Mother and daughter make music a family affair
Music has long been a way of life for Ronda Winter and her family. Her own three children and two of her brother's that she brought up began playing instruments early in life - and most play more than one.
So it was a natural development that when Winter finally got around to making her first CD album it would come out as a family project - a collaboration between her and her 15-year-old daughter, Charlene Gilstrap.
Of the 11 songs on the recording, titled "By the Tule River's Edge," eight are original compositions, five by the daughter and three by the mother.
"Charlene composed her first song when she was little, about 5," Winter said. "It was a happy little church song called 'I Know it's True,' and she sang it at her brother's baptism. Of course, she didn't know how to write out the music, so I put it down for her."
Mother and daughter say they work very well together musically, despite taking almost totally different approaches to both composing and performing.
Gilstrap said she begins creating her music at the piano, experimenting with different chords until she finds a sequence and sound she likes. Then she lays in her melody.
Winter, however, reverses that process, crafting her melodies first, then adding chords.
Moreover, Winter describes her daughter's compositions as having "a dark edge," and her own as lighter, more playful.
And her daughter is quick to point out that in performance, her mother brings great intensity to her music, while she, herself, is a little more laid back and relaxed.
"We actually have a perfect balance," Winter said. "But sometimes I think that if it wasn't for the music, we'd have absolutely nothing in common."
In fact, both mother and daughter are heavily immersed in music.
A sophomore at Monache High School, Gilstrap plays flute in the concert band and the baritone saxophone in the jazz band. She also sings and plays flute with the choir.
"I like the flute," she said. "I enjoy playing with the band and the choir and at church events. But I really love jazz and playing the saxophone. That great big baritone sax is a giant instrument. And I love it. A sax is power, not a delicate little instrument like the flute."
Winter, a longtime performer and private instructor who has pursued her study of music under many experts in the field, just took over as director of the band at Strathmore High School, where the music program is being revitalized following the recent merge of the school into the Porterville Unified School District.
Taking on the band director's position and also working with the district's elementary schools music program, meant that Winter found it necessary to cut back on her private instruction. But many of the students have been kept in the family since Gilstrap began taking over part of the load.
"I asked some of my students' parents if they'd be willing to transfer their kids over to Charlene, for a lower fee, and a lot were willing to try it," Winter said. "It seems to be going very well. She has 13 students now, and all I hear are glowing reports."
Gilstrap said she felt immediately comfortable in her role as teacher.
"I think it just came naturally to me after all the years of watching my mom teach," she said. "I just love working with the little kids. It's so much fun, it doesn't feel like work. And what I enjoy doing with the kids is letting them see that making music is fun, not just work, that it's a way to do a lot of growing and stretching the mind."
Winter said she sees distinct value in having young people participate in music, and credits much of her daughter's success to her involvement.
"When Charlene was quite young, she was diagnosed with ADD (attention deficit disorder)," Winter said. "She was a textbook case, just all over the place, all the time. Children with true ADD have a lot of chaos in their minds. But music seems to have a way of settling that chaos. As soon as she started making music, her life started to turn around. She began to be able to focus better, and everything changed. Her grades jumped right to the top of her class. She just did better in every way."
Indeed, Gilstrap seems to have grown into a very settled and focused young woman who has formed a vision for her adult life.
"I know that I want to go on to study music, maybe at one of the great music conservatories in the East," she said. "They have fabulous programs. I think I want to focus on composition, but keep performing. I could even see myself teaching, at some higher level, maybe as a university professor. I could see myself as 'Dr. Charlene - fill in the last name' - someday in the future."
About the Recording
"By the Tule River's Edge," the first CD recorded by Ronda Winter and her daughter, Charlene Gilstrap, includes 11 musical selections, five of them composed by Gilstrap and three by Winter-Gilstrap.
Winter said the inspiration for her compositions on the recording came in large part from living and playing, literally, at the river's edge.
One piece, called "Before," she said is played on the Japanese-style flute, the shakuhachi, and is intended to replicate the sound of music that might have been played on wooden flutes by the American Indians who once dwelled along the river.
Another, she said, was written during a stay at Camp Nelson in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Called "Tommy's Trees," she said it is intended to convey the majesty of the huge redwoods and sequoias in the nearby mountains, and the sound of the wind moving through their tops.
"Emilie's Tears," a sober but lyrical piece, is one of the five written by Gilstrap. It is dedicated to fellow musician and longtime family friend, Emilie Erwin, who was suffering a bout of health problems at the time the song was written.
The collection also includes a haunting rendition of Paul Simon's "Scarborough Fair," and a couple of traditional hymns.
By Darla Welles, The Porterville Recorder
This story was published in The Porterville Recorder on December 16, 2004