Music is a HUGE part of my life. It’s in my DNA, after all. My grandmother, mother, and aunt were all music teachers, and had perfect pitch to boot! I was blessed/cursed with the same ability, which basically meant I could only play instruments built in the key of C. Of course, that limited me to violin, cello, bass, flute, oboe, trombone, or tuba. Being small for my age ruled out the bass and tuba. I barely passed my String Skills class in college because the professor took pity on my small hands that could barely stretch across the fingerboard of the bass, as I leaned the huge instrument to the side so I could move the bow across the strings.
From the moment I picked out “Happy Birthday” on the piano (with my thumb, by the way) on my second birthday, my destiny was pretty much sealed. I would be a music teacher like the rest of the females in my family. My dad and I performed “Tonette” duets at holiday gatherings – I think I still have the book to this day! In fourth grade, I started learning the violin, using the instrument my mother grew up with. But midway through fourth grade, we moved from California to a small town in Arizona, where there was no string program. My mom tried to start one; she advertised around town to teach a group in our home. We had a pretty decent group and even performed at a school board meeting, where Mom pleaded her case that a string program was needed in the schools. Not in the budget, they said.
So that left band, where, AGAIN, I had the dilemma of which instrument to choose (see above list). So flute it was. Turns out it was a good choice. I played all through elementary, junior high, and high school. I received a flute scholarship to Northern Arizona University, where I majored in music education. As an adult I have performed in church and community bands, and even marched in the Fiesta Bowl Parade with the “Play It Again Band.” As my skills diminish with age, I still manage to eek out the piccolo solo on “Stars and Stripes Forever,” and the lilting melody of “Greensleeves” or “Shenadoah” on the same flute my parents purchased for me when I left home for college in Flagstaff.
Never wanting to be a performing artist as a career (too much practice!), I turned to teaching like the others in my family. My goal was to be a junior high band director, but in my thirty-two years of teaching, I only accomplished that for one year of my career. The rest of the time was spent with elementary students, teaching band and general music. After twelve years of doing that, I took on a new challenge: I left music and decided to teach regular classroom, fourth grade to be exact.
How could I leave music? I was asked that question multiple times. I don’t really have a good answer to that, other than it felt like the right time. Little did I know that there were infinite possibilities for me beyond my greatest expectations! While teaching Arizona history to my fourth graders, I thought, “There’s gotta be a better way to do this.” The curriculum was dry and boring, so I decided to jazz it up a bit by writing an original musical for the entire fourth grade to perform for the school and parents. It’s called “Arizona, How Do You Do?” and has been performed at schools all over the state. I wrote a second one the next year, and later when I moved up to fifth and then sixth grade, I wrote musicals for those curriculums as well. It engaged kids in the subject matter in a new and entertaining way. And they remembered what they learned for years to come. I’m still in contact with many of my former students (who now have children of their own), and they all remember whatever musical we did the year they were in my class. School musicals led to community theatre collaborations, which led to ariZoni awards and published works.
So what’s my point with all of this “tooting my own horn” stuff? Life has many twists and turns, ups and downs. We suffer disappointments, but those often open other opportunities we never planned. Be thankful for ALL of them, because you never know where that road may lead. For example, I started writing children’s books when I retired in 2005, thinking a picture book with an original song would be a hit. Instead, that picture book became a chapter book, which turned into a series. For years, friends said I should write a book about kids doing a musical. You’re supposed to write what you know, and musicals is what I know best. It took me six books in my Mortimer series to get there, but “The Moosical” is now on the shelves and pretty much encompasses all my elementary musical experiences.
I lost my mom last April, two-and-a-half weeks after her 95th birthday. I’m so blessed to have had her for so long. I’m thankful for her tenaciousness, her insight, and her nurturing of my talent to develop it into what I am today. She never saw the completed version of “The Moosical,” but I dedicate it to her because it would never have existed without her support. Thanks, Mom, for everything.