WRITTEN BY LOUISE P. CANEPA
Born and raised in Monterey, I came from fishing families on both sides. My grandfather, Michael Colletto, was a pioneer sardine fisherman in Monterey. His eldest son, Sal Colletto, was the captain of the purse seiner U.S. Liberator. His crew included his brothers, relatives and others.
L-R; Back row: Brother John in U.S. Marine uniform, my mother Mary, my father Teodoro, brother Steve in U.S. Navy uniform. Front row: Brother Leonard; sister Bessie; me, Louise, and brother Frank. Only sibling missing was brother Sal, U.S. Army soldier overseas in the Pacific fighting in WW II. Photo by Phil Coniglio
My maternal grandparents, Michael and Bessie Colletto, were from Sicily and raised a family of 11 children. There were seven children born to my parents, Teodoro and Mary Canepa. My father was born in northern Italy in Riva Trigoso, Genoa. I also would like to pay tribute to my father, Teodoro Canepa, whose fishing vessel was known as Point Sur.
Until I moved away and married in my mid-20s, I didn’t realize how much I missed home. To paraphrase the famous song about another city, I left my heart in Monterey. My early musical training, concentrated on classical piano studies, was with Professor Edward Hopkins, who lived across the street from our house on the corner of Franklin and Clay. I loved my piano studies. When I attended Monterey High School, my dedicated music teacher, Rue Manhire, made sure I became involved in many choral groups, because I had a strong alto voice. At Monterey Peninsula College I studied music under Dr. Harvey Marshall. All of my music teachers had a strong influence on me and played significant roles in shaping my talent and guiding me toward my future in composition, writing and the arts.
As a young girl, I loved classical music and Italian opera. My father often listened to Italian opera at home, and I shared my love of music with my father. Experiencing beautiful music in a warm and loving home environment also helped me toward the development of my own compositions. Growing up in old Monterey inspired me to compose the lyrics and song “Old Monterey” in 1976, which captured the essence of the sights, sounds and feelings of this magnificent town.
Based on the 1920s love story of my parents’ elopement, I wrote my opera, Sicilians of Monterey, which was first performed in Napa in 1994 in concert version. My cousin Kitty Catania Ragsdale organized a chartered bus to take 60 people from Monterey to Napa to attend the performance. In 1995 my opera was performed at the Monterey Conference Center’s Steinbeck Room and in 1996 at the Italian American Heritage Foundation Cultural Center in San Jose, California. The Monterey and San Jose Opera productions were fully staged.
I have composed art songs in Italian, French and German; string and piano pieces; love songs, folk songs and other inspirational compositions. I also penned Over the Bridge, a fun musical based on a slice of life in San Francisco. I compose all of my own original lyrics.
Through my good friend Ken Borelli of the San Jose Italian American Heritage, I had the good fortune to meet the Rimsky-Korsakov String Quartet of St. Petersburg, Russia. On their tours over the last 18 years they have performed my music in the Bay Area and Napa Valley.
I traveled to St. Petersburg in 2005 with Marge Wheeler, an American composer from Shasta, California. We shared collaborative concerts with Russian composers. The concerts took place at the Shermetev Palace as well as other venues and were performed by the talented Rimsky-Korsakov Quartet, musicians and vocalists. I am also a member of the National League of American Pen Women, an organization for published writers, artists and composers, which is headquartered in Washington, DC.
In 1978 a special luncheon event was held by the Monterey Chamber of Commerce which honored my newly composed song and lyrics “Old Monterey”. The song was presented and played for the many guests there and was warmly received. Among the attendees were the mayor of Monterey, Dan Searle; the executive vice president of the Monterey Chamber of Commerce, Randall; the mayor of Carmel; an admiral representing the Naval Postgraduate School, and members of the Monterey Chamber of Commerce and their guests.
In 2008, at the 100th membership anniversary event of the Monterey Chamber of Commerce, “Old Monterey” was again honored and performed. In attendance was the mayor of Monterey, Chuck Della Sala; the CEO of the Monterey Chamber of Commerce, Astrid Coleman; Chamber of Commerce members; local business owners and guests.
I have had other concerts and recitals performed at various venues throughout the Bay Area. At Grace Cathedral of San Francisco, the Rimsky-Korsakov Quartet performed my compositions, and The Angelo Piano Duo joined the Quartet in playing one of my compositions. Additional concerts in San Francisco took place at Lone Mountain Theatre; and an ensemble of dance, guitar and vocals and a vocal and piano recital were at Sonic Arts Recording Studio. Concerts were performed at Jarvis Conservatory of Napa and Lincoln Theatre of Yountville by a string quartet, ballet, vocals and string orchestra. Additional concerts and recitals took place in Monterey, Carmel, Salinas, Santa Cruz and throughout the Bay Area at various venues, including private homes and churches.
I have had four CDs recorded with my original compositions and lyrics--“Old Monterey”; “Napa Valley Moonlight Serenade”; “Romanza of Napa Valley”,
and “Napa Valley Serenity”. “Old Monterey” was recorded in the Bay Area, and my other three CDs were recorded in St. Petersburg, Russia.
While residing in San Francisco, I had the honor of meeting one of the greatest tenors of all times, Luciano Pavarotti. My manager, Mr. Fred Watts, introduced me as a composer, and much to my surprise, Pavarotti bowed to me! Pavarotti told me to send my compositions to him in New York. So, the Italian girl--me, from my wonderful Monterey fishing family--received a glorious moment of musical recognition.
The Wop Lady
I always look back with love and memories of my hometown. These cherished thoughts are engraved in my heart. I have been inspired to write short stories about growing up in Monterey and being a part of my loving family. Here is one of my stories from my childhood titled, “The Wop Lady”. But first, an explanation:
By some accounts, the letters WOP, when applied to a person of Italian ethnicity, meant With Out Papers--meaning not being a legal immigrant or citizen of the United States. Many years ago, to legally enter thru Ellis Island as an immigrant, one had to have proof of having secured a sponsor before arriving and pass a health inspection. Many who did not meet these criteria were designated WOP or denied entry and deported back to the home country. WOP was considered a derogatory and demeaning term and unfortunately, sometimes was used against any Italian, regardless if the person was an immigrant or not.
When I was about seven or eight years old, I happened to be looking out our large dining room window as the couple who lived across the street was getting out of a cab. The wife was wobbly and quite inebriated, but her husband was more in control of himself. As she was getting out of the cab, she put up her clenched fist and, looking across the street and seeing Mama standing in the window at the kitchen sink, yelled, “You damn Wops don’t belong here!” I rushed into the kitchen, telling Mama what the lady had shouted at us, and Mama replied very matter-of-factly, “It’s okay, I heard her. Some people think we’re strange because they don’t know us, and we’re the first Italian family living up on this hill.”
We lived in a nice corner two-story, five-bedroom house at 898 Franklin Street at Clay and were a large, happy family of seven children—five boys and two girls. The couple across the street had a very small two-bedroom cottage. Several months later as Mama was busy in the next room, I saw the “Wop Lady,” as I called her, rushing across the street and heading to our house, coming directly to our back door. “Mama!” I yelled. “The lady who called you a Wop is coming to our back door!” Mama looked quite startled but hearing the rapid, frantic banging on the door, she quickly opened it. The Wop Lady stammered nervously, asking Mama in staccato bursts, “Oh, would you please let me use your telephone? We don’t have one, and my husband is very ill. I need to call our doctor!” Mama ushered her into the living room where we had our telephone, and the lady quickly put a call through to her doctor, who agreed to come immediately. The Wop Lady was very small and petite, just a wisp of a person. She was wearing stylish shoes and a smart-looking blue dress. The Wop Lady introduced herself as Laura Inman but articulated her words slowly and carefully to Mama, as if she thought Mama didn’t speak English. Mama was born in Monterey to Italian immigrant parents and quickly put our neighbor at ease, speaking in perfect English. She told Mrs. Inman she would go back across the street and stay with her until the doctor arrived. Our neighbor seemed very grateful and relieved that Mama made this offer. Mama stayed quite a while; she came home just when Papa finished his afternoon nap. (He’d been out fishing since 5 a.m. before he came home.) We were all anxious to know more about what had happened across the street. Mama told us the husband, whose name was Lawrence, evidently had double pneumonia, and he was rushed to the hospital. Well, Mama, being Mama, saw to it for all that week that the lady had dinners of delicious home-cooked Italian food, and they developed a warm relationship after that. So began our family’s lifelong friendship with the Inmans across the street.
As her relationship with Mrs. Inman deepened, Mama learned that the couple had been in vaudeville some years back when they were quite young and that their stage names were Maudie and Toddy. Maudie--or Laura--was born and raised in San Francisco; had been married at a very young age to a successful businessman; had two daughters; was educated in Catholic schools, and played the piano quite well. She’d found her domineering, rigid husband more than she could take, and with her talent for the piano and performing onstage, she believed she could take her two young girls, get a divorce and make it on her own. Well, that didn’t fly with her husband. Wielding his power and money, he obtained full custody of their young girls. It was a devastating blow for her, but she followed her dream to be on the stage and joined a vaudeville company. Lawrence, also drawn to vaudeville, was being financially backed by his family to complete his college education and attend medical school, but love got in the way of those plans. Lawrence and Laura wanted to get married; but his family said if he married a divorced woman, they’d not pay for his medical education and would cut him off from all financial support. The two married anyway and moved to Monterey; with his education Lawrence was able to find work as a pharmacist at the Owl Drug Store.
Over the years our friendship grew, and the Inmans always came to our family Christmas parties. We had wonderful holiday dinners and parties with much music-- Papa singing and playing his guitar and Uncle Vince and others also happily singing songs--and the Inmans often performed a rendition of one of their acts for us as Toddy and Maudie. One song Toddy sang that I always liked was “The Bear Went Over the Mountain.” Maudie played our piano, and Toddy did a nice tap dance routine and sang a few songs.
We younger kids--Len, Bess, and I--would often go across the street in the early evenings and sit on the floor in the Inmans’ living room while they sat across from each other very close in comfortable stuffed chairs and listened to Fiber McGee and Molly on the radio. Maudie played solitaire on her lap, while a small fire glowed in the fireplace between them. It was cozy. I sat by Toddy’s side on the floor; he was a gentle, kindly man, who was attentive to us children. I would sometimes ask if I could touch the beautiful diamond ring on his finger, and he always smiled and said yes. Sometimes out of the blue Maudie would lovingly look over at Toddy and say, as he was smoking a small thin cigar, “I love you, dawlin’,” and he’d smile back and say the same. They said this to each other every night.
Maudie had another side to her, though. One night, standing slightly behind her, I mentioned something to her about farms in California. Quickly, she snapped back at me, “We don’t have farms in California, only ranches!” And then, again sharply, she said, “And stand in front of me when you speak!” That was Maudie, the feisty, contentious Wop Lady! Toddy’s kind and gentle manner was more the opposite of her personality. For example, he knew I loved music and that in grade school I was learning to play the saxophone. Since they were retired from vaudeville, he gave his saxophone to me. I was thrilled by his generosity. As a kid growing up in the Canepa family, where our treatment of others was so different from Laura Inman’s, I often wondered what Toddy saw in Maudie, but they loved each other to the very end.
To access Louise Canepa’s compositions on YouTube, videos and CDs, click on the links below.
“Old Monterey” Song with lyrics by Louise Canepa, Composer, Video Editing by George Gardner (with historic photos)
“Old Monterey” by Louise Canepa, Composer, narrated by Ken Borelli with complete lyrics, strings & piano. Video with photos.
Louise Canepa CD Youtube links:
“Sicilians of Monterey” Stage performance (Opera) Italian American Heritage Foundation Cultural Center in San Jose, California: