Lovely Rita
el Goose Chicks Interview with

Rita Caruso
(Peter Anspach's Mom)

I’ve never met Peter, but like most Goose fans, I feel like I know him.

His humble, genuine, magnetic charisma captures the hearts and commands the attention of fans, earning his home on stage left the title ‘Pete side sweet side’. Despite only interacting with Peter via stage transcendence, after speaking with Rita for over an hour and a half, I can confidently affirm that he did, in fact, get it from his mama.

“I'm a musician. I'm a teacher, a children's storyteller. I'm an artist. I do a lot of abstract things with paint and different media. I'm a nature lover and animal lover. I'm a vegetarian. I'm a beekeeper. I'm a gardener and I'm a big advocate of women's rights.”

Rita’s passion is singing. Her calling is teaching families to sing. She recently retired from Norwalk Community College, where she taught Music and Movement for Children, a three credit ECE course for future teachers specifically designed to incorporate more music into the daily curriculum. “I don't think there is enough singing in any of our schools. Music is more than a subject to be taught. It's an experience to be lived every day and no one understands that better than young children! Dance, movement, puppetry, storytelling, dramatic play; the child is the instrument. Research tells us that music is the one discipline that touches every other area of learning and the brain. It's our responsibility as parents and as educators to bring and nurture music into the lives of our children every single day. What could be better!? This is my passion and this is the message I preach all the time.”
She still teaches at Mary Ann Hall’s Music for Children in Norwalk, where Peter was enrolled from toddlerhood to age 8.

Pictured Above: Peter as a toddler with his mom | Photo Credit: Provided by Peter Anspach

One step closer to the source of this profound perspective on music, I had to know, where did Rita’s passion stem from? Turns out, the Carusos have passed down the importance of music for generations. “We come from a family of musicians. My parents felt that it was just as important to read music as it was to read words on a page. It was non negotiable. We had to learn how to play an instrument. There was no arguing about it. It was just the way it was. My grandfather and great grandfather played guitar. My other grandfather was a church organist. My dad had the most beautiful voice. He was a tenor. We sang and danced all the time at home growing up and it was absolutely the same for Peter and his sister Lindsay.”

Lindsay, another significant influence on Peter, has a degree in voice performance and theater. She was a freshman at Staples High School in Westport when Peter was born. The 14 year age gap between them cultivated a special brother sister relationship. Lindsay was casted in several musicals and baby Peter, her biggest fan, was passed around her talented group of theater friends during shows and rehearsals:

“He grew up in the orchestra pit. He wasn't even walking and we’d plop him down there and he loved listening to the singing, touching all the instruments… he knew every musical, every song. It was incredible.”

Peter’s musical journey started even earlier than infancy: “Peter started in utero because I was teaching and had that guitar on my belly and he was right there every single day… he really has been nurtured and deeply involved in music from the time that he was created.” He walked and talked at nine months. It was around this time that Rita had her first musical epiphany with her son.

In 1991, James Taylor released his version of the song “Getting to Know You” on a children’s compilation album by Disney. “When we came home from the hospital, we would dance every morning. I'd start the day holding him very close and putting on that song because really, when you first have a baby, you're really getting to know each other and you don't know each other. So I would cushion his cheek on mine and on the part where the song goes (singing) ‘You are precisely my cup of tea’, I would do a little dip and bring him back up close to me. So we did this every day, sometimes twice a day and I would just dance him around the music room.” 9 months later, Peter sat on the floor with his arms extended towards his mother and said ‘uppa tea, uppa tea!’

At first, Rita didn’t realize what Peter was trying to communicate, but the next time she played that song, he sang ‘cup of tea’ in perfect time with her. “He was telling me he wanted to hear ‘Getting to Know You’ and he wanted to dance with me! …there's nothing more magical than dancing with your baby in your arms swaying to the music. It's just a beautiful thing.”

Fast forward to 7/4/08, Peter’s musical foundation has been strongly reinforced for about 15 years. He’s playing with his high school band Freshly Squeezed and they’re going to play their first performance at the Caruso Anspach family’s annual July 4th party: “It was our annual thing for like 80 to 100 people at our house and we always had music playing. We didn't have live entertainment but this one year Peter had announced that his band was going to provide some entertainment… But it was so funny. And they were so serious. Of course all of our friends and family at the party were just ecstatic. Everyone was very supportive. We had the best time! It was really fun! I remember that very clearly. And of course Peter was the big showman in the front.”

Now, Rita has seen her son play in front of thousands of people in giant arenas like Mohegan Sun and can’t wait for her first trip to Red Rocks for Goose’s sold out show.

“On one hand it’s unbelievable, but on the other hand, it's very believable. When Peter puts his mind to something, when he wants to do something, it's over 100% of himself. He gives it his all and he doesn't say ‘I would like to do this someday’. He would say ‘I am going to do this someday. I am going to be on the stage. I am going to be in a band’… He manifests what he wants and he just goes for it… every performance I am in awe of what he has done. He's always followed his heart. My thing was always, ‘Peter, follow your heart. Don't forget to bring your brain along for the ride.’”

Of all Peter’s performances she has seen, Rita’s favorite was last Goosemas. “There were about 20 family members at Mohegan and we were all together and he was so excited about playing that grand piano! When he jumped up on it, I kept thinking I hope he doesn't jump off!” Her highlight of the night though was “Red Bird.” “…that performance of ‘Red Bird’ on piano at Goosemas was just amazing. When he sang that, I felt like I was the only one in that entire enormous place that he was singing to. It was almost an out of body experience.” She fondly recalls the first time Peter played it for her. “It was quite a moment. He wrote it and played it for me just his voice and an acoustic guitar. I couldn't even speak. I just listened to it on the phone and it was so beautiful. There were really no words to describe it. I think that was something he absolutely needed to do…”

It’s no wonder Rita is the lyrical subject of many of Peter’s songs. She believes he uses songwriting as a way to process and express their many shared experiences, be it highs or lows.

Pictured Above: Peter as a young boy, imitating playing guitar| Photo Credit: Rita Caruso

“Peter’s songwriting is cathartic. It provides an outlet for all kinds of feelings. When you release personal feelings in a song and then you share that song, there's no question that there's going to be a listener who could identify with its emotional message creating this possibility to feel less overwhelmed and less afraid. It reinforces the sense of ‘Hey, you know what? I'm not alone here.’ I know the feeling that artist or that musician is talking about or singing about or playing about…”

Rita is not only an inspiration for Peter’s songwriting, but also on occasion a collaborator. Her feedback has helped develop songs like “Time to Flee”. Peter was still living at home playing with Great Blue when he wrote what has now blossomed into the beloved, monstrous jam vehicle: “He said, ‘Mom, come upstairs! I just wrote this song and it's about an elevator.’” His room is full of instruments and recording equipment. “He plays that riff of the music going up and down (singing the hook)… I said, ‘Peter, it sounds just like an elevator!’ and we began thinking of words that rhyme with elevator, alligator. Going through a whole bunch of lyrics and as I sat there, I thought, ‘This is really fun!’ It's so cool. And “Time to Flee” was born!

“He's really to me, enthusiasm and joy personified.

A lot of fans have asked me, ‘Is that what Peter is really like?’ What you see on stage, that is Peter. He is 100% himself. I admire his humility… Peter really wears his heart on his sleeve. He always has been incredibly sensitive and intuitive… when he's talking with you, he’s not thinking about what he's gonna say next. He's truly listening to what you are saying and taking it all in. He's a really deep thinker and feeler.”

“It was a beautiful spring morning and I looked at him and said ‘How would you like to play hooky?’ And he looked at me and said ‘What?’ And I said ‘How would you like to take a ride to Boston and watch the Yankees beat the Red Sox?’ He said ‘Are you kidding?’ ‘We're not going to school today. Peter, we're going to a baseball game.’ It was a great time and it was such a wonderful memory and the Yankees won! He still loves baseball.”

I was curious about Rita’s perspective on Goose’s success not just as the mother of a band member, but also as a musician. What’s the secret sauce?

“It works because every member of the band is truly themselves in every way shape and form and they're incredible musicians. I wanted to really understand what jamming meant and it took me a while. I worked really hard listening to Rick, listening to Trevor, watching and listening to Ben and Jeff, and then Peter and trying to see how the jam works. It’s that arc! They start out with one song, and then within the structure of the music, within the measures, within the key - each member is creating. At the same time that they're creating individually, they're acutely aware of what the other members of the band are doing and where the music is headed. The music then crescendos up to a plateau, where it either continues going up and up and up and up, or starts to gradually come back down, with musical surprises tucked into the melody. I know that every band member’s brain sensors are totally lit up, going a million miles an hour. Not everyone truly gets jam. They'll say, ‘What kind of music? What is Goose? What do they play?’ And so I have to go through this whole thing about what a jam is and how it's not just noodling around doing anything you want to do. It takes a lot of musicianship.”

Rita’s personal music preferences are also dictated by emotion. Her choices are based on how she’s feeling or what she’s doing. She listens to every genre, loves The Beatles and The Beach Boys, and makes a conscious effort to discover new music.

“But if I want to dance, it's Motown and I love to dance…when I cook I listen to Gypsy jazz. That's really fun. Are you familiar with Paul Winter?” she asked me. “Lisa, you sound like you would love a musician who is very in tune with nature. Peter actually loves him as well. He has recorded animals and put their song into songs that he composes around the song of the whale or the song of the wolf or the song of the eagle, and he's been all over the world. Check him out because there is a song that he does called “Lullaby from the Great Mother Whale” that is haunting and just incredibly beautiful.” I have since listened to Paul Winter and Rita was spot on with her recommendation!

Dancing was a common theme throughout our conversation, shedding light on where Peter’s new “Slow Ready” dance moves come from. What was his mother’s reaction to all that gyrating? “Peter has a bazillion dance moves. He's always been totally uninhibited and we are all big dancers. Oh, it didn't surprise me at all. Just Peter being Peter!” Now even his nephews join in with the Peter moves!

His free spirited movement has been nurtured from a very young age. “He’s been influenced his whole life by very strong women and he has a great respect for all women. He's grown up with my mom, mama Caruso, who absolutely adored Peter. I love the fact that he would dance with us. I can't tell you how many home movies and videos we have of all of us dancing together with Peter in the middle of it all. He would do his thing and it was so natural. We were an audience that didn't allow Peter to feel like he had to put on a show for us. It was just a natural thing to do because we’re born singing, and dancing goes hand in hand with singing and music. I'm thrilled that both my children are very free and very uninhibited.”

It was always important to Rita that her children have an environment where they can feel free and uninhibited. She’s a self proclaimed flower child and hippy and her eclectic style has been adopted by both Lindsay and Peter. She championed their self expression in all healthy forms including supporting the growth of Peter’s mustache. “I have to be honest, I love every inch of his handsome and beautiful face. I do love seeing all of it, so I like the way he goes back and forth with it… It grows really quickly and he's got all that hair too thank God! He got that from the Caruso side of the family.”

I felt inspired, challenged, and even obligated to sing after speaking with Rita. I cannot convey the passion she imparted to me. All I know is that every time I see Peter extend his arms out to start the clap for “Pancakes,” I’ll be thinking “uppa tea!” I’ll leave you with these insightful words from a Mother Goose:

“In today's world, because of technology, we have music any time we want it just by pushing a button. There's not that organic singing, of just singing acapella no matter what we think about our voices. We used to be a nation of music makers and now we've become a nation of music consumers. I don't know who said that, but it is so true. Hanging out together and singing is such a beautiful, beautiful thing to do. Children don't always listen to what we say, but they watch our every move. The biggest responsibility in the whole world is parenting because we've got the future… Just sing to your children, dance with your children, play with your children, there's really nothing better… park your ego at the door and don't think boy, I can't sing. Everybody can sing! There was a symposium of professional musicians, most of whom played in symphonic orchestras, young musicians, and they took a poll and asked all of them, what has influenced you the most in your musical journey. The number one answer was my mother's singing voice… there's nothing more magical, nothing more loving than that voice of mama or papa singing to them and building self esteem through music. There's nothing better.”

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