Music strikes chord with CSO staff

Chuck making joyful noise with some friends.

Chuck making joyful noise with some friends.

Creativity is an integral part of the job as staff for CTA and its affiliates. CSO members have unique talents that are on display every day. Whether primary contact staff, regional organizers, or department staff our members spend a good portion of their waking hours using their skills to help CTA members be the best they can be while securing fair wages and benefits. Outside of work, many CSO staffers hit just the right note making music with friends and family while reducing stress and staying connected with their communities.
On any given Sunday when CSO president, Chuck King isn’t on CSO or CTA business, you can hear him making joyful noises with his church band where he plays drums and hand percussion. Having taught music throughout his 12-year teaching career, Chuck also proudly exclaims that he learned to play from California public school teachers. A ringing endorsement for the restoration of music programs throughout the State.

CTA organizer and CSO brother, Bobby Yates has played the fiddle for the last 12 years. He and his wife, a guitarist, enjoy taking lessons and playing together. Bobby has also played Irish tenor banjo for 4 years. His daughter, Shawna plays the mandolin and the trio often play traditional and Irish music together.

While a Hawkeye at the University of Iowa, Kim Mina was a saxophone and piano major. She’s played piano for nearly 46 years and the saxophone for almost as long. Kim remembers her mom, a pianist, getting all five of her children started on piano lessons while they were very young. Sister Kim started lessons as a 3rd grader in an Iowa public school. She also sang in the church choir for many years.

Kim taught music in California for 14 years. She taught band and choir at the secondary level and can still hear when notes are wrong or when instruments are out of tune.

San Jose staffer, Brother Bruce Berg doesn’t just play the bass, guitar, keyboards, arrange music, and sing, he co-founded “ShaBoom,” a 50s cover band. He has performed onstage with Chuck Berry, Jan and Dean, The Righteous Brothers and many others. He was even a passing acquaintance of 60s icon, Janis Joplin.
In addition to his work on stage, Bruce was a recording engineer on a few CDs. Bruce says, “I have played or performed since high school. I took lessons and classes in college, but was mostly self-taught.”

CSO brother and CTA staff attorney, Michael Hersh says his first banjo lesson was from a Philadelphia mummer and while he has taken lessons on occasion over the last 45 years, he is largely self-taught. In addition to the banjo, he plays guitar, trumpet and autoharp. His trumpet skills being the most recently acquired over the last five years.

Brother Michael plays Klezmer music with a small group. They’ve performed at the LA Central Public Library, Grand Performances, and a few weddings and bar mitzvahs. Michael says, “In my youth I played old time Southern, blues, Irish, union, country and jug band music. Currently I’m working on jazz to fend off dementia, with mixed results.” Michael sometimes does open mic nights to keep active and from time to time he practices in front of mirrors. He also occasionally makes recordings for sharing on social media. He explains, “I find more pleasure in music than law”.

Elisa finds making music a great stress relief.

Elisa finds making music a great stress relief.

The youngest of four musically-inclined siblings, CTA staffer, Sister Elisa Gusdal took her first piano lesson at age five. “That was the rule in our family, when you are five you can have lessons” Elisa recalls. Her older brothers did not always appreciate their lessons, since lessons meant practice, but she couldn’t wait to learn to play.

Classically trained, Elisa picked up her studies again as an adult to learn music theory; playing by ear; and the creative end of making music. She says, “I was in a band for half a second, but was terribly shy” Nowadays, she prefers banging away on the keyboards with her headphones on and nobody listening, but her. “I could do it for hours”, she exclaims. “It’s great stress relief.”

As Primary Contact Staff working out of the San Bernardino RRC, Elisa’s work is varied and often fast-paced. She thinks there’s a place for creativity—whether musical or creativity in other forms—in advocacy work and the two can be a powerful mix. She is interested in sharing ideas with other CSO members on how to integrate them .

Frank Wells has been a member of “The Vaccines” for over twenty-five years. Our CSO brother and CTA Communications Specialist has played piano, guitar and sang since he was a kid. Frank took a couple of years of piano lessons starting at the age of nine then as a pre-teen, he started teaching himself the guitar. Brother Frank says, “I learned by mimicking acoustic singer songwriters like James Taylor, Paul Simon, Cat Stevens. I don’t really read music well so most of what I do is by ear.”

While students at a Long Beach junior high school, Frank, together with some classmates and friends formed The Vaccines. They were the house band at a bar in Venice for many years, but their drummer moved out of state.

Frank injured his hand and voice a year ago which has interfered with his playing, but he’s looking forward to getting back to making music soon.

Sister Cyndi Menzel picked up the hammered dulcimer mostly on her own. She doodles around on the guitar, mountain dulcimer and piano as well. A communications consultant for CTA, Cyndi took piano lessons and sang in choirs as a kid. Later on she was in a band called, “Driving Keith Crazy.” About that time Cyndi admits, “It was usually me driving the guitar player (Keith) crazy changing keys and tempo.” Since that time, she’s played in a few bands, singing and playing dulcimer. Cyndi says, “I like to get hammered, musically of course.” She enjoys jams with other musicians locally and regionally. She says she may join a band again if she can find the time.

Not too long ago Cyndi played for two ballet dancers from the San Jose Metropolitan Ballet for a concert series downtown. “I’ve never played for dancers before and, after our performance, the audience threw flowers. At first I ducked because I’ve never had anyone throw things at me after a performance! It was a lovely evening and the dancers were amazing.”

If you enjoy musical theater, CSO brother Bruce Saathoff would love for you to come see him in a performance of Anything Goes. The show runs through the end of July and tickets are available at
Bruce’s day job is to serve as staff in the Bakersfield RRC, but after work he sings, acts and directs—even serving as artistic director for the Bakersfield Music Theatre. Bruce got his start with a solo in school. Recalling fondly, Brother Bruce says, “I had my first solo in Kindergarten when my fellow clown freaked out with major stage fright and wouldn’t go on.” A “triple threat,” Bruce also plays a little piano.

Describing his involvement in the arts, Bruce asserts, “I consider my involvement in musical theatre like free therapy. It totally helps me to separate from the stresses and worries of our work.”