Write Soon and Tell All

Pauline Oliveros moved to San Francisco. She played avant-garde accordion. She came out as a lesbian. She kept in touch with her mom.

"I do miss you, but I am not unhappy that you are gone."

Edith Oliveros wrote those words to her 20-year-old daughter, Pauline, in 1952. Pauline had left Houston for San Francisco, driving with a family friend nicknamed "the Robin." The Robin was a female-to-male transsexual; Pauline an aspiring composer with a head full of sounds no one then would have considered musical. Presumably, San Francisco at the dawn of the Beat era promised greener pastures for both. Presumably, most mothers would have been beside themselves.

At first, Edith was too. The night Pauline left, she lashed out at her daughter and accused the Robin of taking Pauline away. When Pauline returned that night, briefly, to make peace, Edith was crying inconsolably. Pauline, born when Edith was 17, was the person Edith loved best. And she was leaving.

Surfing safari: As a professor at the University of California, Pauline posed on an elephant for her faculty portrait.
Surfing safari: As a professor at the University of California, Pauline posed on an elephant for her faculty portrait.
Second honeymoon: In 1955 Edith married the legendary Houston pianist Patricio Gutierrez.
Second honeymoon: In 1955 Edith married the legendary Houston pianist Patricio Gutierrez.
Einstein on the beach: Pauline discovered the beat enclave in Big Sur during her first years in San Francisco.
Einstein on the beach: Pauline discovered the beat enclave in Big Sur during her first years in San Francisco.
Dudda, Pauline's grandmother, taught piano into her eighties.
Dudda, Pauline's grandmother, taught piano into her eighties.
Girl power, circa 1960: Edith helped Pauline's growing reputation by telling a Houston paper her daughter made Stravinsky "look like a tea-sipper."
Girl power, circa 1960: Edith helped Pauline's growing reputation by telling a Houston paper her daughter made Stravinsky "look like a tea-sipper."
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Don't call her "lady" composer: With Pauline's encouragement, Edith Gutierrez found her muse at 77.
George Hixson
Don't call her "lady" composer: With Pauline's encouragement, Edith Gutierrez found her muse at 77.
Divine mother: In the '70s Pauline (right) guided Edith (left) into more uncharted territory: Buddhism.
Divine mother: In the '70s Pauline (right) guided Edith (left) into more uncharted territory: Buddhism.

But a month later, Edith wrote apologetically to her daughter. "I know that you are having an experience you will never forgetŠ.And, just as I found at your birth, a mother must endure some physical pain and mental anguish in order to have something big and worthwhile in which to exult."

Pauline's odyssey would ultimately pay off in a way Edith, a self-described "old-fashioned piano teacher," could hardly have imagined. Pauline became a world-renowned composer and perhaps the only avant-garde music maker whose chosen instrument is the accordion (equipped, naturally, with four digital delay processors). In the course of her career, she asked marathon runners with noisemakers on their belts to jog the perimeters of giant mandalas. She conducted a "Sonic Meditation" for 7,500 women at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. She bounced radio waves of her voice off the moon in an attempt to become a "vocal astronaut." She records in wells and underground cisterns, broadcasts live Internet "distance concerts" with musicians on different continents, jams with DJ Spooky and retreats annually to a remote mountaintop in New Mexico to teach "Deep Listening," her meditative approach to hearing everything, all the time.

As one of the few established female composers, Pauline made waves with a New York Timeseditorial, "And Don't Call Them 'Lady' Composers," in 1970. She corresponded with Jill Johnston, Judy Chicago, Kate Millet and other leading feminist writers and artists. She came out as a lesbian in 1971, beginning an article about her music with "Pauline Oliveros is a two legged human being, a female, lesbian, musician, composer among other things which contribute to her identity."

But back in 1952, Pauline was just a kid who needed to get out of town. Still, she was determined to stay connected to her mother. Their letters were written with feverish frequency, Pauline at first swiping envelopes from the gas and electric company where she worked her day job, later scribbling on the back of handouts for her women's music ensemble. Edith wrote in the wee hours of the night, folding her plain white stationery like a book. When the only blank paper she could find to write on was printed with pink flowers, she begged Pauline's forgiveness for the "trooly-drooly note cards" or the "panty-waist stationery."

They soon found that writing was more than a way to keep in touch. It offered a whole new kind of intimacy, particularly for Edith, who was less comfortable conversing face to face. "In one of my letters to you," Pauline wrote in 1952, "I said that I felt like we would grow closer in being apart, and now more than ever I feel that it is true — I actually feel like I know you much better — and the more I do the more I love you."

Their correspondence, which is now archived at the Houston Public Library, spanned three decades, and if its path were traced out it would look like one of those airline maps with Houston as the hub, emanating slender lines first to California, then New York, Toronto, New Hampshire, Holland, Germany, Paris — all the strange new places that summoned Pauline in the course of her career.

The letters unspool a colorful history of two extraordinary women; of Toni waves and tubeless tires; of the Houston music world, where boogie-woogie king Peck Kelley turned down a recording contract because he wouldn't leave his mother, and the international avant-garde music world where the players Pauline performed with experimented by using living tropical fish as the notes of their scores. Yet at their heart, the letters tell the story of a mother and a daughter whose closeness grew despite — or perhaps because of — their distance. The key was that Edith wanted to know the details of Pauline's life, even if those details would sometimes prove painful. "Write soon," Edith would admonish Pauline in closing, "and TELL ALL!!" And she meant it.

Pauline didn't leave Houston because she didn't like it. It was more that her creative impulses pulled her further afield, in search of something new — even if she wasn't quite sure what.

She had always been surrounded by classical music. She, Edith and Pauline's younger brother, Johnny, lived with Edith's mother, whom Pauline called Dudda. (At 15, Edith had secretly married Pauline's father and dropped out of high school. In 1942, the two divorced.)

Dudda taught piano at home, and Edith ran the nearby Greenbriar Music Studios with Patricio Gutierrez, whom she married in 1955. Eighteen years Edith's senior, Pat was a legendary Houston pianist. He, his father and his brother had all played in the Houston Symphony's first season. At 18, he had astonished symphony audiences with his performance of Mendelssohn's g-minor concerto.

Much to Edith's puzzlement, Pauline wasn't as interested in traditional harmony, melody and counterpoint as she was in the esoteric qualities of sound. Her accordion teacher, the renowned Willard Palmer, taught her to hear combination tones, very low undertones which sound faintly when two notes are played loudly. Fascinated, Pauline immediately wanted to eliminate the fundamental tones so she could hear only the undertones. More than a decade later, she figured out how to do exactly that, using signal generators in an electronic studio. "I felt like a witch capturing sounds from another realm," she later said.

She fell easily into the experimental atmosphere of San Francisco, a world Edith knew nothing about. Pauline played at the hungry i and hung out at the Purple Onion, the legendary gathering places of beat-era writers and musicians. She studied Gregorian chant, saw a Russian Orthodox choir and discovered "opera bars," where vocal students could practice their arias. In the apartment she and the Robin briefly shared, he painted the kitchen entirely black and the cabinet doors different primary colors and hung burlap curtains in the windows. (Edith once sent Pauline a valentine that had a picture of a turtlenecked beatnik lass on the front. "Valentines are ludicrous symbols of a bourgeois society!" the card's cover preached. Inside, it read, "So where the hell is mine?")

Salted with surprisingly raunchy humor, Edith's letters read almost as a roman a clef of Houston's music scene. She evaluated the symphony's conductors (on both artistic and social merit), sent annotated concert programs and gossiped about musicians (including the real reasons for their shotgun weddings). In 1954 she accompanied a chorale concert in Hermann Park in celebration of "M-Day," the birthday of Houston's millionth citizen. The conductor, she wrote, waved a cocktail (vermouth, benedictine and lemon over ice) instead of a baton.

Immersed as she was in new experiences, finding a letter from home in the mail always made Pauline's heart beat a little faster. Edith dished up slice after slice of everyday life, describing the feline harem maintained by "Grandpa" (the family cat), the latest car wreck of Pauline's calamity-prone brother or the household's precarious finances. Edith once complained that her total assets boiled down to "five pianos, ten dogs and $1 in pennies!" The teenage Johnnie proved to be a heartache, getting into "girl trouble, car trouble, double-trouble and just troubleŠ.I'll settle for an all-girl family."

Edith was the queen of postscripts and marginal scribbles, filling her letters with limericks and jingles, occasionally even drawing staves and writing out tunes. She often mentioned Mabel, the piano pupil who never failed to bring a bottle of bourbon or scotch to her lesson. When Mabel was in the hospital for a hysterectomy, Edith penned "Posies for a Patient" by I.M.A. Yunowhat: "So, in the bottom of my purse, / I found one lonely nickel. / Not enough for posies, then / But why not one dill pickle? / Symbolical, 'tis sent to make / you smile and leave you tickled / Remembering the times when you / And I've been slightly pickled!" Pauline, of course, was treated to a copy.

Edith clucked over Pauline's troubles more than Pauline herself did, and frequently tried to lure her back to Houston for extended visits (one of her favorite arguments was that Houston was getting so "avant-garde" Pauline wouldn't recognize it). But when she became too much of a mother hen, she would scrawl an emphatic, self-mocking "PER-CAWW!" And when she caught herself lecturing, she would refer to herself satirically as "Mother," adding lots of curlicues and scrolls to the word to make it the written equivalent of a smirky faux-British accent.

Pauline was studying composition at San Francisco State College, where she found a mentor in Robert Erickson. Erickson, who studied with Austrian-born composer Ernst Krenek, was pretty avant-garde himself, but he recognized Pauline's urge to venture even further afield, and he encouraged compositions such as "Spider Song," written with verse by seminal North Beach poet Robert Duncan, a friend of Pauline's. That led to works such as "Trio for Flute, Piano and Page Turner" (upon hearing that title, Edith joked that finally there was a part in one of Pauline's scores she could play). Years later, Erickson even hired Pauline to develop the graduate program in electronic music at the University of California at San Diego, though she herself had no advanced degrees.

On Pauline's visits home from San Francisco, she would sometimes work on her compositions, so Edith knew early on that what her daughter was doing was different. "She didn't know what I was up to, or where it was coming from," Pauline says. Although Pauline tried to explain, she adds, "Explanations don't do it. She's a musician who comes right out of the heart. And if it's not in her heart, she just has to expand until it is."

In 1957, the year Pauline graduated, three of her compositions were to be performed. They sounded so far-out that when Pauline heard them emanating from the practice hall, she wondered who the composer was. At the same time, Edith was playing with a quartet at the Edgewood Club (a nightspot she called the "Edgewood Den of Iniquity") where her job was to keep the crowd entertained. "We just love to play anythingand can put our hearts into 'San Antonio Rose' with as much enthusiasm as if we were doing a knocked-out jazz arrangement," she wrote.

In 1958 Pauline noticed something that would forever change the shape of her work. She put a microphone in her window and hit record. When she played the tape back, she was surprised to discover how many sounds were on it that she didn't remember hearing. The experience planted the seed of what Pauline later called Deep Listening.

"From that moment, I determined that I must expand my awareness of the entire sound field," she later wrote. "I gave myself the seeming impossible task of listening to everything, all the time."

The following year, her career took off. She composed the music for a critically acclaimed production of Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge, which traveled from San Francisco to New York. "There are many pitfalls ahead and I am trying to realize it but for now I am going to enjoy the fruit and rotten apples be damned," Pauline wrote. She hoped until the last minute that her mother might be able to get away long enough to see the production.

"My heart is full and I think I shall burst if I don't see you soon," Pauline wrote. "Had vision of you at the airport or waiting outside in the cold." She learned later that Edith had been forced to cancel her flight when Dudda's health had taken a turn for the worse.

In 1961 Pauline and several other composers (among them Morton Subotnick and Terry Riley) started the pioneering San Francisco Tape Music Center, which became a center of artistic activity in the city, eventually sharing a building with the Pacifica radio station, a dance troupe and artists who rented space. Pauline's work began to show a theatrical flair — in "Pieces of Eight," for example, the conductor gave a downbeat and left the podium, spending the rest of the performance noisily dismantling a crate behind the musicians. At the end of the piece, a giant bust of Beethoven with flashing red eyes emerged from the crate and was carried around the audience.

Pauline's work was regularly praised by San Francisco's critics, who singled her out as the best of the experimental composers. "I feel now a pretty crucial time in my life," she confided in Edith. "As an artist I've been acknowledged publicly as one from which to expect a great dealŠ.Anyway, I feel a moral responsibility to be true to myself which is the most difficult task of all! In this society it's very hard on one to be superior and know it (and very lonely)."

In 1962 she was invited to Holland to participate in the Gaudeamus Competition for young composers. Before she went, she taught at a summer music festival in New Hampshire. The audience and students were not familiar with experimental music, and Pauline grew discouraged when one of her pieces got a lukewarm response.

"It's good to have your composition programmed, even though you might feel that it's reception was not all you hoped for," Edith wrote reassuringly. "Composers throughout the ages have endured this experience, and the music will survive."

Holland proved more rewarding. To Pauline's delight, her piece was performed by a chorus decked out in tuxedos and formal gowns. It won first prize. "The San Francisco group has been heard of everywhere in Europe," she wrote Edith, "but our music is just now being heard."

When a Houston paper published an article on Pauline's award, Edith was quoted saying that her daughter's music would "make Stravinsky look like a tea-sipper!" The paper played it up; underneath Pauline's picture, the caption read, "Pauline Oliveros: Stravinsky's a tea-sipper." Edith sent the clipping to Pauline with a sheepish letter claiming she had been misquoted. "Would like to apologize to Stravinsky and to you," she wrote. "After all, what I really said was, 'she'd make Stravinsky look like a buttercup!'"

Edith may have been bursting with pride, but that had nothing to do with whether or not she understood "new moosic," as Pauline jokingly called it.

"The music has no message to me at all," Edith insists. "I wouldn't be interested in it at all if she wasn't my daughter. I don't like it — some of it. It's just noise. I have CDs of hers sitting in there that have never been opened and most likely never will be."

Edith remembers when Pauline sent her a reel-to-reel tape of one of her performances. "I was overjoyed to get this tape from my daughter," she says. "There were tears running down my cheeks listening to it. And I was playing it backward."

Pauline's music wasn't the only thing Edith wasn't quite getting. When Pauline was about 17, Edith discovered some letters between her daughter and a woman named Suzon. That's when she learned that her daughter was a lesbian — in fact, that's when she learned there was such a thingas a lesbian. She fainted dead away. What followed was a confrontation of disastrous proportions.

The feeling that she was hurting her mother and grandmother was part of what drove Pauline from Houston, and Suzon, who had moved to San Francisco, was one of the reasons Pauline chose to go there. "I have met more mature Lesbians here than I knew existed," Suzon wrote to Pauline in January 1952. "Regardless of what the future holds in reference to our personal relationship, I know this is your city."

Edith gradually came around, pulled by her desire to be part of her daughter's life. She supported Pauline's relationships to a degree that now seems enlightened. The first time Pauline returned to Houston, in 1954, she brought her lover with her. Jennie, a girl Pauline had known from the softball teams she played on as a teenager, was given a warm welcome, and afterward Edith's letters always included a greeting or verse for her daughter's companion ("There once was a cute gal named Jennie / but boyfriends, she didn't have any").

When Pauline's love life was rough going, Edith sympathized. "You sound very alone," she wrote after Pauline and Jennie split up. "However, this is probably just a period in your life when you are going to be rather withdrawn from things and people. All the better, for it will enable you to give out, later — and to have something to give. Right?? — If not — BOOM! — so you're a screwball!"

Yet intellectually, Edith still grappled with her daughter's sexual preference. It was, after all, the '50s. She didn't like to ask about it, because she firmly believed that a good relationship with her children depended on a robust respect for their privacy.

"She has said, 'I don't ask any questions,' " Pauline says. "I mean, she says that a lot. There are times when we wish that she would. I wish she would draw me out."

Edith's curiosity won out over her reluctance to intrude. When she was finally ready to broach the subject of Pauline's sexuality, she chose to do it in a letter — even though she had just paid her first and only visit to Pauline in San Francisco. In 1956, shortly after her trip, she wrote that she wanted to understand Pauline's "philosophy":

"I desire to take a constructive interest, rather than a prejudiced attitude. I am profoundly interested in the ultimate outcome of your situation in that I wonder about the effect of it on your work as a composer, as well as a woman. I am also deeply interested in knowing of other cases, but notin books or stories. "

Edith suggested that she might simply write out a yes/no questionnaire for Pauline to send back.

"Well, dear — I am apprehensive to know how this will appeal to you, but please — do not deafen me with silence. — All my love, Mama."

Ironically, it took somewhat longer for Pauline to come to terms with Edith's romantic life. As a teenager, Pauline had become very close to the Robin, who rented a room in the Oliveros house. The Robin was a couple of years older than Pauline, and more sophisticated. He introduced her to Billie Holiday and Pearl Bailey, and in general "opened up a lot of worlds" for Pauline, even before he admitted to her that he was really a woman posing as a man. The Robin had fallen in love with Edith, and his distaste for his rival, Pat, rubbed off on Pauline.

"I can hardly stand to be in the house with him," she wrote Jennie during a visit to Houston in 1955. "He walks very heavily and is clumsy, stays in the bathroom for hours, hawks and spits constantly, and when he eats he smacks and chews with his mouth open. Johnny can't stand him and I don't blame him."

Part of Pauline's frustration came from watching her mother take care of other people, often sacrificing piano practice and social life to do so. "Pat and Johnny don't lift a finger to help her," she complained.

Running the household and studio was just the tip of the iceberg for Edith. In 1955, the same year she and Pat married, Dudda broke her hip and required constant care. Dudda's staunch independence and periods of depression made her a difficult patient, and as her health steadily worsened, Edith often wrote to Pauline of the strain. To complicate matters, Dudda despised Pat because he was Mexican.

"I would love to be able to cheer [Mama] more by taking her out with us," Edith wrote to Pauline, "but always feel I am between two fires with her and Pat, as it would not take a Sherlock Holmes to detect her aversion and antagonism to himŠ.Very often I feel that my only solution is to leave BOTH of them and situate myself alone. I can live with it now, but for how long?"

By 1960 Pauline had a change of heart toward her stepfather. "An ice age has melted into a warm sea," she wrote Edith, enclosing another letter she had written the year before but never mailed:

"In the past few months a whole lot of things, ideas and memories, have begun to make sense to me in a new way. I have wanted to write and tell all!

"Often when you were afraid for me and saw me led in a detrimental direction you would tell me that such and such a person had a hold on meŠ.I've come to realize how true this isŠ.I have blindly followed some of them into blind alleys, admiring and wanting to identify with what I thought was courage, independence, liberty, etc.Š Dale [the Robin's real name] is one of them."

As Pauline's own career gathered momentum, she could no longer jump when Dale needed her to help him out of his "ridiculous jams." Pauline told Edith that when Dale sensed Pauline was becoming less easy to manipulate, he broke off their relationship. "The last time I saw him he said to me 'shall we call the whole thing off.' I think it meant let's stop being friends before you get to know me."

With the Robin gone, Pauline realized he'd poisoned her against her stepfather. "The one thing above all I want to clarify now is my feelings toward Pat," Pauline wrote. "I believe with all my heart that he is a good man. This was my own intuition when you first went with him."

Pauline wrote Pat, and it didn't take him long to respond. "Dear Pauline, Yo te quiero mucho ....There are so many things I want to tell you. Only thing is my thoughts are in Spanish ....I thought you would never write me a letter and give me a chance to tell you how much I admire you."

Pat's admiration didn't change the fact that he didn't particularly "dig" her music. Edith, too, was still grappling with it. "Please try to send me more tapes and scores, anything at all," she wrote. "I want to be able to play them over and over ... .It is still like a foreign language to me, but bugs me because I want to 'speak' and 'converse.' Help!"

But again Edith's desire to understand conflicted with her reflexive urge to back off.

"A long time ago, I said, 'I don't understand your music,' " Edith recalls. "She looked at me and said, 'I don't understand what it is you don't understand.'

"And I realized I should never say that to her again. I don't want to make waves."

Yet despite herself, Edith had epiphanies. In 1960, when Richard Nixon told the Houston Press Club that "diversity is the essence of freedom," Edith wrote to Pauline:

"Since my mind turns away from events of world importance — the Cuban situation, the shelling of Formosa, the snubbing of the president, the collapse of the summit meeting, the impatience of integration and the high cost of lamb — I can only think of this profound and basic truth in connection with, and as applied to the work that I do, namely, the rather pathetic act of attempting to teach a straggling handful of children to play the piano.

"...And then it seemed to me, there was even a link between this and your music, which is so completely different in quality. For when I heard the 'sounds' it was as though all that I had ever done or played or been taught, had been through a refining and distilling process and (for me, at least) it is all there in your music! ... so that the message of your music must be — Freedom!"

Even when she took refuge in humor, Edith betrayed an instinctive understanding of what Pauline was getting at. When an extra "sewage charge" suddenly appeared on the family's water bill, for example, Edith suggested, "How about a new composition inspired by our reactions to sewage charges? Sort of an authentic folk-song deal? We could set up tape recorders in public restrooms, outhouses, private residences all over the country and have a complete record of authentic sounds, and think of what a live performance would be like!"

As Pauline continued to explore new territory, she abandoned musical notation entirely. Her scores became written instructions for groups of participants. Her "Sonic Meditations," initially developed with a group of women musicians, were widely used. At the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, Pauline led her "Tuning Meditation" for the crowd. She instructed everyone to first sing a tone that they heard in their imagination, then listen for someone else's tone and tune to its pitch as exactly as possible. The effect was oceanic, with waves of sound rolling toward the stage.

In 1977 Pauline won a major prize in Bonn, Germany, for a composition called "Bonn Feier." Initially designed for a college campus (the piece ended with a bonfire, so Pauline simply changed the name for the competition), "Bonn Feier" was a large-scale performance piece that involved creating slightly unusual experiences all over the city, the idea being to cast doubt on the difference between the "real" and the staged. With Pauline's instructions, the mayor of Bonn's assistant arranged for, among other things, African drummers to appear at random times, fake mustaches to be handed out to lady shoppers, and schoolchildren to paint mandalas on manhole covers. The piece took place, unannounced, throughout the entire city for a week. Edith accompanied Pauline to Germany and kept a detailed diary of the trip, describing the performance, Pauline's many press interviews and even the meals they ate.

From Bonn, they traveled to Paris for a festival of electronic music, where Pauline played a deeply meditative for a radio broadcast concert. In the diary, Edith wrote a richly imaginative moment-by-moment account of what she heard.

"I begin to get a feeling of forest sounds, somehow," Edith scribbled as Pauline sat barefoot on the stage, cradling her souped-up accordion. " ...It is a prism of sound, reminding me of something gliding majestically through space... One wonders what is in her thoughts as she makes these sounds. ...Is she meditating on the sound itself? The quality, reverberation, inflection, density, the effect of the sound on others, on herself, the enduring quality of the sound ... the feeling she gets from making the sounds, the sounds she gets from what she is feeling?"

She doesn't sound befuddled, yet she insists that she just doesn't get it.

"[Understand], that's the theme word of hers," Pauline says. She believes it's a confidence issue: Edith didn't finish high school, so she's convinced she doesn't understand. "The word carries so much weight for her that I would really like to decipher it... She does get it, and she claims she doesn't. But I think it's defensive.

"There's a double message that goes through the whole [correspondence]" Pauline says. "It all hangs on that word, I don't understand. It was almost like a mantra. But then, she would understand it, by action."

Edith still lives in the little house on Greenbriar that has been her home since the '50s. Because of a hip replacement, she moves slowly these days. She's the proverbial little old lady — except she wears the T-shirt, sneakers and jeans of a 12-year-old. At rest, she still has the shy, brooding look she had in childhood pictures, but she brightens dramatically when she tells stories, mimicking the foreign students who board in her house with a high-pitched, innocent voice.

Edith's stereo table is stacked with Pauline's CDs and cutting-edge music journals with articles about her. Pauline, at 67, travels all over the world to present her electronically enhanced, layered soundscapes. With her lover, a writer named Ione, she co-directs the Pauline Oliveros Foundation. They collaborated on Njinga the Queen King, a play about a 16th-century African woman who ruled her country, which was part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave festival in 1993. On the tenth anniversary of Pauline's Deep Listening Band last year, sound artist DJ Spooky sat in as a guest artist.

Though Pauline and Edith don't write anymore — at the end of the '70s the letters petered out, succumbing to the convenience of long-distance calls and e-mail — Edith still follows Pauline's every move.

"Somebody asked me one time — one of those 'yak yak ladies' — 'Oh, how do you stand it, being so far away from your daughter?' " Edith makes a face, and then a squawking noise, moving her hand open and shut like a beak.

"And I said, 'Well, we're closer than people who live in the same house.' "

On Edith's coffee table sits a sleek black keyboard — Web TV, installed by Pauline so that Edith could follow the Deep Listening discussion groups on the Internet. But e-mail is not the only new twist in their relationship.

All her life Edith noodled around with lyrics, and she'd invent her own funny, atonal songs for the ballet classes she accompanied. She's the one who gave Pauline the idea to write music.

But Edith never called herself a composer. During the home organ craze of the '60s, she joked to Pauline in one letter that she had "de-composed" a Hawaiian melodrama for the Hammond Organ Club. "Curse of the U.S.A." featured Good King Hell-Ray-Ser, the Moo-Moo Maidens and — as the villains — IRS agents.

Still, Edith spent the bulk of her energy taking care of others, not on creative projects. She was content to let Pauline be the innovator. When Dudda died in 1974, at the age of 93, Pauline came for the funeral, and afterward Edith wrote her a tender letter. "When I had those recurring dreams as a child, of soaring through the air like a bird, they came true for me, through you. I have always felt that way and so, each time you leave, it is like another flight, another dream coming true."

By that time Pat was already 70, and his health was far from perfect. Edith cared for him until he passed away in 1985, in the same room where Dudda died.

Now, in her "second childhood," Edith finally has time to write more than the odd limerick. Although she still teaches piano, for a time she went to work for the Houston Ballet as a telemarketer, where she befriended University of St. Thomas theater major Yasser Bagersh. Bagersh started a professional children's theater troupe called Express Theatre and decided to do a musical. He asked Edith to compose it.

At first, Edith balked. But Pauline encouraged her, and finally she agreed to try it. She wrote 26 songs and lyrics for Rumplestiltskin (which happened to be one of Pauline's favorite childhood stories) and went on to write four more musicals for Express. Rumplestiltskin opened in 1992.

The show was a rousing success, and with Pauline there, Edith took a graceful bow. Afterward, Pauline published an article titled "Edith Gutierrez — Emerging Composer" in the International League of Women Composers Journal. Wrote Pauline: "Can you imagine attending the first premiere performance of music written by your mother when your own age is 59 and hers is 77?"

It was Pauline's turn to be proud. Rumplestiltskin had been performed 71 times, she pointed out in the article — by far more performances than any of her own works had ever received.

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