My father's family came from Pennsylvania where I was born and spent nearly the first four years of my life. Just before my fourth birthday, we moved to California. It is interesting to have that sharp demarcation of locales when I was so young because it lets me know about how old I was for some of my early memories. Also we moved twice that first year or so which also lets me date certain memories.
I grew up in Arcadia, California, attended Rio Hondo elementary from kindergarten through the eight grade. I went on to Arroyo High School, then Rio Hondo College (no relationship to the elementary school) for two years then transferred to California State University at Los Angeles where I completed my formal education, obtaining a B.S. degree in Chemistry.
I was always somewhat of a science nerd in school but I had a deep love of music in general and singing in particular. When it was time to choose a major, I struggled with the choice of music or chemistry. I chose chemistry for a variety of reasons, not least being that I didn't ever want music to become a job, rather something I did for the joy of it. I haven't regretted my decision.
After college, in the summer of 1973, I attended the Clarion West science fiction writers workshop at the University of Washington in Seattle. This was a six-week summer program that was designed to hone our writing skills. Unfortunately, what was intended as peer criticism devolved into some rather vicious attacks on student's writing and I was turned off to writing for many years. I learned much later that the session I attended had earned a reputation for how badly it turned out.
In the last week of the Clarion workshop, I got a telegram from a company that wanted me to work for them as a quality control chemist, a position I had held part-time while I was a student. I accepted and worked for them for a couple of years until I could no longer put up with the way they treated their employees. After a couple of months of job searching, I landed at Ameron in a newly formed corporate research division. We were tasked with coming up with new products, primarily in the area of high-performance industrial coatings (very expensive paints). It was interesting work and a great group of people to work with. I left in 1980 not because of the job but because I wanted to leave the Los Angeles area. I no longer wanted to put up with chest pain from breathing the smog, stress from hour-long commutes to and from work, and many other problems endemic to large population centers.
In 1980, my wife and I moved to Oregon. For a couple of years I did odd jobs and eventually went to work for Pacific Chemical company in Albany, Oregon doing research on producing pharmaceutical intermediates. I must say that it is a lot more fun working on research for more expensive products because cost does not limit the kinds of chemistry one can do. A regular paint chemist has to keep costs down to about $10 per gallon. The industrial coatings I worked on could be an order of magnitude more expensive at about $100 a gallon. In the pharmaceutical industry, we are talking about dollars per gram, which translates to about thousands of dollars per gallon.
Alas, Pacific chemical was purchased by another company and they closed their Albany operation. I moved from there directly to MS Systems, a large local computer retailer. I started assembling customized PCs and doing technical support and installations. That transitioned to full time technical support and training. When MS Systems closed their doors around 1988, many customers I had been helping called to ask what they were to do. I had been doing some custom software on the side for a few years and decided it was time to hang up my shingle as an independent consultant and programmer. I initially called my company, Yarrow Data Systems. Yarrow is one of my middle names. Yes, I have four names: Albert Peter Yarrow Gysegem.
My interest in singing began in earnest in the eighth grade. I was selected to sing in the district-wide chorus and loved it. I was also part of a small, select group of musicians from our glee club to participate in other extra-curricular music-related events. When the Arroyo high school choir came to our school for a concert, I was hooked. I wanted nothing more than to sing in that group. I learned everything I could about the choir and how to get into it but was terribly disappointed to learn that freshmen were not allowed in the group. I would have to sing in the Men's Glee Club for a year first. A couple of months into my freshman year, the director (K. Gene Simmonds) called me to the front of the room and had me sing some scales and some other things I cannot remember. He then asked if I would like to leave the Glee Club and sing in the choir. I was stunned but didn't hesitate. I just had to switch my P.E. class and I was in!
As the only freshman in the choir, I felt somewhat out of place but I had a friend and neighbor who was there and he helped me get adjusted. I made other friends too and soon felt at home. In my high school, there was a select group of singers from the choir who were also in a group know simply as "Madrigals." This group met early in the morning before classes. Once I felt comfortable in choir, I asked the director whether I could sing in the Madrigals. He didn't say No (he didn't say Yes either but that was of little consequence), so I showed up at the next Madrigal rehearsal. He looked at me a little funny at first but gave me the music I needed and I was in. I guess he respected my initiative. Now I was really in my element. That year, the Madrigal singers joined the choir for the newly formed Rio Hondo College in a concert of Schubert's Mass in G, my first, and hence most beloved major work. I later sang with Mr. Simmonds for a couple of years in the Rio Hondo choir and in the Southern California Youth Chorale (SCYC). He was an outstanding and inspiring choral director and teacher and he had a very large influence on me and my music. In addition to learning music, many class hours with him were spent learning proper breath control and fundamental singing techniques. Simmonds left Arroyo for Rio Hondo college after my sophomore year and director Richard Kelly took over. His style was much different but he also had a lot to teach us and I enjoyed singing with him as well.
I have sung with several choirs, notable among them SCYC, William Hall Chorale, Oh Que Chorale (Tom Schultz director) , Oregon State University Choir (under Ron Jeffers and Peter Jermihov), Merry Olde England, and the Corvallis Repertory Singers (under Steven Zielke). With SCYC, I traveled twice to Japan and to Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Hawaii. With the OSU Choir, I traveled to and sang in several countries in Europe.
On the European tour with the OSU choir, we got to work with four excellent choral directors on the same piece of music: Bach's "Der Geist Hilft unser Schwachheit auf." First was our own conductor, Ron Jeffers. Next was Gil Seeley who was the director at Lewis and Clark college and the Oregon Repertory Singers. In Amsterdam, our choir and the Lewis and Clark choir got together at the Concertgebouw concert hall for a several-hour long workshop on the Bach piece with Eric Ericson, one of the world's foremost choral conductors. Later, in Germany (in Göttingen if my memory is correct), the two choirs again combined for a workshop on the Bach, this time with John Eliott Gardiner. The combined choirs then performed the piece in a church setting there. It was magnificent. I will always be grateful to Ron Jeffers for putting this all together.
For several years, I sang with the Corvallis Repertory Singers. This is a terrific group whose cohort of singers change for every concert program depending on schedules and the appeal of the music to be performed. CRS was formed to function with a minimal rehearsal schedule; we commonly got five rehearsals before a concert though some larger works have needed a couple more. That means sight-reading like crazy and a lot of personal time working on the music.
In 1975, I married Vicki Righettini, also an SCYC alumnus and a soprano to my tenor. We moved to Oregon in 1980 with the idea of building a house in the country. We purchased a five-acre parcel and had made significant progress on the building when we divorced in 1984. Vicki also sang in the OSU choir and we were together for the European tour.
I was single for about eight years but had one serious relationship during that time. Then, in 1991, I married Cuyla Shelton. She came with two children, Kacie and Kyle. The marriage lasted eight years but I am being generous to say that, in many ways it was really over after the first year. During our time together I got very close to Kacie and am sad that we are no longer in contact. I follow her career as much as I can through Google and social media.
Upstairs I have a dance studio. It's 20'x22' and I have mirrors on one wall. I had originally thought to teach my tango classes there but the classes are open to anyone who shows up and I don't want to open my home to just anyone who decides to show up. I have had a couple of questionable folks wander into the classes at ArtCentric.
My back yard garden is primarily a productive one with lots of fruits and vegetables. I have six fruit trees, seven blueberry bushes, cane berries, and strawberries. The vegetables are, of course, perennial and they come and go. It's another work in progress.
The last several years I have done a lot of traveling. You can read about my adventures in the Travel Section on this site. As I write this (April 2007), I have plans for another trip to Thailand this spring and one to Argentina this fall.
A while back, I was in my home office doing some home office stuff and she started walking around me crying and looking like she wanted to jump up so I put a towel on my lap and she popped up within seconds. My lap became her favorite place to be whenever I worked in the office. I loved having her there.
Cherry left this mortal plane a couple of years ago and I miss her terribly. I haven't, and won't get another cat because I plan to do a lot more travelling and perhaps even retire abroad. Extended trips away are too hard on the little creatures we keep around us.