Parkside Composer Hits Right Notes on New CD
By Jonathan Farrell
Above the traffic and the ring of the streetcar on Taraval Street, there lives a composer, Frank Levin, who hears these sounds and makes them into music.
"You can even hear the bell of the trolley in my "Taraval Street Rag," Levin said.
Levin composed the song and other piano pieces in the '80s, celebrating nearby landmarks including Stern Grove and McCoppin Square. For his efforts, he has earned the title of "Parkside composer."
In his flat on Taraval Street, he teaches and arranges music in addition to composing.
Levin moved from Florida to San Francisco in 1975 to study at the Conservatory of Music on Ortega Street. Falling in love with the Bay Area, he decided to stay.
He speaks glowingly of his favorite teacher at the conservatory, Dr. Sol Joseph, who is now retired in Berkeley. Joseph specialized in music theory, "particularly form and analysis."
"He was harsh in many respects," Levin remembered. "However, he helped me see the logic in musical composition." The class really respected the teacher, Levin said, and "on the last day of class, all of us stood up spontaneously and applauded."
After leaving the conservatory, Levin set up shop and began teaching, composing and arranging music while occasionally performing as a cocktail pianist. In his modest space are mementos of his accomplishments.
Reaching for a scrapbook, Levin points out some highlights of his creative career. Among his most treasured is an award-winning musical review called "Never A White Christmas," celebrating the holidays in snow-less San Francisco.
The noted cabaret artist Wesla Whitfield recorded four songs from that show. Levin also had another show, "It Only Takes Two," which was performed at the Golden Gate Park Bandshell.
Recently Levin teamed up with Scott Pratt to create a new CD. It is a CD of Levin's piano music, performed by Pratt, entitled "Morning to Midnight."
"We met through the Music Teachers Association in 1996 and have been friends ever since," said Pratt, a concert pianist.
Pratt now includes Levin's music in his recitals and engagements, such as his Sunday mornings performances at the Community Miracles Center on Market Street.
"Scott often plays Frank's music before services," said Associate Pastor Tony Ponticello. "The response has been positive."
Requests for recordings at Pratt's recitals is what led him to encourage Levin to produce a CD in 1998.
Wherever Levin's music is played he finds an audience. Such an audience is the residents of the Presidio Gate Apartments on Lombard Street. When they heard that Levin was going to release a CD, they offered their facilities.
On Aug. 7, more than 40 residents gathered and more than 100 outsiders were invited as guests for an evening reception to celebrate the occasion.
Mary Kelsey, a resident of the facility for the elderly, explained. "I have known Frank for 18 years, since we were neighbors on Twin Peaks," she said. Kelsey asked Levin to play for the residents at the Presidio Gate Apartments several years ago and he has entertained them often since.
Pam Higgins, the administrator in charge at the Presidio Gate Apartments, was over-seeing the reception that evening. "We fell in love with him and his music," she said.
Levin announced that Pratt would play selections of his "Morning to Midnight" CD, which characterizes the "changing moods of the day and metaphorically reflects the cycle of life."
A round of applause demonstrated that the guests liked what they heard. Christina Ho, a student of Levin for 13 years, was not surprised. "I played a number of his works and really enjoyed them," she said.
Dick Wahlberg who was the recording engineer for the CD, praised Pratt's contribution to the effort.
"Every selection was an honest performance," he said.
Realtor Nellie Keate and architect John Ploss, who were among the guests at the performance, had already acquired the CD and stopped by to purchase additional copies for friends and family.
Keate described the music as "relaxing" and said he uses it as background music at work.
The CD has been well received so far and Levin is confident sales will continue. As he said, paraphrasing the popular cultural anthropologist Joseph Campbell, "if you do what you love, the universe will support you."
"Morning to Midnight" is for sale at Sunset Music on Irving Street, Parkside Florist and Gifts on Taraval Street, and at Tower Records at the Stonestown Galleria. For more information, call Levin at (415) 665-6741.