Building and maintaining momentum can be a challenge for musicians everywhere, especially avant-garde artists whose uncompromising work isn’t aimed at mainstream audiences.
But being new parents during a global pandemic proved even more daunting for trumpet innovator and UC San Diego associate professor of music Stephanie Richards and her husband, UCSD drummer and audio engineer Andrew Muncy.
“The biggest thing I felt was that that creative impulse was lost. I still feel it – it’s hard to get my head around it,” Richards said. She learned she was pregnant with the couple’s second child shortly before classes resumed at UCSD early last year.
“There’s been a big re-evaluation of priorities for us,” she continued. “And when you throw two young children into the mix, it puts us in really new territory trying to figure out how to survive in this new time.”
“Parenting alone is very difficult, of course, and so is trying to have a creative practice,” he said. “Many times they are completely incompatible. The learning process for us continues, in terms of figuring out where you can play (music) and how far you can expand in your profession.”
“Time,” Richards added, “is something we’re valuing in a new way. Having a chance to put on a show is something I no longer take for granted, for either of us.”
Muncie, a native of Orange County, and Richards, who is from Canada, are in their 30s. Between them, they’ve collaborated with everyone from Anthony Braxton and Kanye West to Lei Liang and San Diego’s Mark Dresser. The pair often worked together, on stage and on recordings, before the pandemic.
The couple’s daughter is 3 years old and their son is only 8 months old. Both speak with palpable delight about their children and laughed in unison when recalling putting together their daughter’s first music playlist.
“We kept adding songs that we liked and that we thought would be popular, and it grew to between 200 and 300 songs!” Muncy said. “As she got older, we listened to the playlist less and less because she’s picky and can ask for what she wants to hear.”
“Now,” said Richards, “we can repeat it with our son and play him whatever he likes and he’s hearing it for the first time. We try to play them music from as many genres as possible, including orchestral, jazz, bossa nova, Joni Mitchell and lots of dance music. Playing Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue really has a calming effect.”
Muncy and Richards laughed again when asked if they had any family favorites.
“Our daughter really likes Tom Petty’s (song) ‘You’re So Bad,'” Muncy said. “She wants this on repeat for an hour!”
Since becoming parents, Richards and Muncie have selectively pursued their music—but only if it’s not at the expense of their parenting. Their devotion has impressed their friends and colleagues.
“They’re an amazing couple,” said UCSD music professor Roger Reynolds, who was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters on Feb. 21.
“Steph and Andrew have remarkable resilience and have a wonderful relationship as people and parents,” said Grammy-winning singer and fellow UCSD music professor Susan Narucki. “I always see them so full of energy and cheerful. I don’t know how they do it!’
And how do keep your spirits up?
“Like there’s a bottle of fine wine in the house,” quipped Richards, whose twice-postponed 2020 European concert tour with her quartet finally took place last October. Muncy, her longtime drummer, stayed home with the kids so his wife could perform overseas.
“Some nights I’d come off the stage and I really wanted to scream,” she recalls. “I really felt the emotional cost of leaving my family and Andrew here in San Diego to care for my toddler and newborn.”
That equation was turned on its head when Muncie flew to New York for a recent concert that was also postponed by the pandemic. Then again, as is the case with so many others, spinning during the pandemic has become a way of life for this musical couple.
Their 2020 and 2021 US concert dates and foreign tours have been postponed or canceled altogether, while some of their recording sessions have been postponed. Richards began teaching online after the UCSD campus closed, while Muncy spent six months doing all of his post-production audio work from a studio in the family’s converted garage.
“The first class I taught after we got back to campus was called ‘Space is the Place,'” Richards said. “It was all about how space affects us, how we crave togetherness, and what that means musically. I believe there is so much that can be learned through physical vibration in the same space.’
While the pandemic has slowed their artistic careers, it has also provided the pair with a sharper focus and sense of purpose.
“With such limited time, we both feel freed to write and play what we really want,” Munsey said.
“You have to lean into the beauty,” Richards concluded.
When: 19:00 May 25
Where: Conrad Prebys Music Center Experimental Theatre, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla
Tickets: $15, total; $10, UCSD faculty, staff and alumni; free for UCSD students