In Tune with Life

Musically-inclined couple embrace local opportunities

Oscar and Sandra Canizares wanted a better life for their family, and they believed they would never find what they were looking for in their native country of Cuba. So, despite living what many Cubans might consider a privileged lifestyle because they had a few “luxury” items, such as a car, the Canizares family took a leap of faith. In 2018, based primarily on music-related pursuits, they left friends, family and much of what they owned behind and came to the United States in search of freedom and opportunities they had never known.
“We were looking for ways to get out of Cuba and music provided that opportunity,” Sandra said.
“We wanted to leave there for our kids.”
Despite its visual appeal with more than 3,500 miles of coastline bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the north and the Caribbean to the south, Cuba, with its easily recognizable Spanish-colonial architecture, continues to maintain a socialist political system based on the “one state — one party” principle. That governmental style is what the Canizares family yearned to escape.
So, Oscar, Sandra, and their sons David and Lucas, who were 5 and 2 respectively at the time, moved to Bloomington, and Oscar began pursuit of a master’s degree in Early Music Performance at Indiana University.
“Leaving everything — my grandparents and the church my grandfather had been pastor of — was very difficult,” Sandra said. “But I wanted my kids to have everything I never had.”
Oscar was exposed to music early in his life, specifically through school, where he often sang.
“The economic situation in Cuba was very bad and music was seen as a way to be able to tour and have a lucrative career,” he said. “So, when I was 10, some people came to my school to audition kids for brass instruments — the trumpet and the trombone.”
Oscar’s musical abilities, specifically with the trombone, were quickly recognized.
“In Cuba, arts are handled like vocational school in the U.S. You go to a special school to be trained and that becomes your career path,” he said. “If at some point you then decide not to pursue that path or you fail a test along the way, you’re done. Then, you don’t know what to do because that’s what you’ve been trained for.”
Oscar earned a bachelor’s degree in modern trombone in 2005, focusing specifically on the sackbut, a type of trombone commonly used during the Renaissance and Baroque periods. He also earned a master’s degree while still living in Cuba and began his music career there.
“I toured Europe and fell in love with what I was doing. It was a beautiful time of my life,” he said.
But after 10 years in the field, Oscar knew he wanted to enhance his education, pursue other dreams, and ultimately relocate his family.
While growing up, Sandra frequently sang and played piano at the church her grandfather pastored. In fact, at the age of 15, she assumed the role of unofficial, volunteer music director there. Understandably, over time, music became an important part of her life. So as an adult, Sandra chose to continue sharing music with others by giving voice and piano lessons from her home.
She continued to do so even as she and Oscar considered their options for leaving Cuba.
“In my field of music, the best schools are in Europe and they’re much cheaper than in the U.S.,” he said. “But in Germany, for example, you may have to wait 10 years for residency and 15 years for citizenship, so the U.S. quickly became a priority for us.”
Oscar initially applied to a school in Massachusetts.
“It was very expensive. The cost of living alone would have been impossible for us,” he said.
Eventually, he learned a two-year program in the field of study he desired was available at IU, so Oscar and Sandra set their sights on Bloomington.
“It (IU) was almost $30,000 less than what I would have paid in Massachusetts,” he added.
However, despite being excited about their future in America, Sandra believed personal sacrifices would also have to be made.
“I accepted the fact that I may not be able to sing or play piano again,” she said. “I wasn’t really sure what to expect but I wanted us to be able to have and enjoy basic things that we hadn’t had in Cuba.”
Oscar felt the same way.
“Americans really don’t understand immigrant goals,” he added. “We come from a life where we didn’t have many things Americans take for granted.”
Once settled in their new home and when she was legally able to do so after meeting green card requirements, Sandra took on an administrative role at the church her family was attending in Bloomington, First Presbyterian Church.
But as Oscar attended classes at IU, curiosity got the best of Sandra and she learned, through research, that many churches were in need of a music director; a position she felt very qualified for.
Today, while continuing to work for Bloomington’s First Presbyterian Church, Sandra also serves as music director for First Baptist Church of Greenwood and because of that newfound opportunity, the Canizares family relocated to Whiteland almost one year ago.
Oscar earned his master’s degree from IU in the summer of 2020 and currently serves as an instructional assistant at Pleasant Crossing Elementary School where David and Lucas attend.
“I’m not doing anything with my degree yet, but I would like to perform and maybe even create my own ensemble,” he said. “I think I would really enjoy teaching, but I know doing that at the college level is very difficult. I guess that’s a big picture thing. First, I need to get my teaching license so I can start teaching at the elementary level.”
While embracing her role at First Baptist Church of Greenwood, Sandra has also launched her own home-based business offering piano and singing lessons in both English or Spanish. She actively promotes her company, S&C, through Facebook and Instagram (@musicandvoicelessons for both).
Her ultimate dream is to eventually open an all-arts academy that has what she describes as “a Latin touch.”
“It will serve as a cultural center for music, dance, cooking and art and will include teachers for different instruments and all those things. And of course, there will be some Latin American influence,” Sandra said with a laugh.
“Music is amazing and a very important part of my life. It can transport you to places and even to people,” she said. “Music is also my special connection with God. I’m always listening to it. Everything is better with music.”
Oscar agrees.
“I see music like a language; a sort of code that allows me to decodify moments and things in life in a different way. It is definitely a blessing to have been born with the gift of having natural aptitude to study and comprehend it.
“I met my wife doing music. I traveled around the world and met incredible people doing music. And music was the way God chose to bring us here and change our lives. You just couldn’t understand my life without music.”