Note-worthy Experiences Music Studio
F E A T U R E
Interview with Emilie Catlett
F E A T U R E
Interview with Emilie Catlett
What is your favorite genre of music?
Oof. It depends on my mood. Here is my honest answer:
While I have no scholarly evidence for this, I firmly believe that we forge our musical identities in our teens. My own musical tastes can be traced back to the 5 albums I played on loop between the ages of 12 and 18:
1. Billy Joel’s River of Dreams, 1993.
2. Crossing Bridges, 2004 with Mark O’Connor, Natalie Haas, and Carol Cook. I switched to
viola because of this album.
3. Ella and Louis, 1956
4. Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, 1973.
5. The Best of Fiddle Fever, 1990.
I should also mention that during these years, I played in several North Texas fiddle contests, so I listen to a lot of country music. Presently, my favorite tunes reflect my work more than they do my down-time. I’m currently writing a book about fiddle waltzes that made it to the Texas fiddle contests, and I’m arranging several of them for my viola duo. Bluegrass power-couple Bill Monroe and Kenny Baker occupy most of my headspace at this time. Next week, it could be someone else. While I enjoy playing classical music with my friends, I don’t listen to enough of it.
How old were you when you first learned to play an instrument?
My mother put me in piano lessons when I was 3 or 4. I don’t remember much about the lessons. I remember singing more than I practiced piano, actually. I’ve tried a little bit of everything when I was a kid: guitar, clarinet, saxophone. My two sisters and I started violin lessons at the same time. I
was an older beginner at 9. Violin was the instrument that stuck...until I got my hands on a viola.
Who were some of your most inspiring teachers?
This is a tough one for me to answer, but I feel like it’s such an important question. I’ve had the privilege of studying with some amazing musicians: classical, folk, and jazz. I have also had some incredibly challenging experiences with teachers, and I think these are just as important as the amazing ones. Three stick out, though. My old fiddle teacher, Dale Morris Sr, (“Waltz King” of Texas) taught me how to put my heart into my music. I wish I could put his speaking voice on the page, because it’s this slow, thick, small town Texas way of speaking. He phrases things just like he speaks, and my
time with him left quite a mark on my playing. The accent is certainly present in all of my work, but I think that makes me unique. Wayne Brooks was my Houston viola teacher. Here, I might get a little bit vulnerable. Mr. Brooks is an incredible violist, with a long career in the Houston Symphony. Many of his students move on to similar careers. I was not one of those students. I had almost no real classical strings experience when he took me into his studio; when we parted ways, I still had some technical mountains to climb. It was a challenging relationship at times, but I learned how to work my tail off. Rictor Noren was my Boston Conservatory teacher. In the two years we worked together, I went from a violist who worked really hard to hide her fiddling “accent,” to one who embraces her diverse musical identity. Mr. Noren gave me a space to just be unconventional, while still holding my
technique to high standards.
What is your advice for students who want to learn a new instrument or improve their
First, you should just go for it. Life is too short to not try the sound that you’re really drawn to. My second piece of advice comes from a dear friend and colleague of mine, Andy Reiner: “embrace the suck.” In order to become really good at something, we have to first be really bad at it. Learning to play an instrument is not always an amazing experience, and we will all go through periods of really hard work. Honestly, sometimes we are going to really feel like we “suck,” but that does not have to mean that it’s not worth the effort. Again, life is too short for us not to forgive ourselves for not immediately being “good” at something. Third, and last: spend time playing the things that you like. That can be something you learned in earlier lessons, a theme from a movie, or a really cool instrumental solo you heard in that new song you like. Learning to play an instrument can sometimes be a real slog, so you need to keep things you like to play in your back pocket.
When you are not performing or teaching what do you like to do?
Oh, I do a lot of things. I love to be outside, so I hike 5-6 miles every morning. I live very close to Ponkapoag Pond, so that’s my usual route. I closely follow the Great British Bake-off, because I enjoy a good baking challenge.. For those of you who are 21 and up, I brew my own cider and limoncello.;-) I do all of this while listening to audiobooks and podcasts, but my tastes are generally pretty spooky. I am also known to occasionally play Magic the Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons.
To learn more about Emilie, visit her Teacher Page.