Everyone tells you San Francisco is amazing and they are right. It’s beautiful to look at, to be in, the weather is never too outrageously, unbearably hot or cold, and my favourite thing – it’s an artist’s dream. I came here with very little set up. Not my fault: whereas people on the east coast were happy to book appointments, they would just say – “Sure, see you in May!” But already I’ve met people who have ideas about where I should be going, who I should be listening to, interviewing, watching. In fact I already have too many things and I’m having to make choices. Who would have thought.
So I’m in love with San Francisco. But as a new girl occasionally I time things wrong so when I finally got to the Mission District today, the largely Spanish District in the south of the city, I was running to make it to the session. “Can you tell me where the singing is?” I gasped for breath when I finally made it to the 30th Street Senior center.
“Singing? No singing”. “No singing?”
Have I got the wrong place? I look at the blackboard. ““El Coro”
“Ah! El coro! Est aqui!” I tear down to the end of the hall and find El coro, the chorus, and waiting for me Martha Rodriguez and accordian player Jennifer Peringer and the 30th Street Singers, a group of 24 women and 2 men. They are discussing their performance of the other day in front of a funder. How did the group think it went? “I’m sure after they hear us they will fund us”. All agree and are very proud of their performance. They discuss costumes, and there is some discontent. Jennifer wonders if it’s possible to make a project, putting words onto the blue scarves that are their costumes? The end of the sessions looms and the idea of a pot luck. Everyone is very excited about the pot luck. Their oldest member is in hospital. She is 94, and Martha would like to record one of their songs so she can hear it in hospital.
All agree to this. I’m aware suddenly that Martha is employing the most subtle of techniques with this group. She is literally repeating everything twice, in Spanish and English. It’s very quick and almost unnoticeable. “I don’t even know I’m doing it now,” she tells me later. “Some speak no Spanish, some speak no English. It’s not a problem. I was born in Mexico and both languages are there for me.”
There are two groups, a high group and low group. Some read music, some don’t. Nothing is a problem. It’s an easy, fun class, and it’s clear they love and trust her. Martha doesn’t push them to learn the music, although some have. She teases them. “Very nice harmony, but I want it in unison!”
Martha says both she and Jennifer have been asked if they are married on multiple occasions. “Yes we are, to each other!” I asked how the group react to that. “Not very well. It’s a very conservative group. But they get used to it.”