Building and sustaining momentum can be a challenge for musicians anywhere, especially cutting-edge artists whose uncompromising work is not geared to a mainstream audience.
But doing so as new parents, during a worldwide pandemic, proved even more daunting for trumpet innovator and UC San Diego associate music professor Stephanie Richards and her husband, drummer and UCSD audio engineer Andrew Munsey.
“The biggest thing I felt is that this creative momentum was lost. I am still feeling it — it’s a struggle to pick back up,” said Richards. She learned she was pregnant with the couple’s second child shortly before in-person classes resumed at UCSD early last year.
“There’s been a big re-evaluation of priorities for us,” she continued. “And when you toss two young children into the mix, it puts us in really new territory trying to figure out how to survive in this new time.”
“Just parenting is very hard, of course, and so is trying to have any creative practice,” he said. “A lot of times, they are completely incompatible. The learning process for us is ongoing, in terms of figuring out where you can play (music) and how far you can extend yourself into your profession.”
“Time,” Richards added, “is something we have a new appreciation for. Having a chance to perform a show is something I don’t take for granted any more, for either of us.”
Munsey, an Orange County native, and Richards, who is from Canada, are both in their 30s. Between them, they have collaborated with everyone from Anthony Braxton and Kanye West to San Diego’s Lei Liang and Mark Dresser. The couple often worked together, on stage and on record, prior to the pandemic.
The couple’s daughter is 3, while their son is just 8 months old. Both speak with palpable delight about their kids and laughed in unison as they recalled putting together the first playlist of music for their daughter.
“We kept adding songs we liked that we thought she would enjoy and it grew to between 200 and 300 songs!” Munsey said. “As she got older, we listened to the playlist less and less because she’s selective and can ask for what she wants to hear.”
“Now,” said Richards, “we can re-do it with our son and play for him whatever he likes and he’s hearing it for first time. We try to play them music from as many genres as we can, including orchestral, jazz, bossa-nova, Joni Mitchell and lots of music to dance to. Playing Miles Davis’ ‘Kind of Blue’ really has a calming effect.”
Munsey and Richards laughed again when asked if there were any family favorites.
“Our daughter is really into Tom Petty’s (song) ‘You’re So Bad’,” Munsey said. “She wants that on repeat for an hour!”
Since becoming parents, Richards and Munsey have selectively pursued their music — but only if it doesn’t come at the expense of their parenting. Their devotion has impressed their friends and colleagues.
“They are an amazing couple,” said UCSD music professor Roger Reynolds, who on Feb. 21 was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
“Steph and Andrew have remarkable resilience and they have a beautiful relationship as people and parents,” said Grammy-winning singer and fellow UCSD music professor Susan Narucki. “I always see them so full of energy and cheerful. I don’t know how they do that!”
So, how do they maintain their cheerfulness?
“By having a good bottle of wine in the house,” quipped Richards, whose twice-delayed 2020 European concert tour with her quartet finally took place last October. Munsey, her longtime drummer, stayed home with the kids so that his wife could perform abroad.
“Some nights I got off stage and really wanted to scream,” she recalled. “I really felt the emotional cost of leaving my family and Andrew being here, in San Diego, taking care of my toddler and newborn.”
That equation was reversed when Munsey flew to New York for a recent gig that had also been pushed back by the pandemic. Then again, as is the case for so many other people, pivoting during the pandemic has become a way of life for this musical couple.
Their 2020 and 2021 U.S. concert dates and foreign tours were pushed back or canceled outright, while some of their recording sessions were shelved. Richards began teaching online after the UCSD campus shut down, while Munsey spent six months doing all his post-production audio work from a studio in the family’s converted garage.
“The first class I taught after we returned to campus was called ‘Space is the Place’,” Richards said. “It was all about how space affects us, how we craved togetherness, and what that means from a musical perspective. I believe there is so much that can be learned by physically vibrating in the same space.”
While the pandemic slowed their artistic careers, it also provided the couple with a more acute focus and sense of purpose.
“With such limited time, we both feel liberated to write and play what we really want to,” Munsey said.
“You have to lean,” Richards concluded, “into the beauty.”
When: 7 p.m. May 25
Where: Conrad Prebys Music Center Experimental Theater, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla
Tickets: $15, general; $10, UCSD faculty, staff and alumni; free for UCSD students
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