D.C. Musicians Share Their Most Important Life Lessons Learned From Their Moms
Words by Jordan Snowden. Photo by Sammie Zephyr Sheedy
In honor of Mother’s Day, we asked a few D.C. musicians and bands to share their most important life lessons learned from their mothers.
Jenny Thomas: My mom always instilled in [my siblings and I] to be ourselves. She honored our creativity and free-thinking, never censoring us, even if the outside world expected us to conform. It led to some tough lessons during adolescence, but made us much more interesting adults.
John Nolt: My mother showed me, by example, how to live in a way that reinforces what’s important to me while being valuable to others, but without bowing to trends or the common wisdom. It took me 35 years to learn that lesson.
Mike Mastrangelo: My mom used to always say if you fuck yourself you can always unfuck yourself. She got this from her dad and as crazy as it sounds I really take it to heart. No matter how bad any situation gets there is always a path to undo/redo/or remake into something better.
My mother is the consummate silver lining seeker. She taught me to look for the good in all people and situations. She has always laughed in the face of danger. For example, I remember the way she would make comments about scary monsters on TV like, “Oh, they’re so cute” or “Hmmm! Looks like somebody needs a nap.” I believe she was teaching me, at a very young age, to choose my emotional state instead of allowing external factors to dictate my feelings. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” She often says this, as well.
Will Copps: The best advice my mom ever gave me was to be persistent. It’s a far easier and more romantic notion to say that creativity comes in spurts–that we must scramble to record the magic of our fleeting ideas before returning to the monotony of daily life spent waiting for the muse to return. Finding the right routine in my day, and sticking to it, has led to more inspirational moments than I would ever have had otherwise. Sometimes I find that I don’t have “it,” and sometimes I do, but I always use the time to accomplish something related to music.
Brittany Jean: My mom once told me that I should dress nicely when I perform. Although it is not necessary for everyone, I have actually followed that advice for the most part and one time someone wrote a post publicly thanking me for taking the time to do so. This particular show-goer said that if they spend the time and money to come see a performance, they appreciate seeing that you have taken the time to care about your audience as well. However, this advice is the least of my mom’s impact on my music.
During my childhood she would take my sisters and I to almost every musical that came to town. She would take us several times if we liked it that much. I grew up learning and loving to sing because of this. She also allowed me to join the orchestra and play the violin. I was terrible but determined to continue (a lesson in itself), and so she bought me a violin and a few lessons and I played from fourth grade until my senior year of high school. Despite the lessons and hard work, I’ll admit that I never became a good violin player…but I loved it. One of the cool things about an orchestra is that it relies on people working together, and so sticking with the violin taught me that I didn’t have to be great at something in order to make a valuable contribution; my part was still important. These may seem like strange lessons to highlight, but I am grateful for them and my mom as they have helped make me the musician I am today.
Chris Baker: One thing that I’ve learned from my mom is time management and how to arrange our schedule as a band. My mom is really great at organizing long trips, like when we would go on family vacations or even smaller things like grocery lists or helping me pick class schedules for school. This skill directly correlates to my planning tour schedules and practice routines for the band. As a mother of six, it’s amazing how she is able to balance all of our various social activities and events. It’s also important to note that we still travel around in my mom’s minivan, so we owe her a lot simply for letting us use her car! One day she’s picking up the kids from carpool and the next she’s letting us drive all up and down the east coast playing shows. I love my mom and I’m grateful for all that she’s taught me!
Ramtin Arablouei: When I was 11, my mom saw me following other kids around my neighborhood and getting in trouble. One morning before school she pulled me aside and through piercing eyes told me that my friends should be following me. She said following was easy, a cop out, and that people worthy of respect lead. Those words have stuck with me and I’ve always tried to be the person who puts himself out there and take chances. Or, maybe I totally misunderstood her.
Navid Marvi: Never assume anything about someone—or judge them—and always be willing to help if you are in a position to do so.
Neel Singh: The only thing in this world that is fully in our control is how hard we work on something. Work harder than the next person and if you’re lucky, good things will start to happen. That attitude got her to this country at the age of 16 and allowed her to make a life for herself and me. There’s no one I admire more than her.
We have many stories of our moms taking us to music lessons and recitals through childhood— it takes a special kind of mom to sit through a 25-person beginner violin, viola or cello recital! Then, as we got older and each decided to pursue music professionally, our moms had to be okay with the fact that their kids would be going into a hugely insecure field. Erin, our cellist, remembers her mom giving her some thoughtful advice when she was deciding whether or not to dive into professional music: “If you can be happy doing any other thing— any other professional endeavor— you should go do that other thing. But if you look ahead 10 years into your life and the only path you see that leads to happiness is music, then you need to keep playing the cello and give it everything you’ve got.
Derek Salazar: My mother is the most loving, beautiful person I know. While her kind heart and accepting nature has been a lifelong example to my sister and I of how we should treat those around us, she has also instilled in us the importance of believing in yourself and following your heart. In tough times, her ability to talk me down from cliffs is unparalleled, always helping remind me that the sunshine will eventually come. I don’t know where I would be without her.
My love of music is intrinsically tied to my mother—when I was three years old, I got on an airplane to visit my grandparents, and it was the first time we had ever spent any significant time apart from one another. She gave me her brand new Randy Travis tape, Always & Forever, and told me if I missed her, just to put my headphones on and by listening, in our own way, we would be together. Boy, did I wear that thing out. From that moment on, I would introduce myself as Randy, “play” guitar on my dad’s tennis racquets, and be forever tied to music in a way I cannot full explain. I still have that tape, and almost every word of print that used to be on it has worn off from the amount of listening and handling it has been through. Not the music though—27 years later, the music is still there. And she would be the first to remind me that that’s why it’s so important.
Our mom taught [my siblings and I] that in order to get anywhere in life and be successful, you have to work your butt off. It might seem cliché, but it can’t be truer in music and really, in all aspects of life. Growing up this way, working hard is the only tried-and-true thing I know. I learned that I can do anything if I put my mind to it and so in college, I studied more than most people and graduated with a 3.83 GPA in pre-med. I apply that same mentality to music and Skyline Hotel. I work on music early in the morning until the wee hours of the night. With our passion, drive and unwavering persistence, I know we’ll make it. Thanks mom, Happy Mother’s Day!