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Interview with Kate Moody, January 2020
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Kate Moody and I have known each other for years, but we just met in person when Scott Cossu played in concert here last fall. In California, we were both piano teachers on opposite sides of Contra Costa County who shared the same piano tuner and several mutual friends, but we never met, just exchanged email messages. Kate moved several times and we both ended up in the Pacific Northwest. It still took a long time to actually meet, though. Kate will be opening up the 2020 House Concert Series on March 1, so it's a great time to do an interview!

KP: Hi Kate! This interview has been a long time coming! I'm glad we're finally making it happen and that you will be performing in concert here in a few weeks. What are your plans for the concert?

KM: Kathy, I am thrilled to have finally met you! I so appreciate all you do for the world of piano, and for music in general. Maybe we can create a special Ambassadorship for you :) I am really looking forward to playing a Mainly Piano concert. I plan to play a set of pieces, "Lavender Shadows," and "Lavender Blues," which I usually bring out at this time of year. This is the poem which accompanies the pieces:

Thank you for pink in the sky
this bare branch morning.
Thank you for robin egg blue sliver on the horizon,
for muffled evergreen sketched in charcoal and mist
on a steely lavender shadow of island.

I also have a set of water-related pieces: "Row, Row, Row, Your Boat" (the metaphysical interpretation), "Chanty," and "Still Waters." There will be piano transcriptions of a couple of my orchestral pieces, and a couple of songs. And maybe a surprise guest ;)

KP: Sounds great! I'm really looking forward to it!

You are also leading a Piano Day celebration in March. What is that about?
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KM: I saw a Facebook post last year about a Piano Day celebration and looked into it. It is a growing international movement to celebrate piano music on the 88th day of the year. Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Coos Bay, where I work, is welcoming piano players of all ages and abilities to help celebrate the fine and mighty instrument!

KP: Since we've known each other, you've lived in the SF Bay Area, Hawaii, Washington state, and now on the Oregon Coast. How do you like being on the coast near Coos Bay?

KM: I love being on the coast! I have been living in Port Orford, and am able to WALK TO THE BEACH. It is healing and inspiring and I am just so grateful for the beautiful gift of the ocean. I have lots of pics. I spent many years in Kitsap County (Puget Sound), in Suquamish and Bainbridge Island in Washington.

KP: Have you been able to enroll enough piano students down there? I'm sure you have several other music-related jobs as well (don't we all???). I know you said your last Thursday consisted of: "I left the house at 8 to get to the Boys and Girls Club to set up the music room for piano/keyboards class. Then I went to Emmanuel Episcopal and played piano and organ (not at the same time haha) for a Celebration of Life service, then taught a couple of lessons, then back to the Boys & Girls Club and got three groups of kids started on keyboards, then another private lesson, and then choir rehearsal."

KM: I told you all that stuff about my Thursday to let you know that, in true musician fashion, I am putting lots of things together. This past Thursday was a little unusual in having a funeral and the first day of piano class. One thing I hope for from Piano Day is to raise awareness regarding the value of acoustical music. My own experience and what I hear from other music teachers is that there is declining interest in piano lessons - although I had about 15 kids show up yesterday for the first day of classes at the Boys & Girls Club, and I am happy about that.

KP: In Hercules (CA), I had a waiting list for lessons for years, but that started to change in the early 2000's. That's another conversation!

What are some of your other musical projects for this year?
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KM: I have had a special big piece which has been gestating for a few years which I think I am going to be able to make a substantial beginning on - a friend of mine is lending me her cabin on Mt. Lassen (where I was when the music began to stir) for a couple of weeks in June. I don't want to say too much, but will share that it features trombones, two sets of timpani, harp, and, of course, piano.

KP: Sounds intriguing! You have released seven albums to date. They seem to be pretty diverse, from solo piano to symphonic to guided meditations. Which is your favorite?

KM: My favorite is Grateful Heart because it was my first - Robbie Jordan played flute and saxophone and he was sublime. Every once in awhile you meet someone you can groove with musically and that is the best! Also loved Scott Vomvolakis on percussion, he is superb. I met both of those players through Scott Cossu. My other favorite album is The Seeker - recording that album is one of the tiptop highlights of my life. We were at Capitol Studios with A-List players from an A-List contractor - it all magically fell together. I had written all this orchestral music and it sounded even better than I expected it to when it was played! The musicians were fantastic, but most of that is due to the wonderful conductor, Peter Boyer. He got the music right off, and was sweet and clear and present. I think that comes through in the recording.

KP: Do you have plans to release any albums in the near-future?

KM: No. I have dream lists, but right now I'm pretty well occupied with playing a new show every week at church, and learning how to play organ. Emmanuel has a beautiful pipe organ. It is awesome to play, and there is so much to discover - the different sounds and effects. With all the different stops you really have a chance to be an arranger of sorts.

KP: I took lessons from our church organist when I was a kid and begged her to teach me, but she refused. She said it would ruin my piano touch. Hmmm - she played both!

Your record label is "CoCo Lounge Presents." Is CoCo your nickname?

KM: Cocoa was my studio cat from 1985-2005. She would lounge on top of the upright grand under the piano light - nice and toasty.

KP: Cats certainly tend to be drawn to the piano, don't they?

Let's back up and find out more about your background. Where were you born and where did you grow up?

KM: I was born in Washington D.C. when my father was clerking at the Supreme Court. The family returned to California (where all my siblings were born) when I was two, and I grew up in Berkeley. In the sixties :0

KP: I was in Oakland, so I can relate!

When did you start playing the piano?

KM: I think I was seven when I began. I was lucky to have a neighborhood piano teacher, Mrs. Denham, who was an excellent teacher. When I was in sixth grade I was playing a Beethoven sonata, and played "Bumble Boogie" at a school assembly.

KP: Interesting! "Bumble Boogie" was my go-to piece in middle school! I should dust it off sometime. Maybe we could do a "bumble-off" at your concert!!! (just kidding!)

How long did you take piano lessons?

KM: Mrs. Denham moved to Lafayette when I was 12, about the same time my parents split up and a lot of other wild stuff was going on. I didn't play piano for awhile, but I did start playing guitar, and began writing songs when I was fourteen.
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Kate and her sister.
KP: Were you encouraged to compose or improvise by your teacher(s)?

KM: Nope.

KP: Me either. Improvisation was pretty much forbidden.

When did you start composing music?

KM: I was doing the songwriting when I was a teenager, but there were a few years in there where I wasn't very creative. I didn't go to college right away. I was traveling and taking classes at junior colleges whenever I landed someplace long enough to enroll. Music continued to call me, so I finally decided to settle down and study. On the strength of what I'd studied with Mrs. Denham I got a piano scholarship at Sonoma State. A friend of mine from high school kept bugging me about getting back to writing music, but I was playing the great masters, and felt inadequate. Then I had a false positive on a seemingly-innocent medical test, and spent a few days reflecting on what I'd like to do if I only had a year left to live (haha not at all dramatic). A kind of inner voice said, "Write an opera." What?? I found out that my health was fine, but the seed had been planted. I enrolled in a class which was writing incidental music for a production of "Twelfth Night." It was a thrilling experience, and I was hooked.

KP: Isn't it amazing how seemingly unrelated events can cause such turning points in our lives?

KM: Yes! A good thing to remember when you're in the weeds...

KP: When did you release your first album?

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Kate and her "assistant," Dolly.

KM: My first album was in 1993. I had finished graduate school and had been reeling myself back in from the lofty, intellectual, atonal heights I'd been inhabiting at the New England Conservatory. My boyfriend challenged me to write a piece that he would like, and also find commercially appealing. He had a David Benoit album he loved, so I listened to it for inspiration, and wrote "Still Waters." My boyfriend loved it, and it became the basis of Grateful Heart.

KP: Did you ever want to be anything but a musician?

KM: Well, yes - there are many times I have thought I would rather be anything BUT a musician! It won't leave me alone! But I do love music and am happy writing, and arranging, and performing.

KP: Are any of your family members musicians?

KM: My oldest brother is a visual artist, who also writes books and poetry. The next brother is a dance teacher, and calls contra dances. My sister is a poet. Our parents were Ivy League PhD types, go figure!

KP: Do you play other instruments in addition to piano?

KM: No, but I have written and arranged for lots of different instruments.

KP: Who and what do you consider to be some of your musical influences?

KM: The records we listened to over and over growing up were Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, Herb Alpert's Whipped Cream, Benjamin Britten's Ceremony of Carols, and My Fair Lady. We had a large living room and would dance wildly, and were especially dramatic with the cannons in the 1812 Overture. There was some Brahms in there, too. Then came the Beatles, and Joni Mitchell. The genius of Joni.

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Kate and her choir, Resonance - Advent 2018

KP: There is a lot of diversity there! Who are your favorite composers?

KM: Beethoven - Leonard Bernstein's final concert, when he conducted Beethoven's Seventh Symphony - completely transcendent.

KP: Who are some of your favorite performers?

KM: I loved John Denver in concert. So connected. When I was in the East Bay we'd go to Armando's, a true hole-in-the-wall in Martinez, and see all kinds of obscure and amazing music in a fun, intimate venue. That's where I learned that harmonica music could actually be beautiful!

KP: I don't remember hearing about Armando's, but I didn't spend a lot of time in Martinez.

You mentioned that Scott Cossu helped you get your first album together. How did that come about?

KM: When I was living on Bainbridge, my pushy - I mean, encouraging - boyfriend took me to see Scott perform. Norm strongly encouraged me to introduce myself to Scott - which I did. It was terrifying - if you can imagine being terrified of Scott! It wasn't Scott who scared me - I'm just a shy introvert. I got together with Scott the next week and played "Still Waters" for him. He gave me an assignment to write another piece in another style, which I went away and did. After I played it for him he gave me another assignment, and pretty soon I had a bunch of pieces and he'd connected me with some great musicians, and we were recording - voila!

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Recording "The Seeker" at Capitol Studios.

KP: Scott is such a sweetheart! Because of his prominence, I was a little intimidated when he came here to play the first time, but that resolved itself very quickly!

What has been your most exciting musical moment to date?

KM: Walking down the ramp that leads to Studio A at Capitol Studios in Hollywood: it's a long hallway, the walls lined with black and white photos of artists who have recorded there. Chills! The next day, listening to the raw take of "Angels & Eskimos" - the sound was all-encompassing, and the three of us in that room were weeping - gratitude!

KP: I'm listening to that album right now! It's really beautiful!

If you could have any three wishes, what would they be?

KM: 1) I wish that our nation would prioritize care for all citizens in its governance. The highest good for the most people. After all, we are all in this together!

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2) I wish that chemical fragrances would be outlawed (along with lead paint, public smoking - you get the idea). It is so painful to be taking a nice walk, and then start to pick up the smell of someone's toxic laundry product wafting through the air from their dryer vent. I have cut way back on classical concerts - they seem to be the worst for perfume, etc.

3) I would just love to have an unlimited bank account so I could build my dream retreat where I teach, write music, finish my treatise on enlightened socialism (see Wish #1), garden, host concerts and healing events, and enjoy funding for recording projects with excellent performers.

KP: Is there anything else you'd like to talk about?

KM: Because of our East Bay connection I wanted to let you know that I've written an orchestral fantasy about Mt. Diablo, "Mountain Tapestry" (not yet performed).

KP: I can't wait to hear it!

Many thanks to Kate Moody for taking the time to chat! For more information about Kate and her music, be sure to visit her website and her Artist Page here on MainlyPiano.com.
Kathy Parsons
January 2020