By Carol Dyer
Today I had the privilege of speaking with my next-door neighbor, Quichu Isais, maestra extraordinairia, about her music career and the new mural painted by Colectivo TOMATE , on Independencia street, depicting her image. Maestra Quichu and the word piano are synonymous here in La Paz. You can’t mention one without the other.
We met at her music school. The walls are covered with plaques and certificates of recognition, photographs, and the memorabilia of this amazing woman.
Jesús Leonor Isais, nicknamed Quichu, was born in La Paz in 1937. She turned 80 in January and shows no sign of slowing down, with a current roster of 30 students between the ages of four and 80. Born into a musical family, Quichu started playing the piano at the age of four. She tells the story of a neighbor having a big radio which the neighborhood could listen to. She would hear the music, then go inside the house and play what she heard.
At the age of 40, without any kind of pre-planning and with four children, Quichu decided to continue her studies in Europe. At that time an order of Italian priests ran the Catholic Church here. The padre here in La Paz made contact with his counterpart in Innsbruck, Austria, and requested he arrange for Quichu to study in Europe. Not knowing where she would end up, Quichu flew to Dusseldorf, Germany. Her children were well situated; her husband had died, but she knew her extended La Paz family would tend to matters at home. However, she was soon to learn that the priest making the arrangements had left Austria and gone to Africa on a mission. What to do? As it happened, a friend of her daughter’s was living in Vienna, and through this association, Quichu was invited to visit. The day after her arrival, she went to the music school in Vienna to enroll. They were closed for vacation. Next was a visit to the Mexican Embassy. They, too, were preparing to close for vacation. While she waited, however, a young couple from Mexico came in. They were people she knew from La Paz! Quichu spent the next 16 years in Vienna, with frequent visits to La Paz to visit family and return visits from them. Already an accomplished pianist, Quichu never stopped working on and improving her technique.
Although money was coming from Mexico, there she needed an income, especially since the peso was losing value at this time. Quichu tells the story of hearing about the Select City Club Hotel needing a pianist. This is a huge complex with 458 guest rooms, four golf courses, and all the extras one would expect, including swimming pools, a spa, tennis courts, etc. The property also houses The Congress, a massive convention and meeting center. Quichu met with the director and assured him that she could play classical and popular music. He hired her on the spot.
One day Quichi found a man sitting and playing her piano. He wasn’t very good and she told him so, saying that his left hand did not know what the right hand was doing. She then noticed some Russian men standing around and inquired as to the piano player’s identity. The man was Mikhail Gorbachev! There was also an Arab sheikh who came every year and took over the whole complex for two months with his five wives and 15 children. Quichu taught piano to the children.
Quichu returned to La Paz after 16 years abroad, and opened her music school in 1998. She has taught hundreds of people, young and old, over the years. You are never too old to learn, she believes. Quichu currently owns about 25 pianos, including one that is 250 years old. One of the pianos is identical to the one played by Mozart, and another is similar to that used by Beethoven. Most of them are in a storage room at the school. It is her dream to open a music museum one day.
Following a mini-concert, Quichu and I walked down the street to view the mural. I asked her how she felt about it. Quichu says it is exciting because she never thought she would appear on the streets of La Paz.
The plaque is in Spanish, but translated to English it reads, “In the city of La Paz, Baja California Sur, there are representative icons for the community. Such is the case for Señora Quichu, pianist with all her heart, who has been a cornerstone in the training of regional musicians. In this work, Facte, Señora Quichu is portrayed with her piano, invoking the nostalgia and harmony of music, as well as highlighting the talent of the people of La Paz.”