Photos by Alicia Cory from Shotcha Photography.
My right arm was draped over my solitary crutch as I waited in line to place my order. Latté. Two shots. Half-caf. I sensed that someone had come in line behind me, so I twisted myself around to look over my right shoulder. I was pretty sure it was her, but I’d only ever seen her in a picture wearing a sousaphone on a bicycle, so, yeah, I wasn’t quite sure.
“Becca?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said with a hesitant half smile.
“Awesome,” I smiled back. “I’m Sarah. Glad to finally meet you,” I said as I turned to pay for my drink. “I’m just gonna grab a table.” I hobbled with my crutch to a table by the front window. I’d had hip surgery nearly five weeks prior and was emotionally ready to be crutch free.
Becca joined me after ordering and our conversation was underway. Before we got too far, the barista called out order and Becca kindly grabbed mine as well as her own. She was drinking black coffee – maybe an Americano. The barista had done a bang up job on my latté art.
“So, why biking?” I asked referencing the photo I’d seen of Becca.
When Becca lived in Winona, MN, she’d been a part of a home brew club. After moving to Rochester, she joined a group here. It wasn’t so much for the brewing as it was for the community.
“I liked the culture of it,” she said. “It was super fun.”
But, the brew club in Rochester took a different turn.
“We’d be having a couple of drinks and, you know, get to talking and these people, middle age guys, would just totally emotionally unload on me. This person would tell me all about his divorce, or that person his loveless marriage, or how this other guy had lost his job. They weren't doing it to anybody else, so I felt, like, as the only female they were just emotionally unloading on me.
“We were at one home brew meeting and I was so excited because I’d just gotten a dog and I was showing this person a picture of my dog and he told me, ‘Oh, that’s awesome. We just had to put our dog down,’” she said with a pout face. “I sort of went off on this guy and was like ‘Stop it! There has to be a group where there are women who are fun and where I’m not going to be dumped on emotionally!’
Well, this guy, who’s now a friend of hers, suggested she check out this bike group that meets on Tuesday nights at Brother’s Bar and Grill.
So, she did.
“Were you a biker before that?” I asked.
“No, no, no! I had a Craigslist bike that I bought for $30. So, I go to Brother’s and we met at, like, 8pm and I get there and there are no females. It’s just me and a bunch of middle-aged dudes.”
“So, the brew club all over again?”
“Yeah, I'm waiting for it, you know, the emotional unloading, but everyone was so nice and no one was crabbing out about their lives and so we rode. We started at Brothers and I’m on my Craigslist mountain bike. I'd never replaced the chain. I had never replaced the tires. I was just like this is my bike. And I remember distinctly this one person comes in and is like ‘Who's got the Huffy outside?’ I'm like ‘That's not a huffy.’
I laughed at that because I rode a red huffy bike when I was a kid.
Becca continued, “So, we didn’t leave the bar until 9 o’clock and my lights were terrible, but I was so impressed with myself for keeping up. We found ourselves way out by Shar’s Country Palace. We get there and stayed until well after midnight. I didn’t get home until almost 2 o’clock in the morning, but it was so fun.
“I later found out that I only kept up because they were afraid they were going to loose me because my lights were so crappy.”
“Were there eventually other women?”
“Yeah, about four times in some women were there. It was the first time that I really felt like I found a community in Rochester that wasn't just my music people. I biked with them that entire year and then the next July I went to hang out and no one was around. I was like ‘what the heck happened?’ They come back the next week and they told me they’d gone to RAGRABI. I told them ‘I want to go! And, what’s that!?!?’”
For those unfamiliar, RAGBRAI stands for the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.
“When was your first?” I made the assumption that she had, in fact, done RAGBRAI.
“Two years ago - 2017,” she said.
She went that first year as a support person for a team of about 25 people. She was their driver since she had a CDL.
“So, the team had me drive a truck with a trailer,” she explained, “but I’d never driven a trailer let alone backed one up. I didn’t know about the trailer until a few days before we were supposed to leave and I didn’t want to let the team down, so I didn’t say anything.
“I got away with it for several days without anyone realizing I didn't know how to drive a trailer but on the third night I had to back the trailer up a steep driveway.”
“I looked at the other support person with me who was in charge of the food and I told her I didn’t know what I was doing. She said she didn’t know how to back a trailer either, so we went up and down this cul-de-sac until we found another team’s driver and we convinced him he needed to help us. So, he did.
“I was really embarrassed when I got inside our host family’s house, but then I heard yelling come from outside. Apparently, you're supposed to chock the wheels, you know, put something behind the wheels to keep them from rolling. Well, when I got outside the other support person, the cook, was like holding back the truck and trailer like she was The Incredible Hulk.”
“Then, we’re both screaming and here comes the driver who had backed up the trailer and he's pushing it back up the hill for us. All I could think was that the team was going to send me home. I felt so bad. But, they didn’t send me home and as the week progressed we had some more misadventures.
“I was a terrible support person. I was supposed to be supporting people and...”
“And, you ended up needing a lot of support,” I interrupted with a laugh.
Becca rode the next year instead of driving. And, this time her band met her at various stops and they played for the RAGBRAI crowd.
Because as she said, “We like bikes. We like nonsense. We like our band. Let’s put it all together.”
FROM REED TO MOUTHPIECE
Because no child starts in the band by playing tuba, I asked Becca what was her first instrument. Turns out it was clarinet, though not necessarily by choice.
“My mom was really musical, and had a beautiful singing voice, but we didn't have a lot of money. She was really proud so didn’t take help from anyone including our dad after they got divorced. She even got mad at a local church when they came with a Thanksgiving dinner for us,” Becca said laughing.
“But, she always thought music was important so when my older sister got to fifth grade she got a clarinet because it was the cheapest instrument.”
So, Becca inherited the clarinet from her sister. When she was 14 years old, a high school senior asked Becca if she wanted to play tuba in the marching band.
“I was like ‘a senior is talking me’, so I looked at the tuba section and appreciated the low drama and one of the Junior boy’s was very fine, so I joined the tuba section, but only for marching band.”
TEACHING: WHAT LED TO
“I was a under the radar a kid,” Becca said when I asked about school. “I was a good student, but I wasn't passionate about anything but music and when it was time to go to college, I thought back on how hard middle school was for both my sister and I. And, I kept thinking there's got to be someone who can make it better or at least less crappy. So, I knew I wanted to teach and the most influential people in my life had been my music teachers so I went to college for music ed.
“College, where did you go?” I asked.
“Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana.”
“How did you land in Rochester, then?”
“Okay, so I graduated with a degree in music education and I got a job as a general music teacher in Indiana teaching sixth through eighth grade.”
It takes a special person to enjoy middle schoolers, amirite?
“I feel as though I've broken it down,” Becca said. “There's this part of sixth grade where they're so excited and weird and then in seventh grade they start getting a little cool and at the end of seventh grade that's when the super attitude comes out. Then, you just have to guide them through seventh grade to eighth grade and by the end of eighth grader they are, like, a person and it's cool and I like working with that.”
Unfortunately, that first job quickly fizzled out as Indiana faced a host of issues. The housing bubble had burst, the economy had bottomed out, and school funding was based on performance rather than need. All that combined forced cuts to programming and jobs for music teachers were few and far between.
SUMMER CAMP (NOT BAND CAMP)
“So, I went back to the summer camp I had worked at in Nashville, Indiana. It was a Catholic camp.”
“Were you raised Catholic?”
Turns out, Becca had attended, on scholarship, a Catholic high school in Dayton, Ohio; though, her family was not, in fact, Catholic.
“Are you a part of any faith community now?” I asked since I’m always curious about a person’s spiritual journey.
“No. Though I'm not anti-religion,” she was quick to add. “I just don’t believe. I explain it this way: What if someone said to you, ‘Look at that beautiful purple butterfly,’” she pointed to a purple origami butterfly in the window behind me, “I would be the person who's like, ‘what are you talking about? There's no butterfly.’ I’ve tried to see that butterfly and the color. I just don’t see it. I tried to push myself when I went to a Catholic school. I wanted to believe so badly. I wish I did.”
She turned back to her story. “I had worked at the camp for six or seven summers, so when I couldn’t find a job I went to work at the camp. I loved it. I did all sorts of things.”
But work at camps doesn’t generally pay too well, so she started looking at how she could live in an intentional community while making a living.
“I started looking at boarding schools - both religious and non-religious – and had a phone interview with Cotter High School in Winona, MN.”
She was hired as the assistant dorm director, but also picked up teaching band two or three days a week.
THIS IS AN ADVENTURE
“I remember driving to Minnesota. I’d never seen bluffs or the Mississippi River and as I’m driving over the bridge from Wisconsin it was absolutely gorgeous. I just had such an emotional reaction to it like ‘this is an adventure’.”
It was clear Becca fell head over heals with Minnesota (and who can blame her). I asked what were her top 3 favorite things about Minnesota.
The changing seasons. Even coming from Ohio and Indiana, Becca expressed just how strikingly beautiful is one season to the next.
Minnesota has a wide array of topography. Just think how different are the landscapes of Duluth, Rochester, Winona, the Prairies, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Windom, and the Boundary Waters.
And, Becca feels a cultural connection to this state. Here mom would sing “Red River Velly.” On of her favorite poems is Longfellow’s “Songs of Hiawatha.” Antonin Dvorak was one of her favorite composers. Side note: Dvorak credits “Songs of Hiawatha” as part of the influence for his New World Symphony.
These places and works of art came alive for Becca here in Minnesota and as much as she loved Minnesota, it was becoming increasingly difficult to teach at a boarding school while also living at a boarding school. You know, because it’s 300 kids all the time. 24/7.
“So, I started interviewing all around the state.”
The school district in Eveleth, MN was next. Of particular note during this time was her online ad for a roommate in Duluth that read “I could live in my Saturn or I could be your roommate.”
It worked and she found a roommate, but the distance between her and her boyfriend proved to be too great, so she found herself with a job teaching band in Stewartville, MN.
LIFE IN ROCHESTER
Rochester was tough, at first, for Becca. “I’d never been without a community and I got to Rochester and I did not find it right away. I felt really isolated. I had friends, but I wasn't getting that extended family type of feeling.
“I joined the community band and met John Sievers (Rochester trombone and social aficionado) and he's like ‘you should come play with me.’ He was super encouraging, but it was harder to build community here than anywhere else.”
“What happened with your boyfriend?” I asked cautiously.
“We broke up. We were together for five years.”
I could see the sadness spread across her face.
“He’s an awesome person, but it just became one of those things like I love you, but I just don’t want to be with you anymore.” Her eyes filled with tears. “It was hard.”
“It seems like it’s still hard,” I said. “How long ago was the breakup?”
“Two summers ago.”
“Oh, wow. That must have been very painful if you're still feeling it.”
“Yeah. Most days are much better,” she said wiping the tears from the corners of her eyes as she jumped back into her story. “I needed something and some friends said they wanted to put this band together. We needed a trombone player and I knew John, so I invited him to play. Our first rehearsal was September 10, 2017.
They call themselves the Loud Mouth Brass Band.
“We had our second rehearsal and John said he’d booked a gig at a local music studio. Then, he got a second show and that went a bit better. And then our third gig was opening for Har Mar Superstar. Our fourth gig was opening for Cloud Cult.”
That seems like a pretty good start.
LET’S PUT IT ALL TOGETHER
When I asked Becca what the most important thing in her life is, I realized it was a silly question. I mean it’s fairly clear that being part of a community, and not just being in the same room with someone, but sharing life together, is the pulse that keeps her heart beating.
“I wouldn’t be so into biking if it wasn’t for the community. I wouldn’t have joined a gym in order to do the biking if it wasn’t for the community. I’ve played in bands for a long time. I’ve played an instrument from 5th grade to today and the longest I’ve gone without playing an instrument is 2 months, but if it wasn’t for the community I wouldn’t keep getting more and more involved in it - in music. That community of Loud Mouth keeps pushing me.
“The thing that sparks joy is being a part of a community. You can be down, but having someone to be like, hey, let's go grab a beer and being a part of a community is huge.”
Community is out there, folks. If you want it come and get it!
I spent over two hours sipping coffee and conversing with Becca. In fact, I got so lost in conversation that I forgot I had to bring my son to a birthday party. Thankfully, my husband was able to take him. But, again, that’s community at it’s best. We can’t do this thing alone, can we?