San Jose fire destroys elderly musicians’ home and instruments
Jane Silver and Elaine Miller hope they can rebuild their San Jose home on the same lot. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

    Standing in front of the burned structure they used to call home, Jane Silver and Elaine Miller couldn’t help but be emotional. Music sheets, family photos and magazines still litter the ground. A broken and burned piano sits in their driveway.

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

    Earlier this month, the couple was in a middle of a routine band practice at their mobile home park clubhouse, when a neighbor came running in shouting their house was on fire.

    “I took off like I was a 20-year-old,” Silver, 80, told San José Spotlight. “I just ran and yelled, ‘My house! My house!'”

    Miller, 77, was right behind Silver in her car. When they reached their mobile home a block away, fire had consumed it. All they had shared for the last 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 looks at what’s left of the home she shared with her partner for the last 13 years. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

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

    Jen said the money from the campaign would help the couple, known to many in the area as ‘the Music Gals,’ rebuild their life. They’re still working with their insurance to figure out next steps, as it could be months before they start construction of a new home. They’re currently bunking in a room at a friend’s house.

    “It has just been a roller coaster of emotion,” Jen told San José Spotlight. “Just like that, they lost all of their personal items from families, friends and all of the music files my mom has composed and written.”

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

    ‘We can come back’

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

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

    Miller had a career as a physics and chemistry high school 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 mobile home park near Willow Glen 13 years ago. They were married five years ago.

    The pair spends their days playing, recording, teaching and performing music at community centers and care facilities—and on their patio during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Music Gals initially started 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 radiates from Miller and Silver when they talk and play music has drawn others in, including Patricia Heath. Heath, a retired Navy officer and the couple’s neighbor, is a singer in the group.

    “They recruited me,” Heath told San José 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 mending their pain with music.

    “It’s another chapter in our journey,” Miller said. “But I hope this chapter is going to lift up the people in this park and not make them feel sad.”

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

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