Theater

Listen to the 'Tales of Tila'

Carolyn Chatwin Murset presents her grandmother's early Taos stories set to music

By Laura Bulkin
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 10/30/19

A unique Taos family history will be brought to vivid life in "Tales of Tila," a musical theater oral history presentation by Carolyn Chatwin Murset. "Tila" was Murset's grandmother, Tila Miera Trujillo of Taos, a pioneering woman described by the author as "patient, optimistic, beautiful and wise."

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Theater

Listen to the 'Tales of Tila'

Carolyn Chatwin Murset presents her grandmother's early Taos stories set to music

Posted

A unique Taos family history will be brought to vivid life in "Tales of Tila," a musical theater oral history presentation by Carolyn Chatwin Murset. "Tila" was Murset's grandmother, Tila Miera Trujillo of Taos, a pioneering woman described by the author as "patient, optimistic, beautiful and wise."

Murset will be giving three performances of her original work today through Saturday (Oct. 31-Nov. 2), 7:30 p.m. at Taos Onstage Theatre, 101-A Camino de la Placita in Cantú Plaza.

We spoke with Murset about the inspiration for the show and her own journey from a rural New Mexico childhood to life as a performing artist, mother and grandmother in Utah.

Your early life spanned California, New Mexico and Utah. What was that experience like for you?

My mother, Nora Trujillo Chatwin, was a native of Taos. She and my father met in 1948, when he served as a missionary. He was living in the three-room adobe chapel next door to the family home in the Placitas neighborhood. (A Lotaburger now stands where the chapel once stood.) I was the third child of six, and was born in California, where my dad had been a door-to-door WearEver cookware salesman and a plumber.

Each summer, we traveled by train from Los Angeles to Lamy, New Mexico. A relative would come and get us and take us to Taos, where we'd stay for a month with my grandparents, Juan Manuel and Tila Miera Trujillo. We kids would gather eggs, watch Grandma Tila feed wet laundry through the Maytag wringer washer, then float little leaf boats down the dirt gully Grandpa Trujillo made for the draining wash water.

Our family moved to Taos in 1965, when I was 7 years old. Mrs. Lavonia Hobbs was my second grade teacher at Taos Elementary and I was lucky to have three cousins in my class. We lived with my Trujillo grandparents until my dad made the fixer-upper home on Los Pandos Road habitable. He also converted Grandma Tila's chicken coop into his Wally's Plumbing and Heating business office. I experienced cultural prejudice because I was a Mormon, and because I "didn't look Spanish." We Chatwin siblings were called "gringos," but learned that "coyote" (half-breed) was a better description.

At Taos High School, I studied drama with Nancy Jenkins and her husband, Ken. I was in every high school play they produced, and in my junior year, I won an award at the state drama competition. My parents sent me to a five-week-long theater workshop at a university in northern Utah, where I went on to attend on scholarship and majored in theater.

I met Rich Murset from Sherman Oaks, California, and married him. We moved to southern Utah in 1983 and have five children and 15 grandchildren. I wish they'd known my Grandma Tila.

As well as the time you spent with your grandma, what stories have been passed down to you from older family members?

Her third-great-grandfather was Don Bernardo Miera y Pacheco, who in 1776 was the cartographer for the Dominguez Escalante Expedition. She was the 10th of 11 children and tended to accomplish mischief from a young age. My favorite story is of her teaching profanities in Spanish to the unsuspecting and trusting missionaries, and then giggling when they innocently spoke those words to others. She also fed them chile so hot that it made them cry.

What inspired you to put this show together, and what was the process like gathering anecdotes and histories for it?

I've always been interested in learning about the diverse cultures of my heritage. I've kept a journal since I was a teen. I worked at a family history center for five years and would spend 10 hours a day researching my family tree. When my siblings and other family members handed the family records over to me, I came across Grandma Tila's four-page personal history that she wrote in 1959, when she was 57 years old.

She wrote, "My father and mother used to go farm in Arroyo Seco, and me and my little brother Victor used to stay by ourselves in the big house. And of course, I had to learn how to make bread and tortillas. I remember going out in the garden to pray for help because my older brothers used to call my tortillas crackers. I am telling you, I really had a time!" I immediately knew upon reading this tale that I needed to do something creatively with it.

You've written all of the songs for this show. Have you been singing and composing most of your life?

I wrote 23 songs for this play. The stories are musically underscored with the soundtrack. I play the guitar for six of the songs along with the soundtrack. I've been a singer-songwriter, actress and guitar player for a long time, and these skills became useful when I wrote the first scene, "Tortilla Tale," 20 years ago. I didn't set it to music until I'd completed my third CD of original songs in 2016, and wondered what my next project should be.

Tickets are $15. For advance tickets, visit eventbrite.com/e/tales-of-tila-tickets-64584117835.

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