Stefan Barboza has had the family’s home in Grant’s Pass, Ore., in his back pocket for several years. Basically, it was there where the popular Vacaville music instructor and his wife retired.
The pandemic, however, cut a gaping hole in Barboza’s pocket. And, after 40 years of teaching piano, guitar, ukulele and even banjo, Barboza packed his bags last July and fled north.
COVID-19 “forced us to move here,” Barboza said by phone Tuesday, grateful for those early stimulus checks that paid relocation expenses.
“We had to make a decision,” Barboza said. “Eventually, we were going to do that (relocate). But when it (the pandemic) happened, it bumped it up.”
Not surprisingly, “it was hard” to say goodbye to Vacaville, said Barboza, with private instruction that maxed at 85 students one year. He had been in town since 1976.
“It was pretty tough, I’ve got to say. I love teaching,” Barboza said. “I’ve been doing it a long time.”
Barboza was a civilian apprentice electrician for almost nine years at Mare Island when he got laid off in 1990.
“Not being a veteran didn’t help me,” he said.
From there, he found work at Raley’s in Vacaville.
“I enjoyed it. It was a great job,” Barboza said.
His life, however, would soon change forever. He was hired by Ralph Martin at the Live Music Center. From there, it was “Pop” Brown who suggested Barboza get into instrument instruction.
“I started teaching guitar once a week and built a clientele. I’ve been doing it ever since,” Barboza said. “I love working with kids and adults and built up a nice relationship. Some I stay in touch with. I always wonder how they’re doing.”
If there was no pandemic, Barboza said he would still be in Vacaville teaching any one of four instruments.
“I wanted to continue,” he said, hardly ready for retirement. “But my income went down the tubes.”
That, obviously, included work Barboza had with the trio, Afterglow, as “all the gigs stopped. It hurt the musicians a lot. Besides the restaurants being killed, the entertainment industry got shafted. We decided it was time to move up.”
Barboza figured he had 36 students when the nation closed down last mid-March. Two-thirds quickly quit and the rest “didn’t want” to get taught online.
Understandable, he said, believing there’s nothing like in-person instruction.
With online instruction, “you lose that one-on-one and the intimacy,” Barboza said.
There are those former students who stand out, he said. Like the one young student in Woodland.
“He’s phenomenal. He’s going to make it,” Barboza said. “The thing that amazes me is that he has it all memorized. That’s something I can’t do. There are a few students who get to the point where they need someone else” to reach that higher level.
Still, it’s not about monetary potential, insists Barboza.
“With a musical instrument, you should learn to play for fun. Not everyone is going to be the next Chopin,” said Barboza.
Gratefully, Barboza said he’s never encountered a completely overbearing parent.
“I think it’s important for a kid to be a kid,” he said.
For a young student to practice hours on end, “I think they have to have the passion to do it,” Barboza said.
Through his Vacaville tenure, Barboza was also was a D.J. and ran karaoke, fondly remembering the years he worked the Moose Lodge and Huey’s Pub for 10 years.
“My wife says it was the worst 10 years of her life,” laughed Barboza.
Since he left Vacaville, Barboza has been back once. He was DJ at a neighborhood Halloween party.
Whether as a D.J., karaoke producer, or instructor, Barboza said he’s received dozens of “thank-you” cards through the years, including students who take music through college and re-connect to say how grateful they are for their early instruction.
“I’m still in conversation with two students I don’t teach anymore. One is a junior in high school, one is in college. I’ll send them music to try and keep them inspired,” Barboza said.
To avoid rust, Barboza tries to play guitar and piano as often as possible.
“Once this COVID is over with, I can try and bounce back from it” in Grant’s Pass, said Barboza. “Eventually, when this ends at some point, I’ll try and re-establish myself up here and build a business up. It’s a slow process.”
Any former students who want to contact Barboza can email him at [email protected]