When Lourdes Swope doesn't coordinate agendas, schedule meetings and take minutes as board secretary at Tampa International Airport, she channels her lifelong passion for music by playing guitar in the presence of family and friends.
Swope loved to play her Spanish guitar with her close friends in her high school and college years. In one instance, they took their guitars, maracas, guiros and other musical instruments to go door-to-door from San Juan, Puerto Rico to the other side of the island during the Christmas season late at night. Swope and her friends sang Spanish Christmas carols and played their instruments in front of about five houses.
The residents of each house woke up when they heard the live music and invited the band in for refreshments before the band traveled to perform in front of the next house. This Christmas festivity called the "Parrandas Navideñas" is a unique tradition of Spanish-speaking islands like Puerto Rico and Cuba.
"In Spanish culture, Christmas time is an extremely happy and cheerful time, so that guitar went with me everywhere during the holidays," she said.
As a young girl, Swope listened to one of her cousins play guitar and "fell in love with it." She got her first Spanish guitar when she was about 12. Swope never had formal guitar training; her knowledge of this instrument is mainly self-taught.
"I just started fooling around with it, and it came naturally to me," she said. "I don't know the names of chords. I just play by ear."
Many of Swope's friends and then-boyfriend – now husband – were interested in music and could also play guitar, so the group would often venture into Puerto Rican rainforests and beaches with a guitar to socialize and have a good time.
Playing the guitar also became a way of creative expression and an outlet for her emotions, but she never performed with her guitar professionally. Swope's husband and his rock band, however, played at high school dances many years ago.
Although the guitar was Swope's main musical instrument, she also played piano and sang at various points in her life. She took piano lessons for a year and a half right before she went to college.
"I advanced very, very fast," Lourdes said. "Within one year of piano lessons, my teacher said I was probably in my second or third year of piano."
After graduating from high school, Lourdes went to the University of Puerto Rico where she concentrated on her studies in secretarial sciences and liberal arts. Piano took a backseat because it was very time-consuming, she said.
Lourdes and her husband moved from Puerto Rico to Tampa shortly after they finished college. Her husband and brother-in-law went into business together managing several Laundromats. She worked for a local engineering firm before starting as an executive secretary in the facilities department of Tampa International Airport 23 years ago.
She was promoted and held various other administrative posts until her current position as board secretary, where she serves as a liaison between the TPA board and the Aviation Authority.
Lourdes also played guitar with the airport employee holiday choir for about seven years as a fun side activity. She and the holiday choir performed at employee Christmas luncheons and at a few times at an airport terminal.
Lourdes hopes her and her husband's musical inclinations get passed down through her son and daughter to her four small grandchildren.
"I would like to see my grandkids fall in love with music like my husband and I did," she said. "I want to see one of them take the guitar and continue on."