One of the many reasons that I had such an easy time at an early age creating improvisational musical and communicating through sound was that my family was extremely musical, artistic, and unusually creative. Many of them related with me through sound in utero even before my birth. I was raised in an extended family over the years by both parents, all four of my grandparents, and my aunts and uncles. I was blissfully surrounded with classical and ethnic music and dance during my entire childhood, and long into my adult years. My Russian - Siberian grandparents, Rosie and Georgie were two of the closest members of my extended family who lived with us on and off throughout my childhood and early teenage years. They were international folk singers and dancers with gypsy spirits, who filled our home with wonderful ethnic music and dance every day that they lived with us. Rosie and Georgie often taught me Russian folk songs and dances when I was very young, as well as Russian cooking, traditional healing with herbs and food that was an important part of our culture, language. Georgie was an underground political writer and author, and was one of the best story tellers I have ever met in my life, ... much to my delight, because he told me bedtime stories every night, in addition to weaving life lessons throughout each day. They both instilled within me a value system that taught me to question everything in an inquisitive, healthy way, and to highly trust and value one's internal wisdom. Rosie was one of my closest companions, and she made music a regular part of every day life in such a relaxed way that it felt like the most normal avenue of communication for me in the world. When Rosie was in her late nineties she was still singing and dancing her way through life, and I was very proud of her when we danced down the street in San Francisco to a sidewalk guitarist. They were both wonderful role models for me in so many ways, especially ethnically and musically, as they taught me a lot about our Russian culture through food, language, and their world of song, ethnic music, and dance. Rosie and I sang a particular traditional song together in Russian every time we parted, even on the phone. We began a long standing family tradition with this song that I carried on with my great aunt Sylvia for many years later in my life.
My dad Albert was a master harmonica player, and also used to whistle beautifully intricate melodies while he worked on our land, which is one of my very favorite childhood memories of him. He grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, and was deeply inspired musically by the blues, which he was surrounded with constantly during his childhood. My dad was a hero in many ways in my life, as well as being a political community hero for thousands of other people in our area because of our family's alternative radio station, which he dedicated to freedom of speech and equality for all people. He taught me to whistle when I was a little girl, which inspired me to begin singing with the birds when I was a few years old, much to the delight of my family. Many of my earliest sound bridging experiences were with the birds in our back yard and woods, which I loved dearly and befriended very closely as a child. To this day talking with the birds as one of my favorite ways to connect with the natural world and receive guidance, and I think of my dad every time I whistle.
My aunt Dora played guitar and sang in a bluesy New Orleans style, which she also learned from growing up in Memphis, Tennessee and taught to me during my childhood and teenage years, accompanying herself with her guitar. My great aunt Sylvia was like a walking, singing, poetic Russian storybook, and became one of my dearest friends later in life. She had a great love for nature, and often talked with the trees through song and heart poems. Sylvia lived into her late nineties, and was a folk singer and guitar player in the early days of Greenwich Village, as well as being the star musician and folk singer at her children’s camp during my childhood. Both my grandmother Rosie and my Aunt Sylvia also taught me to sing with the earth, as it was a normal cultural tradition in Russia to treat the earth and the trees as living beings. Many Russian people tell their troubles to the White Birch and sing with the earth, much as some cultures do with the sage trees. Rosie and I would sing together when I was a child, as she surrounded me with song during my entire childhood, singing or humming all day long in a way that offered close companionship in itself to us both, as her singing took on a persona of it’s own. We often went out together on long walks in our forest, singing songs to the earth as she taught me about the healing properties of herbs and plants, which we picked to bring home and cook together to keep us healthy. She loved teaching me about the healing abilities of the earth, and much of our bonding happened during those walks, which were always followed by hours of cooking traditional Russian recipes together in the kitchen. In Russia we use food to maintain a healthy balance in our bodies and lives instead of pills, which I much prefer to this day. One of my favorite things of Rosie’s that hangs in my room is her Russian gypsy tambourine that she used for folk dancing and singing, which allows her wonderful songs and dances to still sing to me from its familiar form.
My Romanian grandfather on my mother's side, Grandpa Joe, sang in synagogues and churches in New York City as a child, was an opera singer later in life, and sang for the troops in WWI. He introduced me to opera, traditional Jewish music in Hebrew, and many other forms of classical music, as music was the dearest thing to his heart. My mother Betty is an amazing artist who grew up in Queens, NY, and lived in Greenwich Village from her teenage years into her late twenties in the midst of the great depression. She grew up with an unusual propensity for the arts, and studied art at Cooper Union while living in Greenwich Village, developing her natural creative abilities in sculpture, drawing, pottery, and painting. Betty began teaching classes at the old Museum Of Modern Art in New York City when I was a very young child, which had an ongoing school at the time. MOMA was a wonderful home away from home for me, and opened my world of creativity in many new ways through their children's classes, as they had endless art programs for children. I remember wandering through huge outdoor structures that resembled tunnel-like mazes, filled with tables of art projects designed for children.