of sitting, standing, being physical when they’re performing that are really important.

CMC’s recently been able to grow those through a partnership with UCSF, and a study we were a part of that was originally funded by the National Institute of Health. I’m really eager to be able to see those choirs continue and grow — It’s one of the ways we’re reaching folks from all over San Francisco, not just the Mission or the Richmond [where CMC has another center] so I feel particularly proud of that.

Another place I see a real potential for growth is in early childhood programs. My background is teaching early childhood music to some degree, so it’s something I’m interested in. But also just realizing the kind of inspiration that young children can receive through learning music and the kind of great head start that it gives them is something that we can focus on.

ML: We talked about growth. We’ve been hearing that CMC is possibly working on expanding physically, can you tell us anything about that?

Well, I think it’s not a secret that CMC owns our neighboring building — we purchased it back in 2012 with the intention of being able to grow a beautiful campus that’s larger than the one we have now. CMC is constrained in a lot of ways by our space. It’s not accessible, it’s too small, we have way more students who want to come and study with us than we can accommodate in our very beautiful (but very small) Victorian.

Right now, CMC is in the process of developing a campus expansion project, which we’re really excited about. It would possibly help us almost double our student capacity, which would be so amazing for our community, so we’re also working to raise funds for that, too.

We’d also hopefully be able to have a second performance space, which means that not only could our students perform more, but we’d be able to have more performing groups from the local community come in and share their art with our crowd.

Any other thoughts?

One of the really cool things CMC has just started doing that kind of aligns the work of our students and the work of our organization is Field Day. It’s named after CMC’s very first Executive Director, Gertrude Field, and it’s a performathon, meaning that we offer performances all day long. They never stop, back to back. There are incredible performances, it’s totally open to the public, you can see our students in action, our faculty in action, our staff in action and they, too, can perform — they just have to sign up. Every performance helps us provide that $2 million of scholarships we provide to the community every year. We would encourage folks to come out to sign up to donate, it’s not until March, so put it on your calendar!

Speed round:

How many students do you serve?

CMC serves about 2,600 students all over San Francisco.

Do you play an instrument?

I do. My training is in classical voice; I don’t sing solo as much as I used to for sure, but I do love choral singles, singing in ensembles, doing things like that, and I’m a very average but eager pianist. I should take lessons!

Do you teach?

I have taught. I’m not teaching at CMC now, but at my previous organization back in New York, I have done a lot of private teaching and a lot of classroom teaching.

Can you talk about a piece of music that you have seen performed recently that really struck you?

I came to what was labeled the Afro-Cuban dance party — really, there is a class here at CMC, but they had one of their open rehearsals on a Wednesday that turned into an incredible dance party where there was wine and food, and it was totally free to the public. It was maybe in my first week here or so that I saw it, and I just fell in love!

Is there something that people might not know about that happens at CMC that they should show up for?

One of the things CMC’s really proud of is the collaboration we have with SF Performances. So rarely are opportunities like this with high-level professional musicians possible and we offer them here.

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