Leslie Damaso | Mineral Point, WI
I studied music at the University of Illinois and eventually moved to my home now in the historic arts community of Mineral Point. When I first came to Mineral Point, I felt like I was literally falling in love with a place.“I moved to the United States from the Philippines when I was young. I was always into music. I was in choir and studied piano and voice at a young age. I was really shy but knew I wanted to do music. I studied music at the University of Illinois and eventually moved to my home now in the historic arts community of Mineral Point. When I first came to Mineral Point, I felt like I was literally falling in love with a place.
I teach voice and piano lessons at Buttonhill Music Studio which I own and operate, just downstairs from where I live. My goal was to have a music studio that was a welcoming space for the community. My studio is on the main level of a historic building and has two huge windows and a grand piano. From the street, before the pandemic, you could peek in and see me working with a student at the grand piano, their little legs dangling, or with a singer moving all around the space and vocalizing. I love that we were on display because education is a beautiful thing. Tourists or friends would pass by and wave, or stand and watch. On breaks, I’d sometimes open the door, so people can hear me playing or singing. In between lessons, I would sit on the bench outside the building. That’s when the unexpected and delightful meetings happened. I especially enjoyed tourists who were also musicians. It was an extra treat when we ended up playing and singing together.
I closed the doors on Friday, March 13th because of the pandemic. At first, I couldn’t create anything. We were all shocked in the beginning. Six months later it is still a shock to my system. Counting students, parents, family, friends, and strangers, I must have interacted with sixty to as many as eighty people per week. Being an extrovert, I thrive from that, it’s how I get energized and inspired to create. I miss it.
I decided to shift my lessons to virtual. My first goal however was just to schedule a time with each student and just talk, if they wanted to play or sing, then we did a little bit. I was very aware of checking on their mental state. I often felt like crying in the middle of these sessions but I knew I had to be there for them and I needed them as well. As each week passed, we ended up playing more music then eventually it felt almost like normal times. One afternoon, a student was late for their lesson. Eventually, she came on and told me of the news that she had just found out that a family member died of C-19. How do you support these kids? You can’t hug them. You can’t be in the same place. We cried together and eventually she wanted to sing. And that’s what we did, and we moved through the heartbreak.
One of the best things about the virtual lessons has been seeing the spaces where my students play and meeting the family pets. My student, Gillie, wanted to show me her new chicks. Her mom didn’t think we would have enough time but she let her take the laptop to the crate. To our surprise, the house cat had gotten in! Thankfully no chicks were hurt, the cat was actually snoozing peacefully in a corner.
A couple of months ago, I decided to teach lessons in my garden. I have a keyboard out there. We’re masked and I’m at least 12 to 15 feet away, so I feel safe. I think it has eased some of the trauma for everyone. That first lesson felt incredible, to be here, in person.
We are living through an incredibly challenging period. This time amplified with the many revelations of where our society needs drastic reform and healing. I hope that history will show this as a time where we really recognized each other as human beings. I’m very grateful that we have the technology to communicate and happy to see the many creative ways people are sharing and connecting. I grew up in the Philippines, but the idea of home has been changing throughout the years for me. Home is where you have the most meaningful connections. And I really feel like I belong here. I feel more intentional these days about every movement and so thankful for all the wonderful people in my life. I’m really looking forward to hugs and hearing a roomful of laughter.
Leslie’s story is part of Love Wisconsin’s Covid-19 series. Through this series, we are featuring shorter stories to offer a time capsule into life in Wisconsin during this extraordinary time. The story was produced by Esteban Touma. You can learn more about Leslie’s music here.