by Neidenne Arevalo
photography by Nareg Agopian
You see them performing at pubs, restaurants, street corners and parks in our local communities. Maybe you’re having drinks with friends at Old Stump Brewing Co., in Pomona, while a band plays classic rock in the corner. Or having dinner on the patio at Walter’s Restaurant in Claremont while an acoustic trio harmonizes to soft rock tunes by Crosby, Stills and Nash.
Who are these people? Are they from around here? Do they do this for a living? And, for Pete’s sake, would they mind turning the sound down!?
Yes, many of them are from around here, and you’re about to meet a few.
The Citrus Sisters are a Claremont-based trio comprised of Elizabeth Hangan, Marguerite Millard and Ellen Harper, all of whom happen to work at Claremont’s Folk Music Center, which is owned by Harper and her family.
“We’re basically three older women who have been playing music all our lives,” Millard says, “and who decided to begin playing together.”
Elizabeth Hangan comes from a musical family, and has been involved in music since she was a little girl. She currently teaches voice, piano and bass at the Folk Music Center.
“My first instrument is my voice,” Hangan says. “Next is my bass, and last is piano. I picked up the bass at 43, which is pretty late; most people start in their teens. My parents made me take piano lessons as a child. I wouldn’t call myself a great piano player, but I do well enough to teach beginning piano and writing.”
Marguerite Millard figures she was around 12 when she began taking guitar lessons at the Folk Music Center. It was those lessons that helped inspire her to sing and play.
“The Folk Music Center was created by Ellen’s parents about 65 years ago,” Millard says. “They sell instruments from all over the world, and also offer music lessons and concerts.”
The Center also hosts an open mic event on the last Sunday of every month.
“I like how music connects me to other people,” Millard adds. “If my bandmates and I are having a good time, there’s nothing better. And communicating with the audience through music is a real human thing.”
The Citrus Sisters have a lot of combined experience in music, with each member bringing her own unique approach. “Pick music you like to play, and work with musicians you like and can learn from,” Millard says. “Don’t do a lot of playing for free. If you are putting in a lot of work, you should be compensated for that.”
“I was born to entertain,” Hai Muradian says. “I sang a Frank Sinatra song in kindergarten when I was 5 years old. I’m sure there aren’t too many people who can say they sang a Frank Sinatra song that young!”
Muradian was surrounded by music from an early age. His uncle was a famous harmonica player who recorded some 30 albums. Muradian started playing drums after his brother joined a rock band. However, Hai quickly transitioned to singing and playing flute.
“From the time I was 17 until now, I’ve been playing rock and roll, and I’ve been fortunate to play in many bands,” he says.
In his early 20s, he and his band were the opening act for groups like Aerosmith, Steve Miller Band, and The J. Geils Band.
“I was lucky enough to play these shows and feel like I was on the verge of making it big. Now, 55 years later, I’m still playing at Walter’s restaurant in Claremont.”
A musician’s journey is never one steady path, Muradian says. However, he has loved every step along the way.
“The Ravelers—the rock band I’m in now—have been together for 35 years. We play old-school rock-and-roll, and we just love it. August 28 will be our very last gig as a band. We’ll be playing as part of Claremont’s Monday night concert series at Memorial Park. Those concerts in the park are amazing. People are there to have fun. Even after 35 years playing at the park, people still come out to dance to our music.”
A love of music came early for Jerry O’Sullivan. When he was little, and his parents would tell him to go to bed, he often hid a radio under his pillow, next to his ear, so he could listen to his favorite songs.
“My friends and I formed a band when we were just 11,” O’Sullivan says, “even though none of us knew how to play our instruments. I rented a bass and an amp from a local music shop, and we made up our own songs. They weren’t good, but we sang and recorded silly songs and listened to what we created, and kept doing it.”
O’Sullivan has been in at least one band ever since, and today plays in several. When not playing gigs, he too works at the Folk Music Center, where he teaches ukulele.
Most recently, he played at Upland’s Ophelia’s Jump Productions. “It was a great time,” he said. “Ophelia’s is known for their live plays and musicals, but they are starting to do live music.”
O’Sullivan encourages anyone interested in pursuing music “to not be afraid to fail. The more you practice, the better you will get if you are truly passionate. Dedicated some time and you’ll see results.”
Next time you’re out—whether at Old Stump, Walter’s, Memorial Park or some other venue—take note of who’s playing.
Oh, and be sure to drop a tip in their jar!