Composing and Teaching Retreat near Cuba, New Mexico:



Several times during the years from 1975-1981, Dutch linguist Elizabeth Willink, mother of my composer-friend George Willink, invited me to stay at her adobe house near Cuba, New Mexico, on my trips back and forth from Chaco Canyon. Using her piano, I sketched several pieces there, including “Three Dances from Chaco Canyon: Concertpiece for Chamber Orchestra.” Though not highly trained in music, she was an avid and a discriminating listener. While I wrote at the piano, she often worked on her place, just outside the window. I invited her to the premiere of “Three Dances…” in Albuquerque. Having heard only bits and pieces, she was delighted to hear the whole piece.

“Willie” got to enjoy only five years of retirement there before passing away. George and I both tried to find a way to keep the house from being sold, but we both had young children and meager budgets. In 2005, using money inherited from my father, I bought the house and restored it as a composing and teaching retreat for myself and my students, and for other music students and guests who are interested in the scenic and spiritual landscape of northern New Mexico.

(Click to see enlarged photos)

photo by Kendall Mauldin


A 90-minute drive from Albuquerque, the house is located at the end of a mile of dirt road off NM Highway 96, a few miles north of US Highway 550 near Cuba. The specific directions are easy to follow. About 300 acres are protected from hunting by a neighbor, so there are elk herds, deer, rabbits and coyotes (which often sing to the stars at night, making an interesting echo effect in the valley). There are a few homes nearby, but there’s ample opportunity for hiking from the house and, after a 5-minute drive on dirt roads, to higher and wilder areas. There are mountain lions and bears, but they’re rarely seen except higher up in the San Pedro Parks Wilderness, the western wall of the Jemez Mountains

Private Lessons

Sunny, with a view of pine-covered mountains and an open valley, it’s a great place for composing, but also for teaching. Students who want a couple of helpful “pick-me-up” lessons in piano, voice, composition, orchestration or pedagogy, can have an hour lesson in late morning, time for lunch and rest or a walk at midday, followed by another hour lesson in the early afternoon. This allows time for travel there and back, from Albuquerque to the south or Durango to the north, without an overnight stay. The fee is $40 per hour for each of the two hours of instruction. See the “biography” section of my website, at, for my qualifications.

photo by Kendall Mauldin


The house is 2800 square-feet, with three bedrooms, 2 baths, and a large living room with a fold-out couch-bed, so there’s room to accommodate those wishing to stay overnight, when my schedule permits. There’s a $25 fee, per person per night, to help with the additional laundry, utility and food costs, with a maximum stay of two nights. Some people are interested in having one day of instruction, followed by a second day to see Ghost Ranch or Chaco Canyon, both within moderate driving distance (Chaco is about 90 minutes away). When my schedule permits, I enjoy going along as self-appointed “tour guide.”

photo by Kendall Mauldin

Group Lessons/Workshops

The schedule is the same as that for private lessons. The fee for between 2-4 people is $50 per hour of instruction (total, not per person). For 5-7 people, it is a total of $75 per hour, and for 8-10 people, $100 per hour. A teacher may bring his or her student for instruction, as well as for pedagogy ideas for himself or herself. With the help of some friendly neighbors (who also serve as a willing audience when invited), there’s room to accommodate small choirs or instrumental groups.

photo by Kendall Mauldin


If the student is under the age of 18, the parent or responsible party is invited to be present during the lessons. If the student is in good health and not susceptible to life-threatening seizures or conditions, some parents/guardians choose to visit Ghost Ranch, Chaco Canyon or the Jemez Mountains during the lesson times. Every effort is made to provide for the student’s safety, privacy, and comfort.

Recommended Use

When I was music director of the Albuquerque Boy Choir, our directors found that a retreat at Hummingbird Music Camp in the Jemez Mountains was well worth the trouble and expense when it came right before an important concert, tour or festival. If the retreat coaching doesn’t interfere with--but rather augments--the previous preparation, the same can hold true for an individual or chamber group preparing for a concert, audition, or recording session. A retreat-lesson is sometimes helpful in getting through a fallow period between high-energy events. Composition students often find it rewarding when they’re in a “dry” period. Boy singers going through the voice-change are relieved to work with someone who’s helped a lot of “cambiatas” through the transition. I’ve also given many private music teachers, in small or large groups, workshops on teaching composition, often using my own students or theirs as live examples.


There's a 5'11" Schirmer & Son piano, made in the German tradition, that was brought from Poland by Russian-born pianist Natalia Efremova.  Its tone and touch are dynamic and responsive.


At around 7,000 feet, efficient breathing techniques are required for singers and wind players. Those coming from sea level might want to take small doses of vitamin E in the days before traveling. It’s believed to improve the body’s use of oxygen. Heavy clothing is needed for winter, although it can warm up to shirtsleeve temperatures by midday, making a “layered” approach smart. In the summer, when the temperature is 95 degrees in Albuquerque, it’s usually 10-15 degrees cooler here, and quite comfortable in the adobe or in the shade. There’s no air conditioning, just fans. The dry air cools quickly at night, so it’s best to bring a sweater or light jacket, even in the summer. Provided by the local water-users association, the water is from wells and mountain springs. The food is simple, served family-style. Anyone with food allergies or restrictions must bring enough appropriate food to be comfortable for the day(s).

photo by Kendall Mauldin


My teaching schedule in Albuquerque makes it necessary to have two weeks notice before I can promise a retreat date. There can be snow on the dirt road in winter, but it’s bladed by the county. It’s easier to drive it then than when it’s muddy due to heavy rains, which are infrequent. Four-wheel drive is recommended, but not needed most of the time.

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Copyright © 2009 Michael Mauldin
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