Central to the philosophy of music education at Urban is the idea that music is a language everyone can learn, and that with proper support and guidance, even young musicians are capable of excellence. Students with a wide variety of musical experience – from beginners to seasoned musicians – are encouraged to participate in Urban’s ensembles. The Urban Singers, Lab and Advanced Jazz Bands, and the Chamber Orchestra serve as ambassadors for the school community and perform at school functions, neighborhood outreach centers, other Bay Area schools and regional music festivals. The ensembles hold two annual concerts at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco and winter performances at the school.
Urban’s Advanced Jazz and Lab Jazz Bands and their small combos play in a variety of styles, from swing to rock, pop, fusion and funk. In recent years, the Jazz Band has also become a source of talent for the highly regarded SF Jazz High School All-Stars program. Through its ongoing relationship with SF Jazz, the Jazz Band continues to enjoy access to workshops with nationally acclaimed artists.
The Urban Singers draws its repertoire from a broad range of styles, including gospel, folk, rock, jazz and classical, with students having the opportunity to work with a range of outstanding guest artists. In addition to the co-ed Urban Singers, there are opportunities for men’s and women’s a capella and solo singing performances.
The Chamber Orchestra has become a central part of Urban’s musical arts program. Students work in small ensemble settings, playing music drawn from the standard western classical repertoire, as well as some more contemporary pieces.
The goal of the Performing Arts Department is to introduce students to the discipline and the creative process of the performing arts. We stress ensemble work in our classes and productions, creating a trusting environment that allows students to free their imaginations and develop self-confidence and spontaneity. Our classes accommodate students with no performing experience, as well as those interested in pursuing performing arts professionally.
Urban Advanced Studies (UAS) classes in the Performing Arts Department are designed to challenge students to deepen their practice in a given discipline and understand its dynamic connection to society. The primary expectation of advanced performing artists is serious involvement with their creative pursuit in a disciplined manner, with a commitment to exploring the practice with curiosity, conviction and technical mastery.
Advanced musicianship in ensembles (Advanced Jazz Band, Urban Singers and advanced chamber music groups) involves performance demonstrated at or near a collegiate level. A student in an advanced musical ensemble or class must have achieved proficiency with their instrument. Proficiency is determined based on the following criteria: an understanding of phrasing, intonation, tonal beauty, ensemble blend, dynamic variance, rhythmic accuracy, and beginning-level sight-reading, as well as agility and precision with virtuosic passages.
For students in Urban Singers and Chamber Orchestra, the ability to blend and balance their parts with others, demonstrate technical proficiency, and to connect emotionally with the material is paramount to success. Jazz instrumentalists will be required to improvise solos over chord progressions as well as interpret parts and melodic material. In theory classes, students must achieve fluency in the following skill areas: sight-reading of beginning-level literature, interval recognition, intonation, basic melodic and rhythmic dictation, harmonic analysis, scales and melody/harmony relationships, classification of basic musical forms, instrument timbres, and creation of short-form compositions.
Urban Singers is a performance-oriented vocal group committed to musical excellence and the building of skills and community through ensemble. The concert repertoire is drawn from a broad range of styles, including contemporary, classical, pop and spirituals. The ensemble is a musical ambassador for the school community, performing at school functions and neighborhood outreach centers. Students participate in small combos every other Thursday after school, focusing on music of their choosing. Participating students earn one full arts credit for their yearlong commitment. (Yearlong commitment, meets for three E periods) Prerequisite: Intro to Urban Singers. Incoming 9th graders enter this yearlong class after week 6 of Fall Term. (1 credit)
Introduction to Jazz Band prepares beginning instrumentalists for assimilation into Jazz Band by teaching the beginning tools and techniques in a supportive environment. This class will help musicians find their place in the band through specific, necessary instruction and assessment. Entering musicians will be part of a team, making the transition into the larger group smoother, more efficient and complete. Skills include Chart-Reading, Improvisation, Musicianship, Ear-Training, Ensemble playing, Intonation, Theory and Repertoire Development. (Open to 9th graders and other interested students; meets during Fall term) Intro to Jazz Band is a prerequisite to joining either Lab or Advanced Jazz Bands. (1/2 credit)
Lab Jazz Band is a large ensemble focusing on development of the basic technical and conceptual skills required for participation in the Advanced Jazz Band. Previous experience on an instrument is recommended, but not required. Students will also perform in small combos incorporating non-jazz styles such as rock, pop, fusion and funk, depending on their experience. Combos will meet every other Thursday after school for the entire school year. Participating students earn one full arts credit for their yearlong commitment. (Yearlong commitment, meets for three E periods) Prerequisite: Audition or instructor approval. Incoming 9th graders enter this yearlong class after week 6 of Fall Term. (1 credit)
Advanced Jazz Band is a large ensemble specializing in music from the American jazz tradition. It focuses on performance and gives two major concerts a year. Previous experience on an instrument is required. Students also perform in small combos incorporating other styles such as rock, pop, fusion and funk, depending on their experience. Students work on improvisation and other fundamental skills in combos meeting every other Thursday after school. Participating students earn one full arts credit for their yearlong commitment. (Yearlong commitment, meets for three E periods) Prerequisite: Audition or instructor approval. (1 credit)
Introduction to Chamber Orchestra is a performance-oriented class in which students study instrumental technique and basic musicianship skills. Students learn fundamental principles for successful performance in an orchestral environment, including sight-reading, ear training and rhythm studies. Repertoire is drawn from 1650 to the present day. This class is open to musicians of all levels. Upon successful completion of this course, students may join Urban Chamber Orchestra during the second half of Fall term. Students are able to perform in the Winter Concert with the Chamber Orchestra. (Open to 9th graders and other interested students; meets during Fall term) Intro to Chamber Orchestra is a prerequisite for Chamber Orchestra. (1/2 credit)
Chamber Orchestra is an ensemble exploring repertoire from the Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Contemporary eras. The ensemble performs two large concerts a year. Previous experience on an instrument is required. Through rehearsal preparation, all students acquire a working knowledge of their instrument, enhance their rhythmic skills, and increase their listening and ensemble skills. Additionally, students will rehearse in small chamber groups with coaching sessions every other Thursday after school. In these small groups, students will learn how to rehearse independently, communicate effectively, and perform a variety of chamber music. Participating students earn one full arts credit for their yearlong commitment. (Yearlong commitment; meets for three E periods a week.) Prerequisite: Intro to Chamber, Audition or instructor approval. (1 credit)
20th Century American Popular Music: From Ragtime to Rap Students will acquire a familiarity with the basic music structures and stylistic developments of American popular music, as well as becoming familiar with some of the major artists and innovators of this music. Particular vocal and instrumental styles that will be studied include Spirituals, Blues, Be-bop, Tin Pan Alley, Rap, Rock, American Musicals and R&B. Students will gain an understanding of chronology and interconnectedness of these forms, and their interaction with the history of each era. Our course materials will include primary source documents (newspaper articles and reviews, interviews, testimonials, and memoirs), and we will study recorded examples and videos by some of the major artists of the 20th century. Many of the recordings we hear will be archival recordings and videos of artists playing in their prime. (1/2 credit)
Music Theory 1 answers the questions “How does music work?" and "How does one create original music?“ Music Theory 1 is geared toward achieving a greater understanding of and facility with the music that we listen to, perform and create. This course accommodates multiple experience levels; no previous experience is necessary. Students with previous experience will explore topics on a deeper, more challenging level. Topics include solfege, notation, intervals, scales, melodic writing, Roman numeral analysis, chords, basic chord progressions and musical forms. This course is a prerequisite for UAS Music Theory 2: Advanced Music Theory/Composition, Applied Music Theory and UAS Music Production and Engineering. Open to all grades. (1/2 credit)
UAS Music Theory 2: Composition explores the skills necessary to begin creating original music pieces. Students will continue to study music theory in conjunction with several compositional projects of varying size and scope. Through analysis and text students will gain a broad and in-depth understanding of how music is put together. The resulting compositions will be created and performed using both music notation software and live players. This class will re-introduce all elements of music (rhythm, melody, harmony and form) solfege, scales, harmony, ear training, theoretical analysis of progression, basic arranging and composition. These tools will be necessary as we explore modes, advanced harmony, odd meter, chromatic solfege, symmetrical scales and more. Students will deepen their understanding of rhythm, develop their ears and incorporate new tools for composition. We will explore and master fundamental music writing skills, including notation, key signatures, relative scales and modes, melodic development, basic/advanced harmonic progressions and analysis. At the conclusion, students will have the option of taking an AP music theory test. Prerequisite: Music Theory 1 and instructor approval. (1/2 credit)
Advanced Musical Ensemble provides an opportunity for musicians to build, rehearse and perform with a small group in any musical style. They may draw from the student body to fill out their group's personnel. The bands will work closely with the instructor, but group leaders will be expected to choose their ensemble's personnel and repertoire as well as run their own rehearsals. The class will culminate in a showcase performance in May featuring all student groups. (Open to 11th and 12th graders) (1/2 Credit)
Courses Offered in Alternate Years
UAS Applied Music Theory: Tools for Performing Musicians is designed to apply fundamental and advanced theory concepts to individual instruments and voice. These include scales, modes, arpeggios, approach notes, patterns, harmonic substitutions, melodic manipulations and other devices. Students will use their own instruments and/or voices to perform and assimilate these concepts while discovering real world applications. Regular practice outside of the classroom will be mandatory as well as written homework and regular playing/singing tests. Prerequisite: Music Theory 1. (1/2 credit)