Giving Back at the Cadillac Hotel

Ria Carlo Plays a Free Concert in the Tenderloin

Here is Guest Writer Ria Carlo performing Bach Prelude in C, from the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book One, live at the Cadillac Hotel in 2011.
I planned to travel to San Francisco on a business trip—I am an astrophysicist who does mathematical modeling—a few weeks before my debut at Carnegie Hall. An amateur pianist, I wanted to perform in San Francisco as a way of warming up for playing at Carnegie. On the internet, I lighted upon the website to the Cadillac Hotel, supportive housing for residents of the Tenderloin district, a historically oppressed area.

Due to the gift of a fully restored 1884 Steinway grand in memory of activist Patricia Walkup, the Cadillac Hotel hosts Concerts at the Cadillac, where musicians can perform for the residents and for people of the community. I thought about how, as an artist, I did not want to relegate myself to performing exclusively at prestigious symphony halls that command high ticket prices. Classical music should not be for the select few who can afford a $100 ticket. I called Kathy Looper, the Cadillac Hotel’s owner along with her husband, Leroy Looper, and she was thrilled to set up a concert during my trip to San Francisco.

I arrived two hours before the concert to warm up. Some of the residents, passing by, came into the concert hall to listen. I played Bartok’s “Swineherd’s Dance,” not a typical Chopin or Liszt work, but a children’s piece full of gaiety and lightness. A married couple that lives at the Cadillac came up to me. “Wow, what a great piece!” the woman said. “That one was our favorite.”

Her comment showed me that even playing a children’s piece in a concert can be a real hit with people. From this woman’s comments, as well as from other remarks from residents while I warmed up, I received some of my most valuable feedback.

My concert was a full program of repertoire spanning the Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Impressionistic, and Modern eras. In the audience were the residents and employees of the Cadillac, along with artists, poets, and painters from nearby Haight-Ashbury. Before playing each piece, I shared briefly about the history of each composer and piece, the audience lending its perspective.

All the love and empathy that I have for music and people poured out of me while I performed. While I played, Leroy Looper shouted out enthusiastic comments like “Yeah” and “Wow!”, feedback which made the experience all the more pleasurable. With a smile, I thought about how, according to Franz Liszt’s student, Amy Fay, Liszt would belt out enthusiastic comments not after but while his students played.

After the concert, one of the residents gave me an orange as a gift for my performance—which was the best that he had to give. My husband Mark, who attends all of my concerts, said that this performance was among the best I had ever given. Yolanda, an employee at the Cadillac Hotel said to me, “I have only one complaint: the concert was too short! I wanted to hear more!” I promised Yolanda that next time I came back to play, I would make the concert longer, just for her.

Three months later I was passing through San Francisco en route to a friend’s wedding and performed a second time at the Cadillac. As I had promised to Yolanda, my second concert was one full hour in length consisting of repertoire that again spanned 250 years of classical music history. This concert formed the basis of my latest CD, Solace, which I set about recording two months after the concert. As I prepared the tracks for Solace, I often recalled the faces of the audience at the Cadillac Hotel, and they brought me back to the essence of why I play music: to uplift people, including myself.

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Copyright © 2017 Nancy M. Williams. All Rights Reserved.

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