Growing up, I always knew we lived life differently. My friends had dads in their homes, I had mine on the weekends. Other families had Volvos, we had a beat up late 70’s VW bus that couldn’t hit 55 if it tried. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, there was definitely a lot of culture and different colors on the block. But, none had as many different colors in the same household as we did. My siblings and I have a 30 year age range, a few different mothers, and one wildly independent father. Through all the craziness, everyone always ended up at my moms house. I never understood why, until much later.
My mom grew up with music. She was an air force brat, traveling the country with her family. Her father had a deep love for anything Rogers & Hammerstein, but scolded her for even thinking about listening to anything presented by “colored people.” As a result, she had a secret passion for all kinds of soul, doo-wop, and motown. In elementary school she was given an instrument that nobody else would play. They needed a bassoonist, she gladly obliged. Then, the 60’s came, along with the Beatles. She ended up at the San Francisco Conservatory of music in 1966, along with hundreds of other students all with the same goal: to be in the orchestra backing up the Beatles. I love listening to her stories of the house she shared with other musicians. They’d alternate albums on the record player – Bach, Beatles, Brahms, Beatles, Hayden, Beatles, and so on.
(mom, circa 1973)
My parents met while my mom was working at a music store in Northern California. My dad was an avid conga player looking to learn to play the flute in his salsa pursuits. My mom offered him lessons, didn’t really know enough about the flute to teach, but was determined to spend time with my dad. I like to think that my moms saw this uber-hot Puerto Rican and couldn’t resist. By 1979 my parents had had three children together, but knew that they just couldn’t hang. They divorced amicably, remaining great friends over the years. However, my mom was adamant about raising us, and my dad was adamant about his fierce sense of independence and being able to come and go as he pleased. It only made sense for us to live full-time with her.
(me, circa 1985 - check out the awesome thrift store top!)
The challenge of being a mother of three and a musician is practically insurmountable. My mom went to computer school in the early 80’s and became a computer programmer by day and musician by night. I can’t even calculate the number of years that my mom worked seven days a week, but my guesstimate is 21. She would leave her computer job, come home to make a quick dinner and gather us, then head to whatever gig she had that night. Our rules for what we could and couldn’t do in the theaters and symphony halls were very strict. We always had to get our homework done, we couldn’t mess with the performers (if there were any), we couldn’t hang out by the snack bar or go out on the mezzanine during intermissions, etc. etc. This went on for years, because she couldn’t afford to hire babysitters 5 or 6 nights a week or on weekends, until we were old enough to not need so much supervision. We then became latch key kids.
I remember during the holidays my mom would take as many nutcrackers in as many company’s as possible. Lots of nutcrackers meant lots of money, and lots of money meant we could actually have a holiday and presents. Plus, since we were usually out of school, we would wait up for her to come home, so we could make a late night trip to the grocery store and celebrate her final performances of the nutcracker with sundaes and treats. One time we walked into the store, and they were playing the Dance of the Sugar Plum Faeries on the sound system. We think that that year she had done over a hundred shows of the nutcracker. She started screaming. Not crazy scream, but funny put her hands over her ears and make us giggle scream.
(my sister and I, Christmas at Grandmas - 1984)
Each of us kids has a different passion for music, and played instruments in school. But, the one thing my mom made sure to pass down is the ability to “read sound” and actually dissect music in your head to find the different instruments. Because my mom plays such a different instrument, we were always looking for it. We’d be anywhere where there was music, listen for it, and then proudly point out to her that there was bassoon in that song. She’d smile and remind us that “the bassoon is a part of your everyday life.” It sounds so cheesy, but it’s so true. My lovely boyfriend has been in my life for many years now, and even he does it. You can find the bassoon in anything, everyday.
(mom, taken last year)
My mom has been retired from the computer industry for a few years now, playing music full time. Her bio reads:
“My story as an artist is about a love of many different styles of music, great respect and admiration for other musical artists, a strong sense of optimism about the importance of music in our daily life and a passionate desire to communicate and bring joy to the listener.
I believe that my value as an artist is in my ability to speak to people through my words and music in a personal way whether it is for laughter, education or artistic enjoyment.”
She is hundreds of miles and a few states away, but I really do feel I have her with me everyday. Some days I definitely don’t want her commentary or opinion (why do moms always have to have the last word?!), but most days it really is just calming to know that everything that she’s gone through helped to make me who I am.
(me and mom, taken in April 2008)