Blind since birth, RFB&D member Chela Robles has navigated through many obstacles while maturing into a determined and dedicated musician. Her love of the trumpet is as natural as breathing, and joins with a deep religious faith, bold spirit and persistent work ethic. We caught up with her in California to have a conversation about life and music.
Talk about your beginnings.
I was born in Oakland, California on April 6, 1985 - three months premature, weighing one pound, 11 ounces. The doctors did not think I would live through the night, as in addition to prematurity, I had a hole in my heart, hemorrhaging in the brain, and possible cerebral palsy, not to mention that I was on life support because I could not breathe independently. Nonetheless, God had His hand on me and a plan for my life. I was released from the hospital before my original expected date of birth with only one health problem: blindness. God was merciful; He spared my life and healed me.
You went to college for a few years, and experienced some obstacles.
I grew up in Northern California and attended The Master’s College in Santa Clarita for a year in 2006; then because of expenses and other things, went back to my home town to attend Diablo Valley College, a junior college, which only again lasted until July 2007.
There have been obstacles. Getting to and from school using paratransit was easy; it was my computer class that was inaccessible because I use a screen reading solution called JAWS (which stands for Job Access With Speech, made for the Windows platform by Freedom Scientific). And the computer course required Java and BlueJ interface to talk to one another, which several times crashed JAWS, so that didn’t last long. When I went back home to pursue music therapy at DVC doing general education, the music course required a recording program called Cubase which works with WindowEyes instead of JAWS, and so that was out.
How'd you discover RFB&D?
I first started with RFB&D while waiting for one of my math textbooks which was in the process of being brailled. I remember I had to listen to the chapter on linear equations before it could be transferred to my fingertips in a braille volume. These days I listen to books from RFB&D for pleasure.
Talk about how your love of music developed.
This instrument has a range of moods. The tonal quality of a trumpet is as rich as pure dark chocolate.
I picked up the trumpet at the tender age of 10 and started out on a Yahama KinTempo B-Flat trumpet. I read about jazz when I was 13 and played my first jazz tune at that age too: “Basin Street Blues.” I have continued to develop an interest in jazz, and continually sharpen my skills. I discipline myself to keep practicing and do a daily routine, have been playing by ear since the very beginning and I’m now 25.
At a certain point I started playing in church services and in our youth group, and have since developed a keen interest in praise and worship. I enjoy playing and worshiping for hours. I have loved to read about David’s heart of worship described in Psalms 150:5–“Praise Him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise Him with the harp and lyre.”
Who are your role models in music?
All the deceased trumpeters, along with great ones who are playing today–Chris Botti being a major influence now. Of course, I love Miles Davis, oh yeah! I like Arturo Sandoval and am slowly but surely warming up to Rick Braun; and Cindy Bradley is a new female trumpeter so that is exciting to know. Wynton Marsalis is good too. Too many to name here, but let's remember it all had to ultimately start with Louis Armstrong!
What are you aiming for now? What do you see yourself doing in five years?
I've been looking at massage therapy, being a certified massage therapist in the state of California and combining music with it. But it may not be possible financially, so I need to keep options open. One thing for certain is that I’d like to share my musical gifting that God has given me.
What do you enjoy doing in free time?
I like to read biographies about musicians, and just reading in general whatever sparks my interest at the time. I also like computer-related activities such as facebook and Skype; I like to hang out with family and family friends; and I do some volunteering for Bookshare.org. And yes, trumpet is key for me; in fact, my parents used to have to tell me to stop practicing because I’d just keep going and going! Because music is a part of who I am. After all, my name means musical and the symbol is the cello.
Having the trumpet in your life means. . .
Of all the friends I’ve had growing up, the trumpet has been a motivating, yet challenging friend. I can express myself through the trumpet to anyone who loves music, because this instrument has a range of moods. The tonal quality of a trumpet is as rich as pure dark chocolate.
Sometimes my instrument puts me into awkward situations where I feel like they won’t ever end. But the trumpet gives me a lot of hope with the majestic, crystal-clear sound it brings to my ears. It is also a versatile instrument, and its sound can be used in many genres of music like classical, jazz, gospel, and funk, just to name a few.
When I hear Chris Botti and my friend Rudy Cervantes, among other trumpet greats, I feel upbeat and jazzed, trying to follow in their footsteps. I try to mimic what I hear other trumpet players do on recordings; I keep practicing until I’ve achieved the goals I’ve set for the week. The goals become more challenging as I get better at playing my horn, just by listening to players who motivate me with their skills.
And when I listen to recordings of myself, I am impressed to see how far I've come along in my musical journey. Granted, some of my recordings aren't the best, but I don't feel I have to mope about it. I urge myself to take it one step at a time. I continue to master the instrument, and have come to respect it so much that I can use it to show the true feelings that lie with in me.
Care to share parting thoughts on what guides your musical journey?
This comes from Chris Botti, and it's in my email signature:
"To me, music that breaks your heart is the music that stays with you forever. It's one thing to be melancholy and one thing to be sophisticated, but when you get the two of them together in a way people can relate to, then I think you're on to something. You want the sophistication to lie in the purity of the sound, the beauty of the arrangements, and the quality of the performances."
Listen to "One For My Baby and One More for the Road" performed by Chela Robles
Listen to "Misty" performed by Chela Robles