TACO Director and Conductor

As Founder, Director and Conductor of the Terrible Adult Chamber Orchestra (TACO), Cathy and her husband started discussing the idea of a fun social orchestra in 2010, holding the first session in their living room in January 2011. They wanted to create a place where musicians of all levels of experience could play symphonic music for fun.

As a classically trained pianist, Cathy was well aware of the perfectionism, pressure and performance anxiety which shroud classical music environments in painful experiences. Inspired by Pete Seeger, that all “folk” can make music, Cathy decided there should be no reason that anyone who wants to, should not be able to participate in playing great classics.

Finding the Really Terrible Orchestra in Scotland gave inspiration to using the word “terrible” in the title of this new community orchestra. While some fear the label derogatory, most welcome the title as humorous, welcoming and non-judgemental.    

Through TACO, Cathy offers a unique environment where people gather once a month in reading workshops, with no audition and only optional, occasional and fun performances. Members of the orchestra include retired adults who have not played since high school or college, young professionals with families who don’t have time for weekly rehearsals, intergenerational family members, musicians with debilitating illnesses who can no longer play in demanding physical environments, beginners who want to learn how to play with an ensemble, and experienced musicians who want to practice their sight-reading skills or master a second or third instrument.

Before founding TACO, Cathy worked with Music for Minors, ultimately becoming Program Director. She led afterschool children’s choruses with older elementary school students, worked as a music docent with young school children, and as a piano accompanist for middle school orchestras.  Each step along the way was a building block for creating TACO, an orchestra which challenges traditional notions of classical music environments.

A networker at heart, Cathy drew in many experts to help launch this new orchestra. Most notably, Vivian McNulty Wilcox, a retired middle school music teacher, served as co-director for several years and helped develop the orchestra’s music library. Cathy frequently invites guest conductors from Bay Area to lead the orchestra in occasional tunes, so that TACO musicians can experience other styles and learn about other programs. Musicians from TACO frequently move on to other community orchestras as they develop their skills and by networking amongst themselves, form chamber groups from within the orchestra.

With an active website, TACO functions with non-profit status as a fiscally sponsored program of the Los Altos Community Foundation. Class sessions are offered through the Los Altos City Recreation Department for an average of 70 musicians who attend sessions each month. With over 500 musicians on the mailing list, supported by grants and donations, an active Board of Directors and the help of many volunteers, Cathy has launched a hugely successful community program.

Prior to her second career as a music educator, Cathy worked in a variety of agencies as a licensed clinical social worker, counselor and psychotherapist. She began studying piano at the age of 7, continuing her studies through college as a music major at CSU Sacramento. She eventually transferred to UC Santa Cruz where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in Latin American Studies. She holds a master’s degree in Social Service Administration from the University of Chicago.

To develop her conducting skills, Cathy studied conducting with Tom Gentry, Charlene Archibeque, Jeffrey Benson, Ed Harris and Diane Wittry. While continually developing her own skills, as the Director of TACO, Cathy looks for every opportunity for musicians to experience success and joy in making music.