On the morning before I met her, I listened to Sheri Bauer-Mayorga’s album On the Wrong Side of the Railroad Tracks, and I fell a little bit in love. Generosity, humor and intelligence surrounded me with her clear, beautiful, true voice. I was laughing out loud as she sang the title song, and I was crying silently along with her mother watching the procession of Martin Luther King’s funeral with Sixties TV. I was almost late meeting her because I didn’t want to stop listening to her, so I hurried down Chatham’s Main Street to #29 and up the stairs to Second Space, where I learned over the next few hours the force of honesty and goodness that emanates from her voice runs throughout her life.
Sheri Bauer-Mayorga is an American folk song scholar, singer and writer; she’s a musician and a teacher; she’s a mother, a wife, a sister and daughter; she’s an articulately ardent Bernie Sanders supporter. She is the founder and director of The Good Globe Singing School which is now at Second Space. Although she comes from a musical family, she believes that pitch can be developed, that anyone and everyone can learn to sing. As a teacher, Sheri produces a CD for her students, both children and adults, in classes and solo. On the CD, she sings a simple song and the student takes it home to sing along; Sheri said that after a week or so, invariably, the student will be singing that song on pitch. She recently found out those CD’s are traded among her younger students like trading cards. I want one. And I wish I had known her when my children were being convinced they couldn’t sing.
Sheri was performing at St. James Church in Chatham when she noticed a man in the audience, and she kept looking back at him, intrigued by him; when she met Lincoln Mayorga after the performance, she recognized the internationally renowned pianist, whose albums she had sold when she was attending the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music and working at Tower Records in New York City. Lincoln and Sheri have been married and collaborating for over 20 years.
Two of their most important collaborations are their boys, Nicolas and Juan Carlos. Hurricane Mitch devastated Central America in 1998 and while watching a newscast of the many displaced children, Sheri’s heart was inextricably pulled. Lincoln has Central American roots; his father was from Nicaragua and his family was part of a Nicaraguan community in Los Angeles when Lincoln was growing up. VIDA (Voice for International Development and Adoptions) is an adoption agency in Kinderhook, and this is where Sheri and Lincoln met 12-year-old Nicolas from Guatemala. A year later, their new son was their guide when they went to Guatemala, through VIDA, to bring home their second son, five-year-old Juan Carlos. The boys are grown now, 29 and 21, living in Valatie, and I had the pleasure of meeting the friendly, easygoing young men when they loyally showed up for photographs with their parents. I also had the pleasure of having my hand kissed in an elegant and respectful gesture of farewell. And I would like to say this: hey white racist-spewing family in the white minivan, they’re not Mexican and even if they were, they’re not the cause of any of your problems so just stop it, roll up the windows and keep driving.
There is much strength and accomplishment to Sheri. There is also pain. She is haunted by her brother’s sudden suicide three years ago. Walter Bauer was much beloved here in Columbia County, for his wit, his kindness, and his musical genius. Sheri speaks of his loss with vulnerable bewilderment, at times quietly furious sorrow. She hadn’t seen it coming, they’d been a little out of touch; he apparently had been retreating from people. She is still searching for answers to this heartrending tragedy, in herself, in her family, possibly their German history. Her earliest childhood memory is that of sitting on her grandmother’s lap listening to her play the piano and thinking it was the most powerful thing in the world. She also remembers the large singing hall her grandfather built on his property to establish a German singing club, and the joyful community singing events there.
But she also knows there was something else, a lurking anger. Family lore has it that in 1924 amid Germany’s economic collapse after WWI, Sheri’s great-grandfather, a bridge builder, an engineer, was being paid every four hours to accommodate how fast the value of the mark changed. He brought his family to the U.S., bought a farm in Greene County and informed his 12-year-old son, Sheri’s grandfather, that it was his job along with his two younger brothers to get the farm up and running. By the time Sheri came along, there was no relationship between the elder Bauers; she didn’t even know her great-grandfather lived 15 minutes away. In the 1940′s her grandfather founded Twin Spruce Apiary, a family business for which her father gave up a music scholarship to continue, and her parents still run it. Her father likes the solitude of collecting the honey in the mountains.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a repercussion of war, of great trauma, of psychological violence, and it can be handed down for generations, each one taking it on, replaying it differently, but creating an anxiety that, in some, can travel inward from self-doubt to depression to an unbearable, soul-crushing heaviness of being. “We are our family’s history until we aren’t,” said Sheri, and she is sure music has saved her life.
Just as she is sure Bernie Sanders can save our country. “His voice of authenticity and compassion has been ringing clear to me since he opposed the Iraq War and meaningfully spoke for eight and a half hours against the Bush tax cuts in Congress.” said Sheri (as I said, she is ardently articulate). “His vision and agenda acknowledge a greater good for everyone on the planet. It’s an evolved vision which we must embrace if we are going to save our people and our planet. He has spoken clearly for years and presently on what the essential needs and rights of all human beings are. His vision has not wavered, and the fact that Bernie Sanders has made a move to run a campaign funded by people rather than Super PACS illustrates how beholden he is to his vision and how unwilling he is to sacrifice his moral beliefs to corporate interests.”
Authenticity, compassion, bravery, intelligence, honesty, goodness. There is no other choice for some.