How do you become a musician?
When I was growing up, practice was a battle of wills between my mom and me. She won some battles; I almost won sometimes. I began playing cello primarily because I knew I would never be better than my sister at violin. She worked harder- a lot harder – so she was always going to be better. I wasn’t really happy about practicing. In my defense, I was in first grade, so … yeah, Mom won.
I played cello throughout elementary and middle school, but I didn’t actually enjoy playing until I had a group of friends who played instruments too. We played in quartets and played chamber music together, and finally, around the same time, Mom’s perseverance started to pay off. I started to enjoy because, finally, it started sounding good, and I was having fun. I continued to play throughout high school and college, but it never occurred to me to pursue it as a career.
After college, I spent a few years in the military, and when I returned to Fresno, I reconnected with my high school orchestra teacher, John Morrice, who invited me to join a community orchestra. The timing of his offer was, shall we say, inconvenient. I had inadvertently broken my cello, and it was still being repaired. The loaner cello I had was really, really, really bad. But I ended up playing in the orchestra, and this really, really, really bad cello turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
My stand partner in the orchestra was an older gentleman named Jim Warwick. Jim was an emeritus professor of philosophy from the University of Colorado. He was a good cellist and a man with a very giving nature. After a few months of watching and listening to me play, he gifted me his cello with one single caveat: “If you take further studies in music, I will gift you my cello.”
“It’s been 10 years since Jim gifted me his cello,
and the course of my life changed in
This was not a small gesture. Jim’s cello was an award-winning instrument and had tremendous value. Cellos of this type routinely sell for the same price as mid-level luxury vehicles, without the depreciation. Unlike cars, cellos go up in value as they got older. When I met Jim, what I did not know was that he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, and he wanted his cello to be used to further a young cellist’s career. In my case, it would start my career. And to accept his gift, I went back to school and got a master’s degree in music from California State University, Fresno.
It’s been 10 years since Jim gifted me his cello, and the course of my life changed in unexpected ways. I began teaching music privately out of my home, having around 40 private students. At the same time, I invited other teachers to teach siblings of my students in the other rooms of my house. About four years ago, my ex-fiancée introduced me to Christopher Scherer. Our partnership would eventually lead to the foundation of the United Conservatory of Music, Fresno. This past January we had about 90 students; by the end of this year, we will have well over 300.
Yes I did give my mom a hard time about practicing- obviously I’m not angry about it! Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have considered being a musician, but today, not only do I teach in a wonderful school, I get to work in a community of music teachers in Fresno. Music has always been here before, and it will be after me. I really never expected to be a musician, let alone encourage others to be a musicians. But at UCM we are doing just that, hiring musicians to be teachers, teaching the next generation of patrons(!), and with a few of those students … musicians … although their path to music may be more surprising than they imagined.