OCEANSIDE – Family and community remember the life of a longtime Oceanside resident and pianist Cecelia Bañez Mondero, who carried on her father’s legacy by serving others through music.
Mondero passed away on Jan. 26. She was 82 years old.
Mondero’s father, Juan Bañez, first introduced his daughter to music at the young age of 3. She had been born in 1939 in Dagupan City, Philippines, so by this time the world was well into the Second World War.
Her father was a teacher, composer and concert pianist who is known today as the pianist who reconstructed Francisco Santiago’s Piano Concerto following the original’s destruction.
When Mondero was 5 years old, United States soldiers created a makeshift stage for her to play patriotic songs like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” on the piano in celebration of the Philippines’ liberation from Japanese occupation. From then on, music would become a central part of Mondero’s life.
Mondero’s family eventually immigrated to the United States. Just like her father, Mondero went on to earn several degrees including a bachelor’s degree from Holy Names University, a master’s degree in musical public performance from the University of Redlands, another master’s in music education from the University of California Berkeley and a third master’s in music therapy at West Texas A&M University.
Mondero moved to Oceanside in 1981 with her husband, Lito, and sons Eric, Glen and Joel. Throughout her life, she worked as music teacher, pianist and choir director. A devout Catholic, she also played at local Oceanside churches like St. Mary, Star of the Sea and St. Margaret Parish.
“Music was part of her everyday life,” said Trish Jones, Mondero’s daughter-in-law. “She had multiple pianos in the house, and pretty much up until the last couple of months before passing she would always sit down and play.”
Jones recalls her mother-in-law playing music from memory around Christmastime, about a month before she died.
“She was listening to ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and said she really wanted to play something from it,” Jones said. “She listened to it and played it from memory – she had a perfect ear.”
Mondero also liked to share her music with others not just through teaching but also as therapy. She would frequently play the piano at Bread of Life Rescue Mission.
“Music is part of everyone’s soul,” Mondero said in a 2017 article in The Osider. “Music calms the body, mind and soul. The opportunity to share a few notes is a love and passion for music that’s indescribable.”
The Oceanside pianist’s love for music didn’t distract her from taking care of her family. The family had previously owned the Sandpiper at Buccaneer Beach (known as Buccaneer Galley today), a bus station diner and a food truck that they would take to various construction sites across town during lunchtime.
Since music didn’t always pay well, she had a knack for finding various side jobs to help raise her sons and eventually put them through college – all the while continuing her passion.
“She was fearless and fierce,” Jones said.