From front-porch perch, professional cellist serenades Page Street neighbors

From front-porch perch, professional cellist serenades Page Street neighbors
Classical cellist Saul Richmond-Rakerd plays for a small audience from his front steps on Page Street. | Photos: Matthew Gerring/Hoodline
By Matthew Gerring - Published on April 16, 2020.

As dusk approached on Tuesday afternoon, a loose knot of people gathered in the middle of a block of Page Street. There were dog walkers, cyclists leaning on their bikes, a couple seated in dining room chairs on the sidewalk, and neighbors leaning out their windows.

They were transfixed by the sound of a Bach solo, played by professional cellist Saul Richmond-Rakerd from his front steps.

Tuesday’s performance was Richmond-Rakerd's third since the shelter-in-place order went into effect.

He said he started doing it just because he missed playing music for people, but it turned into a bigger phenomenon than he expected, consistently attracting crowds of 25-30 neighbors. (Hoodline is not disclosing the exact location, to discourage further congregation.)

Richmond-Rakerd says his audience has taken pains to ensure they are appropriately distanced, both from his perch on the front porch and from each other. 

"People are extremely careful and respectful of the space,” he said. “[They] gather to watch, but they stay reasonably spaced away from the people around them."

For Richmond-Rakerd, this should have been the middle of a busy concert season. After moving to San Francisco from Michigan to get his master's degree from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, he's now employed as a section cellist with the Monterey Symphony, assistant principle cellist with the Santa Cruz Symphony, and a substitute cellist with the San Francisco Ballet, Santa Rosa symphony, Marin Symphony, Opera San Jose, and others.

But the entire regular classical concert season, which usually runs until early June, is now canceled or likely to be, due to shelter-in-place orders. With only some organizations able to afford paying out their contracts, Richmond-Rakerd and his fellow freelance musicians are seeking new venues to play, and new ways to generate income.

"There's definitely a lot of uncertainty right now,” he said. “Even apart from monetarily, a lot of musicians I've talked to are missing that connection to their audience."

Many Bay Area musicians are playing for tips, either online or in person.

Livestream concerts are one part of the solution, but Richmond-Rakerd said they don’t compare to the real thing.

“You're playing a computer screen at the end of the day,” he said. “We all love making music, but a huge part of that is the interaction, the feedback and the energy from your audience.”

The front porch is a much less formal setting than the concert halls where Richmond-Rakerd usually plays. He said he appreciates the opportunity to bring classical music to the people.

"There's always a worry that classical music won't necessarily speak to people, but I've seen that blown out of the water," he said. "It's been nice to see how much people like the solo Bach."

He’s also gotten a good reception from neighbors when he plays spiritual music, like "Amazing Grace." One even shouted praise from their window.

A couple watches the concert from the sidewalk, near Richmond-Rakerd's front steps.

For now, Richmond-Rakerd plans to play at least once a week. The tip jar brings in a little income, and the concerts are helping create a sense of community at a time when the neighborhood needs it.

“I've met some neighbors that I didn't know before; now we give a wave or say hi when we see each other on the street,” he said. “It's bringing Page Street together a little bit.”