creative:impact - Time flies when you are singing songs!
Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy. In the weeks and months to come, host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, explores the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.
Gemini writes and plays acoustic music for children and families, celebrating the fun, warmth, and humor of family life. Their recordings and concerts are filled with rousing sing-alongs, folk tales, and music from around the world.
ABOUT SAN & LAZ
Born in Budapest, Hungary in 1949, the twin brothers emigrated with their parents after the 1956 Revolution and lived in Israel for three years before moving to the United States. Living in several countries as they were growing up gave San and Laz a chance to see and appreciate many different ways of life, as well as exposing them to the music and instruments of various cultures. They grew up hearing a rich variety of music at home. Their father, a fine singer and a Cantor in the synagogue, taught them everything from religious music and Italian opera, to Hungarian and Yiddish folk songs. Their mother, though not a musician, nevertheless had a powerful impact on their choice of careers. "The music comes from our father," the brothers say, "but whatever it takes to get up in front of an audience and put a song across, that comes from our mother's spirit."
At age seven, Laz began studying violin and San piano, but by then they'd been singing in public for almost three years. However, it wasn't until after they graduated from college (The University of Rochester in NY – San with a BA in History, Laz with a BA in English) that their lifelong interest in music became focused on a career in performing and song-writing.
Over the years, the brothers have learned more instruments. Laz, in addition to the violin, began playing guitar, slide guitar, and pennywhistle in the 70's and has since added other folk flutes, mandolin, and harmonica. San also plays guitar and a variety of unusual hand-percussion, including the bodhran and the bones. In 1976, he met internationally recognized percussion virtuoso, Percy "Bones" Danforth (at the time 76 years old) and became his prime protege.
Both San and Laz are married and attribute a great deal of the success and satisfaction they've enjoyed in their work to the support of their wives. Both women occasionally perform and record with their husbands on vocals, flute and autoharp. In addition, Brenda, a graphic artist, has designed the covers for many of Gemini's recordings. The Gemini family expanded delightfully when Daniel was born to Helen and Laz (September 1992) and Emily Rose to Brenda and San (May 1994).
Deb Polich: Welcome to creative:impact on 89 one WEMU. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your creative:impact host. Thanks for tuning in on Tuesdays for this exclusive WEMU segment that explores the impact our local artists, creative workers and businesses have here in Washtenaw and far beyond. Sometimes, that impact is immediate. And, sometimes, like in the case of our guests, it crosses multiple generations. Gemini, the music duo embodied by San and Laz Slomovits, has been entertaining and inspiring children and families for 50 years. They are celebrating their milestone with a number of performance and concerts. It's my pleasure to welcome the two of them, San and Laz, to WEMU studio.
San Slomovits: Hey, Deb.
Laz Slomovits: Good morning.
Deb Polich: Okay, so I love that the two of you are here, and whenever we have two guests on at the same time, especially if they're of the same sex, I have each of them say hello, so we can start our audience differentiating the voices. So, San, say hello.
San Slomovits: It's not going to work all that well. Our voices are too similar. This is San.
Laz Slomovits: And this is Laz.
Deb Polich: Okay, So, I have to be challenged to introduce you each time I ask a question. So, we're going to do that. And so, speaking of saying hello, when I showed Mat Hopson, our producer, as we were preparing for the show, your CD--he looked for a second and then he said, "Oh my gosh!" I'm back in second grade. I saw these two perform when I was a child. And I love them!"
San Slomovits: Yes.
Deb Polich: And you can see Mat smiling back there behind the glass. So, I can only imagine that you hear from people all the time who've seen your shows when they were young or, you know, as parents with their kids. What's it like for you, Laz?
Laz Slomovits: It's wonderful because we've been doing this....this is our 50th year. And so, we are regularly being introduced to the grandkids of people who heard us when they were young. So, it's a delight.
Deb Polich: And any special fan moments for you, San?
San Slomovits: Oh, let's see. Last week, we were playing at a school in Cedar Rapids, Michigan, and the music teacher who introduced us told her second graders that she heard us when she was in kindergarten.
Deb Polich: And then, she was bringing you back to play for her students. How great is that? Generations, as I said. So, yours is an immigrant story. Your parents left Hungary. You guys went through Israel, and then you landed here in America. Was music all part of your life, or was that something you discovered when you were a little bit older?
San Slomovits: No, we discovered that, I think, at about age point one. Dad was a wonderful singer. He was a cantor. He sang in the synagogue. And so, we grew up around him hearing his magnificent voice from a very early age.
Laz Slomovits: It was a two-boy choir.
Deb Polich: A two-boy choir? You're saying you're his backup singers?
San Slomovits: Exactly.
Laz Slomovits: That's right.
Deb Polich: I love it. How about your mom? Was she into music?
Laz Slomovits: Not at all.
San Slomovits: No, no. Wait, wait. She was into music very much, but she could not keep a tune to save her life.
Laz Slomovits: It's wonderful, because her father was a wonderful pianist, so she was brought up in a very musical family. And she passed that onto us genetically, but she was tone deaf. And so, the actual music. We got that directly from our dad.
Deb Polich: Oh, that's amazing. And speaking of your dad and your mom, when you decided to pursue music as a field, as your work, were they enthused about that?
San Slomovits: 50/50. You want to guess which one was enthusiastic and which one wasn't?
Deb Polich: Gosh, I mean, I would say probably the musician.
San Slomovits: Absolutely not. Oh, no. Dad wanted Laz to be a doctor and me to be an engineer. And as we often say, the world is much better off that we're not doctors and lawyers and engineers.
Laz Slomovits: So, that's what we went to college to study. And I remember one of San's roommates saying, "The only time I see you happy is when you're singing," which was a little bit of a clue as to what we should be doing instead of what we were sent to college to do.
Deb Polich: Did that sit with you, that fact that that's true, that when you're singing, you're happy and you went, "Oh my gosh, he's right."
Laz Slomovits: Yup. That's basically when we got out of college, we said, "Let's do this!" And it took us quite a while to get to where we could start paying our bills with that and also to find that we were doing children's music, and we didn't start out that way. But the singing was always the key.
Deb Polich: So, you decided to do it. What was your first gig?
San Slomovits: In Ann Arbor. We moved to in Arbor in the summer of 1973, and we played at the art fair, where you could walk up to the stage and....who was it who was in charge of the stage?
Laz Slomovits: Lois Lintner.
San Slomovits: Lois Lintner was in charge of the stage. She stood there by the side with a clipboard. And there were plenty of open spots in those days. And we walked up to him and said, "Can we?"
Deb Polich: It was almost like open mic.
San Slomovits: Pretty much.
Deb Polich: Right. Right.
Laz Slomovits: And we said, "Can we play?" And she said, "Sure." And after, we said, "Can we come back tomorrow and do it again?"
Deb Polich: So, every night for that entire summer festival, you guys are on stage. I get it. This is 89 one WEMU, and creative:impact continues. I'm Deb Polich, and my guests are San and Laz Slomovits, best known as the musical duo Gemini, who are marking 50 years performing for family and children. And speaking of family and children, when did that become your thing?
San Slomovits: In the late seventies. So, we started in '73. But somewhere in the late seventies, teachers who would come to our regular shows started inviting us to come into the schools.
Deb Polich: So, you weren't really doing music for kids only at that time. You were doing what kind of music?
San Slomovits: We were doing folk music.
Deb Polich: Okay.
San Slomovits: We were doing everything from covers of Dylan, Tom Paxton, and so on, and music from around the world. And then, I remember I wrote my very first children's song in 1981.
Deb Polich: And what was it?
San Slomovits: It was called "Lunch." We still sing it. And, in fact, I think someone told me after she heard that song, it was a song about a harried dad making lunch for his kids. And it was just a mess in the kitchen and so on.
Deb Polich: Some things stay the same.
San Slomovits: Exactly. And she said to me, "You're ready." And I said, "For what?" She said, "To be a dad." But, she was off by about 12 years. But anyway....
Deb Polich: Well, and speaking of that, first of all, I want to go back for a second. You mentioned Dylan and others. Was folk music your influence in general, or did you have other besides your dad and the cantering, were there other influences in your life, Laz?
Laz Slomovits: We were going to become rock and roll stars.
Deb Polich: Oh.
San Slomovits: And before that we were going to be opera stars.
Deb Polich: Okay. Right. Right. How's that going for you?
Laz Slomovits: Well, we're playing folk music.
Deb Polich: That's awesome. So, here you are, 50 years later with lots of awards and acclamations, did you ever, though, you know, within those 50 years, ever consider walking away, Laz?
Laz Slomovits: No.
Deb Polich: No.
Laz Slomovits: No, not to this day. I can't think of anything else that I would want to do or be qualified to do, for that matter.
Deb Polich: And your smiles are still there every time you're on stage. Does it ever become a drudgery?
Laz Slomovits: No.
Deb Polich: Wow. That's awesome. And I understand that you're moved into your own second generation of performers.
San Slomovits: Absolutely. My daughter has been playing with us since she was eight years old.
Deb Polich: And what's her name?
San Slomovits: Emily.
Deb Polich: Emily.
San Slomovits: Emily Rose started playing with us when she was eight years old, and she's turned into just a wonderful musician. Much better than I am. And I'm not exaggerating there. And so, the beat goes on.
Deb Polich: And what response did you have when she said she wanted to go into music?
San Slomovits: Yaaaay!
Deb Polich: Unlike your dad. So, you got a lot of things coming up for this 50th anniversary. Tell us a few of them.
Laz Slomovits: Well, one of the highlights is we're going to be playing a concert with the Ypsilanti Symphony on Memorial Day weekend, May 27th at Riverside Park.
Deb Polich: Nice.
Laz Slomovits: We've played with them three or four times before, and it's always a delight.
Deb Polich: So, before you go on to the next one, it's not too often that people think of folk singers or kids' singers playing with symphonies. How did that happen?
San Slomovits: We started doing that back in 2000 and have played with a whole bunch of different symphonies over the years.
Deb Polich: They play your music?
San Slomovits: Yes.
Deb Polich: Okay.
Laz Slomovits: Yeah. And we're not.
Deb Polich: You're not trying to sing to, you know, Mozart or something?
San Slomovits: No. I would like to try, but no. We had our music orchestrated, and we've had some wonderful compliments about it. The biggest one being, "Wow! The orchestra actually has something interesting to play. Normally, when we backup singers, we all we do is play footballs," meaning that they're playing long held notes. And so, we're very happy with the orchestrations are pleasing.
Deb Polich: That is a compliment. So, we've got the the Ypsilanti Symphony Orchestra event and what else? Anything else local?
Laz Slomovits: Yes, in the Top of the Park on June 25th, which is a Sunday evening at 6:00, I believe. We're playing Top of the Park and the children's series.
Deb Polich: A poetic return to the beginning.
Laz Slomovits: Yeah.
San Slomovits: Absolutely.
Deb Polich: That's awesome.
San Slomovits: And we'll be at The Ark again in the fall, so that's great.
Deb Polich: Well, I want to say congratulations on 50 years. What a career! And, you know, thanks for joining us on creative:impact. And thanks for inspiring all these people all of these years. It's awesome.
San Slomovits: It's truly been our pleasure. And Mat owes everything to us.
Deb Polich: It's all back to Mat for that. That's San and Laz Slomovits, best known as the musical duo Gemini, who are marking their 50-year anniversary performing for family and children. Find out more about families and the upcoming dates celebrating their 50 years at Gemini at WEMU dot org. You've been listening to creative:impact. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your host. Mat Hopson is our producer. We invite you to join us every Tuesday to meet the people who make Washtenaw creative. This is 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti. Public Radio from Eastern Michigan University.
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