Mompreneur: Musical Fun with Susan Z

February 14, 2011

Susan Z performsThere are many musicians who perform for children in Marin, but there are only a few who have a cult following among the 0–6 demographic. Susan Zelinsky—AKA Susan Z—is one of those few. You and your child may even have taken one of her classes for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, or you may have seen her performing her music for grownups at venues throughout the Bay Area.

We caught up with Susan Z and asked her some questions about herself, her music, her family, and living and working in Marin. To find out more about Susan Z, visit her website at www.susanz.com.

Please tell us a little about yourself. What's your background, and how did you get your musical career started?

I always knew I wanted to sing and act when I grew up. My parents were very supportive, signing me up for voice and music lessons as a child, sending me to drama camp and ACT’s Young Conservatory. I learned piano and guitar around 4th grade, choosing to make up songs more than practice my scales. At age 18 I began teaching piano to children. Not only did I love teaching music, I found I had a gift with children. My fun loving, goofy personality was a perfect match for my 5–10-year-old students. In my 20’s I started a rock band, Susan Z, performing my original tunes in local clubs, and gaining some recognition around the Bay Area as a serious musician, singer and songwriter. I knew that someday I’d have a family and would want to continue doing music as a career, so when my sister asked me to write songs for her baby sign language basics classes, I gave it a try. Songs for Little Hands didn’t just get used for her classes, but became a CD and signing booklet that was published by Hay House Publishing. It has sold over 41,000 copies. When I had my little girls I wanted to be able to make some money and possibly bring them with me to work, so I started holding music classes for new mommies and babies. My sister (author Monta Z. Briant) has been encouraging me to teach her classes here in the Bay Area, and now that both my girls are at the same school I went ahead and took the plunge. I already used signing with my music classes, but now I have a class that is more age specific, teaching early communication to hearing babies and toddlers, and using music as a motivator.

What's your favorite thing about creating music for children and families?

I’ve met so many wonderful moms and dads, grandparents and babies through this adventure. Some of those “babies” now attend school with my kids, and they still remember me from music classes. One of them even takes piano lessons from me now. I love that connection with the community. I also love looking at the world through a child’s eyes. I imagine what they are seeing, what interests them, and then write a song they can relate to, sing along to, and even sign to. It’s incredibly heart warming to have an 18-month-old request one of my songs. And if I see them out of class, say in the grocery store, I feel like a rock star! They run to me and give me hugs. (I’m famous with the 0–6-year-old crowd.)

Susan ZDo you have any upcoming projects and appearances?

I’m currently teaching “Sign, Sing and Play” classes, based on my CD and my sister’s book. I teach parents to sign to their baby using music and other fun tricks as a motivator to engage their little one. Classes are in San Rafael at THE STUDIO, 1560 Fourth Street, near F Street. The next 6-week series begins February 28. The fee is $60; no drop ins.

Also, I’m starting up my toddler music classes again: Monday Music! We will dance, sing, hop, clap, play instruments, learn some signing, and laugh a lot to traditional and original kid songs. For ages 2–4, the actual 7-week series will start on February 14. $56 for the whole series, or $10 drop-in.

FYI: Siblings are free in all my classes. I only ask that you be responsible for them around the littler ones.

I also do private events, birthday parties, and piano lessons. Fees upon request.

Something you may want to bring your toddlers to… a middle school production I’m directing, called HONK! It’s the story of the Ugly Duckling, and a real Broadway musical. I encourage parents to bring children to live theater as much as possible, and a school play is a great place to start. HONK! plays April 1, 2 and 3 at Hall Middle School in Larkspur.

Susan ZWhat are your family's favorite things to do in the Bay Area?

We live in downtown San Rafael, and love walking to the Farmer’s Market on Fourth Street. On Tuesday nights we often stroll to the Mayflower Inn to have some good English fare, and listen to live Irish music. Each spring we go to the Mountain Play. (Sometimes I’m even in it!) Every summer we go to Oakland Feather River Camp, near Quincy. It’s a wonderful family camp, not as expensive as others we’ve looked into, and rustic, just as we like it. Our favorite family hike is on the ridge that divides downtown San Rafael and Terra Linda. It’s a fire road so dogs can be off leash (last time I checked). On beach weather days we head to Shell Beach in West Marin; no waves to knock over kids, mellow grade into the water, and often sheltered from wind. I enjoy bringing my girls to the libraries all over Marin County. My husband, Mike Jobe, and I take turns reading to the girls every night. We love reading! A few places my parents brought me as a tot growing up in San Francisco were the Japanese Tea Garden and the Steinhart Aquarium in Golden Gate Park, and Children's Fairyland in Oakland. My girls and I love visiting these spots. And we love attending local kid productions put on by Marilyn Izdebski, Stapleton, Sharon Boucher, YES, Broadway Bound Kids, 142 Throckmorton… all fantastic, dedicated folks.

What do you love the most about living in Marin?

I asked my 7-year-old the other day to name one thing she was thankful for, and she said, “Everything! Well, you said ‘one thing’.” I feel that way about living in Marin. There is so much to be thankful for in this breathtaking place. Besides the amazing rolling hills, Mount Tamalpais, the beaches, the bay, the hiking trails, the weather, the close proximity to San Francisco, I’d have to say… the forward thinking people. No place is perfect when it comes to tolerance, acceptance, but Marin is way up there. I’m learning Spanish with my girls so we can be even more in touch with our diverse community, more inclusive. And I love that parents here acknowledge how important music and the arts are for our children’s education. Again, very forward thinking. Looking around I feel very blessed.