Creative mom: Singer finds new bliss teaching music

"I learned how hard work and constant practice can achieve not only great results musically, but can change and mold a person's character as well," Maya Guerrero, former opera singer now children's music instructor

Maya encourages silly dancing at her Music Together classes.

Today, I'm proud to announce the debut of my "Creative Mom" series to to showcase talented women in our midst and to inspire moms everywhere to find new ways to allow their creative selves to emerge. Along with finding out what inspires these moms, I'm asking them how they balance their family responsibilities with their creative passions so we can all glean some tips.

Opera singer Maya Guerrero is a great example of someone who has found a way to continue sharing her musical talent with others even though her primary focus these days is her four-year-old son, Vijay. Maya and I met, appropriately enough, at an ampitheatre near our homes more than two years ago as our sons played together.

Maya travelled with her husband and son on a trip to India, Fiji and Tasmania last year. Here, her son, Vijay, enjoys a walk in Tasmania with a cousin.

We soon began spending time together and discovered a shared love of The Beatles, travel and a yearning to reconnect with our creative selves. Just last week, Maya wrapped up her first quarter of classes for young kids under the Music Together program, a dream that materialized after much researching, planning and training.

I wanted to write about Maya because she is a kind person, as warm-hearted and generous with her friendship as she is musically talented. She is the kind of person who you would want not only as your children's music instructor, but as someone in your circle of friends. Though she's clearly at home on the stage singing, at heart, Maya feels the most joy connecting with nature and loved ones, as she reveals in her idea of a perfect day. The best introduction for why I chose Maya as the first creative mom in the series comes by way of this video of Maya singing a few years ago.


Maya sings "Voi Che Sapete" from The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart at a college faculty recital.

Here she answers my questions about her creative pursuits:

What is your creative passion?

My creative passion comes in the way of singing as a way to express myself. I love the way that singing feels. I'll sing anywhere, at the bus stop, walking my dog, in the kitchen. Singing to me is an outlet, something that I feel at home doing. I also love to see people change and grow in their appreciation of what music can do in their lives. Music making is a way to connect to your soul. That's why children are so open and free at feeling and expressing music.

What sparked your interest in music?

When I was very young (elementary school), my mother was surprised that I was able to harmonize to the songs on the radio without even really knowing the song. My ear would just pick up the tune and I would harmonize to it. Because it was natural to me and not taught, I realized from an early age that music would play an important role in my life.

Maya's mother, Gwat, whose name means moon in the Chinese language of Fujian.

My mother was the biggest influence of music and culture in my youth. She would sing to me in her native language of Indonesian, and expose our family to all kinds of cultural events: Gamelan concerts, East Indian films and music, Japanese festivals, marionettes, opera, ballet, shadow puppet plays, art museums. I think that because of so much exposure to different cultures and their music, dance, art and food, I have an open mind towards all cultures (artistically that is) and I try to actively embrace them and their differences.

My mother also supported all of my musical interests like singing in choir and learning to play the guitar and cello. I joined the guitar club in sixth grade and then in seventh grade joined my junior high school orchestra class. So the schools that I went to had a lot to do with my musical growth as well. My dad's biggest influence on me musically is his childlike spirit. My father (Anandamoy Bhattacharjie) is very encouraging and derives great joy from simple things like trees and birds. I try to bring that spirit of wonder and play to my teaching because children love that!

It really wasn't until high school that the biggest musical influence of my life appeared in the form of a choral conductor named Phyllis Zimmerman. Because of her great passion for music and discipline in knowing how to musically get what she wanted from us, I learned how hard work and constant practice can not only achieve great results musically, but also can change and mold a person's character.

Maya playing the guitar at a Music Together class, while her son enjoys the music.

What role does music play in your life now?

Music plays a bigger role than ever in my home now that I am doing Music Together. My family listens to me practice constantly, and I like to try out new ideas on them to see if something works or not. My husband and son come to class every week so that we can implement music-making into our home life as well. The downside to all of this musical goodness is the time that it takes to start a business. My goal is to find that balance between family time and work time.

Jesus Guerrero, Maya's husband, enjoyed father-son time while Maya traveled to Northern California for a few days of music training.

Would you mind elaborating on how you arrange your schedule as a mom to accommodate music activities/teaching?

The way that I've handled the time consuming - marketing/website building part of the business has been to drink a lot of coffee and stay up late into the wee hours of the morning. I feel as though sometimes time stops when I am in front of the computer, and so does the cleaning. You could say that I have more than my fair share of dust bunnies hopping around my house.

There are many nights where I don't cook and we have to improvise on the dinner menu. I really did not know how time consuming it was going to be until I started doing it.

Luckily, I have the most supportive husband one could ever imagine. As for my son, I make time to do two or three things a day with him so that we have our special bonding time. We take our dog on walks, go on outings with the moms club that we belong to, or just spend time lying on the ground playing games with our imagination. It's my last summer with him before he starts kindergarten, so I'm relishing it but it's also bitter-sweet.

How do inspire your son, Vijay, to embrace music, as well?

I try to expose Vijay to a wide variety of music making and listening activities. When he was a baby, I was always dancing and singing to him. We noticed that he liked to bang things a lot so when he was two years old we bought him his first drum set. He has an electric piano in his room and plays me a song on it every night before bedtime. He has a guitar that he'll make up songs on as well.

I love hearing his compositions, it's always about something from our everyday lives like taking the dog on a walk or about a bug. He loves insects. Sometimes I'll bring out my cello and he'll use the bow to make music on it. We listen to music quite a bit also, a little bit of everything. I try not to show him how to do anything musically, I just let him explore instruments himself and he learns by watching me do musical stuff.

It's been a blessing to live so close to (an) amphitheater. I love to take Vijay to the live concerts, art shows and other cultural community events that they have. I want my family to have a cultural connection to the community. It's important to me.

Your favorite type of music and musicians?

It's hard to say what my favorite type of music is. My first obsession with music was when I was in elementary school with a group called The Andrew Sisters. I heard their music in a shopping mall and knew immediately that I had to have an album. I would sit in front of the record player for hours listening to those harmonies, just mesmerized. I did the same thing when I discovered The Beatles and later in high school when I discovered opera. I guess my favorite music is the music that has a connection to my heart and soul...doesn't matter the genre.

Maya and her sister, Indira, visited the Taj Mahal in their father's native India last year.

What inspires you?

Nature inspires me to go deeper within myself, so does music. My husband and son inspire me to be a better person. My sister inpires me to be eco-friendly. My friends inspire me to keep dreaming for the future.

What is your idea of a perfect day?

My idea of a perfect day would be to go camping with my family. Hiking, exploring nature, great food cooked on an open fire, and in the evening, singing songs around the campfire ... and of course, s'mores!

Most treasured possession in your home?

My most treasured possesion in my house is my wedding album. That was one of the most amazing days of my life! I married late in life. To me, it is a miracle that I was able to meet and fall in love with such an amazing person as my husband. I am so grateful to have him in my life!

Photographer Jesus Guerrero.


Heather said...

That was such an inspiring interview! I think it's terrific how she has turned her talents to teaching children! If we lived near by, we'd definitely be taking a class with her!

CACHANILLA73 said...

I just discovered your blog and I enjoy it so much...
I'll be back to enjoy more of your posts...

aha moments said...

Hello. I am just loving this blog!
It is so fascinating reading about ways the creative process finds its outlet. And your story about music is excellent!
Laura sent us a story, about how much creativity has always meant to her, and how it changed when she became a mom. She decided to channel her energy into starting a magazine.
You can check out her video at the link below. Hope you like it!

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