The Music Gals of San Jose lose their home and their instruments in a fire

Standing in front of the burnt structure they called home, Jane Silver and Elaine Miller couldn’t help but be moved. Sheet music, family photos and magazines still litter the floor. A broken and burned piano sits in their driveway.

“We didn’t expect this,” Miller told San Jose Spotlight this week. “It was just another day and then it turned into a disaster.”

Earlier this month, the couple were in the middle of a routine workout at their mobile home park club, when a neighbor came running in, shouting that their house was on fire.

“I left like I was 20,” Silver, 80, told San Jose Spotlight. “I just ran and shouted, ‘My house! My house!'”

Miller, 77, was right behind Silver in his car. When they reached their mobile home a block away, the fire had consumed it. Everything they had shared over the past decade, including their instruments and music collection, was gone.

“There was nothing left after 20 minutes,” Miller said. “I was in tears for at least a week after it happened.”

Elaine Miller examines what remains of the home she shared with her partner for the past 13 years. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

Silver and Miller, a pair of retired teachers-turned-musicians, still don’t know what caused the fire, as Miller said firefighters and PG&E refused to inspect the site. Miller’s daughter, Jen, arrived the next day from Southern California to help situate the couple. Jen has since set up a GoFundMe campaign that has raised around $13,000 so far.

Jen said the campaign money would help the couple, known to many in the area as “Music Gals”, to rebuild their lives. They are still working with their insurance to determine next steps, as it could be months before they start building a new home. They are currently sleeping in a room at a friend’s house.

“It’s just been a roller coaster of emotions,” Jen told San Jose Spotlight. “Just like that, they lost all their personal belongings from their families, friends and all the music files that my mother composed and wrote.”

Elaine Miller and her neighbor Patricia Heath in front of the burned house. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

“We can come back”

Silver met Miller about 30 years ago when Silver was trying to learn to play guitar. The pair hit it off right away.

“I was very impressed that she liked the music,” Silver said. “Elaine is one of those people who got into music very early on.”

Miller made a career as a high school physics and chemistry teacher, and Silver taught English as a Second Language (ESL) as a substitute teacher. They met in Southern California, spent several years teaching in Humboldt County before settling in a trailer park near Willow Glen 13 years ago. They got married five years ago.

The couple are spending their days performing, recording, teaching and performing music at community centers and care facilities, and on their patios during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Music Gals started out as a trio. The third member left several years ago, but over the years the band has grown to nine with Silver and Miller.

The passion and joy that emanates from Miller and Silver when talking and playing music has attracted others, including Patricia Heath. Heath, a retired naval officer and neighbor of the couple, is a singer in the group.

“They recruited me,” Heath told San Jose Spotlight. “It’s been a lot of fun.”

Even after the devastating fire, the women didn’t miss a beat. Five days later, they were practicing and fixing their pain with music.

“It’s another chapter in our journey,” Miller said. “But I hope this chapter will uplift the people of this park and not make them sad.”

Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.

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