My mother and father (both Northwestern University graduates) taught vocal music for many years in the Tacoma School District. My mother’s father was an Army Finance Officer; her mother, a professional musician, once saw Mitch Miller play English horn on television and decided that I should do that. (At that time, I probably didn’t know what an oboe was.) My parents, my brothers, and I all earned graduate degrees; my Doctor of Musical Arts degree (University of Washington) was conferred at the same time that I completed my first season in the newly-established PNB Orchestra.
Of course, many American stories are stories of immigration—some recent, some long past. Of my ancestors, the most recent immigrant was my paternal grandfather, Oreste Cesare Margelli. His parents, Giuseppe and Filomena Margelli, lived in Lizzano in Belvedere (Bologna). I believe that they owned a hotel; apparently, Marconi was an occasional guest. Grandfather Oreste came over from Italy in his late teens in 1903 and worked in a coal mine in Southern Illinois. (It was probably his German-American wife who changed his first name to Lester.) A mining accident cost my grandfather the use of his right hand; he received a disability pension and became a butcher. His hand was set so that he could hold gardening tools, and his garden not only fed his family but also supplied produce for several restaurants.
Even as I acknowledge that my English-German-Irish-Italian-Scottish ancestry is but one thread in the amazing and diverse tapestry of humanity, I am reminded by my background that, for me, America is a multicultural land of opportunity where the hard work and sacrifices of a coal miner I barely knew helped make possible his grandson’s life in music.
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- Come see American Stories at PNB, June 3-12