Corinne Antipa: Life After Fire

Corinne Antipa: “My friends and colleagues have been incredibly supportive.”

Corinne Antipa is a cellist, dancer, professor, member of the Santa Rosa Symphony, and Local 6 Life Member. In 2017, her home, along with 5,000 others, was burned to the ground in the Santa Rosa fire.

Corinne Antipa never made a conscious decision to be a professional musician. Growing up, she was interested in many things, including dance, riding horses, and working on her family ranch. The Antipas had moved from San Francisco to Santa Rosa when she was very young. “We had cattle and raised horses. We were 15 minutes from town but it felt like 30. It was idyllic and wonderful.”

Both of her parents played the piano and it was assumed that Corinne would too. In fourth grade, she came home and announced she was going to play the violin. Her mother, not a fan of the violin, told the school orchestra teacher that if Corinne chose the violin she would be on her own, but if she played the cello she would make sure Corinne practiced, a decision that Corinne appreciates today. “I am definitely a cellist. I love being that second supportive voice.”

Corinne studied the cello with Bonnie Hampton and attended Mills College in 1970 where she received Bachelors and Masters degrees in Dance. She continued to take private cello lessons and as the only accomplished cellist on campus, she was able to play interesting music with her professors. After college she returned to Santa Rosa and pursued her dance and music career. At the age of 30, her body couldn’t handle the strain of dancing any longer, she retired from dancing professionally and started teaching at Santa Rosa Jr. College. “It was hard doing both dance and music at the professional level, but would I have given up dance? No, I wouldn’t. What I’m finding is that the cello is a constant and continuing challenge, and I love it.”

In the 1980s, she bought two acres of her parent’s property with her husband and built a house. ”The house was round and had the most incredible acoustics. I lived there for thirty years. Unfortunately, we got divorced—but it was my house.”

The Night of the Fire
“I had just come home from playing a wedding. The wind was blowing like crazy and had knocked over my umbrella and patio table. When I went out to pull the table and umbrella up, I smelled what I thought was campfire smoke. That was about 10:15pm. I called my neighbor and I called 911. I was told there were fires in the area and that if I saw flames I should call back. Another neighbor drove up the mountain and texted us that the fire looked like it was far away.”

Corinne lives on her property in a two bedroom 8’ x 40’ trailor with her mother. She is looking forward to rebuilding her home, which will begin soon. “Would I be living there voluntarily? Hell no! But it hasn’t been unpleasant because we love the land. There’s great joy to being on the land.”

But within an hour and a half, the flames were at the next ridge.

“I could hear propane tanks exploding. It sounded like an apocalyptic movie. I had to go and assist my 90-year old mother throw her packed belongings into her car. The violence of the wind forced us to leave immediately so trees wouldn’t have come down on the 1/4 mile driveway and block us in. I was able to grab my concert clothes, some important papers, my cello, and my dog. We went to my friend’s house which is near the freeway. I was not aware of the drama that was happening on the freeway because we didn’t try to go away from town. We just hunkered down and watched the news the next day. We couldn’t get in to our property for almost three weeks because the roads were closed. A neighbor told us he saw my cats, but I never saw them again.”

We stayed with friends and family. There’s an outfit that works with insurance companies to find you places to live. They found a very nice hotel in Santa Rosa for my mother and me and our two dogs where we stayed with a lot of fire people and their dogs—there was a certain strange camaraderie before people gradually disbursed to find more permanent housing. One morning I saw one of my students in the lobby where we fell into an endless hug! My mother and I got a trailer for our property. It took us two months.”

A Year Later…
“It’s a surreal experience, losing everything, but it doesn’t mean life is over. I’ve lost every physical manifestation of my life–all of my costumes, all of my pictures, all of my music, all of my artifacts and artwork. Right now, I’m just sort of holding on, day to day, making sure I get my bills paid and my practicing done.

I had just been retired for one year from Santa Rosa Jr. College where I taught dance for 40 years. That freed up a huge amount of time. Now I coach several youth orchestras, I still play with the Santa Rosa Symphony, and about 2/3 of my teaching load has returned. At 66, that’s enough. This is good for the foreseeable future.”

In the summer Corrine uses a tent as an outdoor studio. “Practicing out there is so wonderful. I love it when the light fades, critters rustle in the grass outside the tent, I turn on the stand light and play in the open air.”

When Corinne returned to teaching private cello lessons, she had to reinvent her approach. With her teaching studio gone, her friends Kathleen and Peggy continued to offer space in their homes. “They are both incredibly generous and very kind. You know who your friends are in a crisis like this.” In the summer months Corinne was able to teach in a screened pavilion on her property where the students enjoy playing al fresco.

Replacing the music she lost continues to be a huge challenge. “I’m amazed at how much music I had and how much music replacement costs. Oh my God! How do you decide what to get when you have nothing? I’m finding it difficult to find material. I think with cello music a lot goes out of print. Having been around so long and watching music stores disappear, I can’t just go and rustle through the bins and sing it in my mind and say, ‘That’s a good collection. You have to know exactly what you’re looking for when you go online.’”

“Three of my students had their houses burn down. One of them ran back into the house to grab her cello. It was a rented cello, but it was important to her. All of them were shell shocked in a different way. It’s interesting to meet up with them now and to see them back on their feet, emotionally. For those kids, who felt devastated and adrift all I could tell them was it’s just beginning a new phase, and it’ll be okay.”