Dr. Carl Blake & Noontime Concerts keep the music moving

  • by Philip Campbell
  • Tuesday May 2, 2023
Share this Post:
Dr. Carl Blake
Dr. Carl Blake

Noontime Concerts (NTC), a lunch hour tradition in San Francisco for 34 years, keeps the music alive and free of charge at Old Saint Mary's Cathedral near Chinatown on Tuesdays at 12:30 pm. A recent conversation with Dr. Carl Blake, a board member, artistic advisor and concert pianist, underscored the beneficent mission of the organization and the rich diversity and accomplishments of everyone involved.

Dr. Blake sidesteps most titles, but a look at his impressive CV and fascinating career compels both admiration and respect. Son of a Baptist Minister, he was born in Liberty, Missouri and spent his teen years in Omaha. He later attained three degrees in piano performance: Bachelor of Music (magna cum laude) from Boston University, Master of Arts from San Jose State University and Doctor of Musical Arts from Cornell University.

Dr. Carl Blake  

Blake has performed three times at Weill Recital Hall (formerly, Carnegie Recital Hall) and has toured in Russia, France, England, Central and South America and the Caribbean Islands as Artistic Ambassador with cellist Kim Cook (Distinguished Professor of Music at The Pennsylvania State University) for the U.S. Department of State. He got two Fulbright grants to teach piano in Honduras: 1999 and 2006. He currently serves as Director of Music at The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples in San Francisco and teaches piano in his private studio in Oakland.

Some illuminating personal remarks from Carl Blake include, "All of us have multiple identities, innate
and acquired... Mine are: Black (African American), Gay, Musician, and Aged."

He talked about the challenges and blessings that come with each facet of his individuality and how they intertwine. I appreciate his calm self-assurance and "Aged" (mature) understanding of life.

Blake has encountered some thinly veiled condescension over the years about his achievements, "because you are a 'diversity' hire," and even overtly racist epithets shouted on the streets of Oakland today. He also sees a disheartening ageism and lack of inclusivity in parts of the LGBT community, but Blake is still a man who feels "comfortable in my own skin." He lives to a standard of reaching his own personal best.

An acquaintance and member of the advisory board of Noontime Concerts invited him to one of their meetings, which resulted in his becoming a member. A few years later, the Board of Directors invited him to join them. He has now served in that capacity for four years.

Musical balm
As a pianist during his time on the advisory board, Blake performed the Quintet for Piano and Strings by Amy Beach, paying tribute to the pioneering 19th-century American woman composer on the 150th anniversary of her birth.

Other successful performances have included Juneteenth Video Concerts 2021 and 2022 (with four vocalists) and "Majesty of the Spiritual" collaboration with 11 vocalists (featuring a special guest appearance by beloved soprano Frederica von Stade) and four pianists at Herbst Theatre.

During the COVID pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests, Noontime Concerts provided some musical balm with previously recorded video performances online. One of the earliest was a piano recital Blake performed in tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is not hard to see how Dr. Blake's serendipitous introduction to Noontime Concerts has benefitted all, from the boardroom to the musical artists onstage, the audience in the pews and himself. He proudly cites all of NTC's passionate participants and praises their commitment and vision, while acknowledging the satisfaction it has brought to him as well.

Current programs at NTC include the Emerging Artist series (The Helen von Ammon Fund for Emerging Artists), which provides opportunities and exposure for gifted and promising young artists who are preparing for careers in music.

Noontime Concerts welcomes all K-12 music educators and their classes to attend programs at any time.

Noontime Concerts is an independent nonprofit arts organization. Support is provided by public donations, grants and gifts from the San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund, Grants for the Arts, the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation, William and Gretchen Kimball Fund, Schwab Fund for Charitable Giving and Sue Brown Memorial. Additional support comes from The Helen von Ammon Fund for Emerging Artists and the Ross McKee Foundation, Marin Community Foundation, Fidelity Charitable, Bright Fund and individual donations given at concert time.

Regardless of the impressive financial patronage "Always on Tuesday and Always Free" remains an enduring NTC motto. The organization is dedicated to providing an accessible means for the public to experience, enjoy, learn about, and appreciate the presentation of high-quality classical music performances for free.

Noontime Concerts at Old Saint Mary's Cathedral, 660 California St. www.noontimeconcerts.org

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.