Tomoko likes to drive, and as she drives to the Conservatory, it is like driving through her own local history.
She starts from her woodsy neighborhood in Terra Linda, a comfortable suburb in Marin County. The weekends are her busy teaching days, which is a benefit since the weekday traffic going towards The City can be daunting.
Driving south on Highway 101, Tomoko quickly enters the city limits of San Rafael, the largest town in the county. Were she to go right se would eventually pass near the Branson School, where her daughter graduated, and then onto San Anselmo up Butterfield Road to San Domenico School, nestled in a hilly cul-de-sac. Thereshe taught piano for over ten years.
The next towns south are Corte Mader, Greenbrae and Larkspur. Just to the right of the freeway is Gold’s Gym, which used to be a skating rink – where Tomoko took her daughter for her first skating lessons.
Then Tomoko crosses the Golden Gate Bridge. Were she to turn right, she would head to the Richmond District where she lived when she first came to the States. Were she to continue straight onto 19th Avenue, she would arrive at the old site of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. She started her studies there in 1962, and began teaching for the Conservatory three years later. Tomoko recalls the Mission-style building, and can almost hear the blend of instruments wafting through the halls.
Instead, Tomoko turns left, and drives down Van Ness to San Francisco’s cultural center with its museums, main library, and concert venues. The Conservatory moved to that part of town, partly because it had outgrown its old facility but also to be closer to the musical heart of the city. The Conservatory is now close to the San Francisco Symphony. Tomoko remembers when she entered the symphony’s music competition at a student, getting to the building by bus in the rain. Despite the physical discomfort, she won the piano performance award, and was invited to perform with the symphony.
Tomoko drives to the parking lot across the street from the Conservatory, and thinks about continuing to drive. To the east is the way to Berkeley, where her daughter trained for the Olympics. To the south is the South Bay peninsula, where she has performed in several locations. And, of course, SFO is off the freeway: the portal where Tomoko arrived from Japan, and from where she has traveled, particularly to Europe.
Each day’s drive is a little memory, which brings a smile to Tomoko’s face.