Humans of Calvert County, Sarah Merranko & Anita Santoyo

“I started off wanting to be a concert pianist! I really wanted to go to Peabody. At the time I was studying piano, having little hands was a detriment, now it doesn’t matter, there’s ways to work around it. I went and met with them and they explained I was a liability with my small hands. 

I was made who I was. I’ve made it this far with these little hands. So then I thought I would be an academic…..

So I became a psychology professor. I was at CSM, that’s actually where I met my husband. He actually was a student, an older student! He was taking my class and he got me by walking up and going ‘do we all have a shared sense of reality or do we all have our own personal states of reality?’ For an undergrad to ask that question, I was like, well….have a seat…

He was cute. And he played guitar. ?

I sat and talked and then I very bluntly told him if he was going in the direction I thought he was going in, he would have to drop my class because ethically I didn’t feel comfortable.

He not only did not drop the class, he just stopped coming. So I gave him an F! He stopped coming because he wanted to date me but he never dropped the class. I warned him too! His transcript has a big fat F and it’s from me! 

We dated for about six months, got engaged and were married about ten months later. It was fast! I just knew. And then the babies came four years later. 

In April 2004 my husband opened up Garrett Music Academy. He ran it with himself and a few teachers and then expanded. 

And then in 2014, he made the decision that he wanted to go to seminary. So he left the business. He, since a little boy, wanted to be a priest and what stopped him was that he wanted to have a family. So he resisted, but he always had been interested in theology and The Bible and always felt a calling. So he answered it and went into seminary. I was here so I kind of took over the daily operations and I’ve really been on my own ever since!

One of our teachers, her name was Nancy, she wanted to expand. She wanted to be a part of it and make it a really big school. And about a week before we were supposed to move, Nancy died. She died suddenly. 37 years old. She was with me on a Friday night and we were getting ready to go somewhere the next day. We had been packing and moving stuff around and she kept complaining about her hands hurting. She left to go meet her husband, she got in the car and drove away and that was the last time we saw her. She had a heart attack. I found out the next morning. 

She was a mentor to so many young ladies and had a good heart, would have given you the shirt off her back. Just a really strong, sweet, incredible person. You could not not gravitate towards Nancy, she just had that spirit.

Then she was gone. That was in February and then in June, the building next door burnt down and it took half of our classrooms and a lot of our equipment, and ended up flooding this building were in. That’s when we went to All Saints and they were so generous with letting us stay there. If it hadn’t been for them, I don’t know that we would have survived. We wouldn’t have a place.

There was lots of fear. I was terrified. I was absolutely terrified. I was scared. I felt alone and isolated. 

What got me through that first couple of months is some teachers here came to me and they sat down and said ‘we know you can do this. It’s going to be okay. Don’t give up.’

And then when the building burnt down, I spent a good week thinking is this going to survive? Nancy is gone and within a couple of months, this. I was literally in the parking lot on my knees sobbing. What do I do now? What do I do now?

The community came together and started giving us instruments. The community stuck with us, and we came back in here and everything seemed like it came back together.

I could have very easily said I’m done. It would have been very easy to do. Easy would have been I’m done! Next.

But I had two little girls at home that were watching me. And I had to be strong in front of them so that they could see that I wasn’t going to give up. In my family I was raised that adversity happens and you have to suck it up and you have to do something, you can’t just lay in bed and hide. 

After a week of crying I woke up and said these people depend on me, I’ve never had anybody rely on me before. And my children rely on me. Why am I still in my pajamas? I need to go up and do something.

That fire was a blessing. Because it reminded me of why we do what we do and what the purpose is of what we do. There’s a bigger purpose to it. It’s a blessing.

Music should be for everybody!

Music is truly for everyone! We work with a lot of autism, a lot of ADHD, a lot of ADD. And we’ve also partnered with the Arc of Southern Maryland and we have group music classes. You can not walk out of that room without smiling! This is unabashed joy! You have people that are just so happy to be included in something that otherwise they wouldn’t have access to. 

We’re not just teachers, we’re mentors, we’re therapists at times. 

We’re not here just to teach music, we’re here to inspire life, inspire our families and inspire them for whatever it is they want to go for.

Just to be able to be present in that moment for that person is a God-sent. It really is, it’s a gift. You don’t realize it until you’re in the thick of it until you have a teenager who says I had a really bad day at school and they just let it out, and you go ‘wow, you trust me enough to share that with me.’ I’m honored. Just the fact that they’ll let me in. Even if it’s for fifteen minutes, if it’s for an hour, if it’s for thirty minutes, they let me in enough where I feel like I’m doing something greater and I notice that with all of our teachers. They all have connections with students that they wouldn’t have somewhere else. 

I’m in my happy place. I’m where I’m making a difference. I feel like we’ve just scratched the surface and I can’t wait to keep going.

It’s gratitude. It’s having complete gratitude for everything that you do and everything that you have. I’m grateful for that moment. Savoring it and saying thank you. That’s everything. Because when you take it for granted, it’s gone.”

David M. Higgins II, Publisher/Editor

David M. Higgins was born in Baltimore and grew up in Southern Maryland. He has had a passion for journalism since high school. After spending many years in the Hospitality Industry he began working in...