Every year I have attended the CMN Annual International Conference has been a special and reenergizing experience—reuniting and communing with kind-hearted and like-minded friends whom I consider family. And this year’s conference in Los Gatos, CA was no different. But what made it extra special was the opportunity to be a part of the Magic Penny Award ceremony honoring José-Luis Orozco, a man whom I consider one of my mentors in the realm of children’s music.
I only recently met José-Luis in February 2016 when he performed at the Children’s Grammy Award Nominees Benefit Concert in Los Angeles. His latest album, ¡Come Bien! Eat Right!, had been nominated for a Grammy, and he was asked to perform, as are all the year’s nominees in the Children’s Album category. I approached him after his performance and introduced myself as a fellow children’s music artist, a big fan and follower of his, a Board member of CMN, and one of the many to honor him at the upcoming Magic Penny Award ceremony in Los Gatos.
However, it wasn’t until later, at the nominees luncheon after the concert, that I was able to tell him how his bilingual recordings of songs and music in Spanish contributed to my early development as a children’s educator, performer, and recording artist. I could tell he was honored to be the recipient of the Magic Penny Award, and I thought it fitting that he’d be receiving the award in the San Francisco Bay Area, a place where he spent many years performing, teaching, and advocating for those who did not come from a privileged background. My fairly brief conversation with him over lunch ended with me saying that I would see him soon, and we went on with our busy weekends.
Around Grammy time, I was asked by Joanie Calem to perform a song at his award ceremony, and of course, I jumped at the chance. Then during the CMN conference weekend, I was able to enlist two talented fellow CMNers, Alina Celeste and Peter Apel, to join me onstage during the ceremony to perform “Al Tambor.” I’ve heard José-Luis say with regards to arranging and recording children’s music that “simple is better,” so I wanted to keep our rendition of the Latin American classic as much in that spirit as possible. Alina, Peter, and I got together quickly and established our harmony vocal parts and instrumentation with that “spirit” in mind.
My personal challenge was to figure out what I was going to say before the song. In fact, I was a bit nervous about it. But instead of letting my worrying take over, I just said what came to my mind and what I was feeling at the time. That’s quite often the best way to do it, for me anyway. So when the time came, I started by sharing with everyone the lore passed on to me by others in my hometown of Redwood City in the Bay Area. I told them of the excitement and electricity around José-Luis’s performances, how families would show up in droves to see one of his concerts that often occurred at the main library, how the crowd would spill over into the area outside of the performance space. Then I then simply thanked him from my heart for all he has done for children and children’s music.
Yes, simple is better.
And performing “Al Tambor”—what an incredible experience to see everyone in attendance dancing and singing, and then glancing over at José-Luis who was wearing a grin of great contentment. The feeling of joy between us—my fellow performers, and everyone in that room—truly encapsulates what CMN is all about and why I keep doing whatever I can to get to these conferences to commune with my CMN family.
The whole of the ceremony was wonderful, and all the speakers and performers did a fantastic job…“job” meaning “labor of love” of course. And it showed.
Afterwards, everyone gathered for the Closing Circle where impressions from the past few days and heartfelt messages were shared. Although I was outside of the circle at the time, gathering sound accessories as part of my stagehand duties, I inevitably ended up stopping and sitting at the foot of the stage, truly moved as attendees laughed, cried, and said goodbye to this year’s conference.
I glanced over at José-Luis, who was also outside of the circle, observing and listening attentively as stories were shared. This was a surreal, poignant moment for me personally. There’s José-Luis Orozco, not being honored, not performing, and not the focal point, simply listening, caring, and being in the moment with all of us.
I not only feel blessed for the opportunity to pay homage to a legend in the field, but to be able to share with José-Luis—and everyone gathered there—how we appreciate him, his advocacy for embracing and celebrating diversity, his art, and his heart.