Ladano lives her dream

Thursday, February 24, 2011

An interview with Christine White Woods

Kathryn Ladano graduated from the University of Waterloo in 1999 with a BA in Music (Conrad Grebel University College), and in 2003, she received her MMus in bass clarinet performance from the University of Calgary. Following that, she was awarded a Canada Council for the Arts grant, which allowed her to move to Montreal and study for a year with world-renowned bass clarinetist, Lori Freedman. As an award-winning Canadian bass clarinetist, Kathryn specializes in contemporary music and free improvisation in solo and chamber settings.

In the fall of 2009, Kathryn was awarded a grant from the Region of Waterloo Arts Fund to make and self-release her first solo CD, Open, which was launched on September 24, 2010. “This has absolutely been a life-long dream and my proudest achievement to date,” she says.

In addition to her love of music, Kathryn says that she “enjoys Greek mythology, science-fiction and fantasy novels and films, yoga, stop-motion animation, theatre, travel, corny TV-shows like Monsterquest, Shiraz wine, French fries, daydreaming, and basically anything artistic that requires thought, creativity, and imagination.”

Born and raised in Kitchener, Kathryn returned to the Kitchener-Waterloo area in 2006, after living a year in Toronto, when she was offered a teaching job at Wilfrid Laurier University, where she currently teaches the first-year musical skills class.

Arts & Letters recently caught up with Kathryn to discuss both her music and teaching careers.

What do you remember most about your undergraduate experience at the University of Waterloo?

I loved all of my time at the University of Waterloo. I never enjoyed high school and when I entered university, I felt like I’d finally found the place where I belonged. What was great about Waterloo was that there was so much diversity in the arts courses. I could attend my music classes which were small and intimate − where it was easy to get to know everyone and really feel like you belonged − but I could also attend other arts classes in large lecture halls with hundreds of people, where it was easy to just fade into the background, which I also liked to do! My favourite music course was 20th Century Music taught by Dr. Laura Gray. I had the pleasure of being in her classes when she first started teaching at University of Waterloo, and she was my favourite music professor. She expressed so much enthusiasm for each topic that you couldn’t help but be inspired and drawn into each class. Studying contemporary music at University of Waterloo was life changing for me, and it had a huge impact on my career path.

How do you feel your education at University of Waterloo influenced your career?

When I began my studies at Waterloo, all I knew was that I wanted a career in music. I had no idea what my strengths were, what areas of music I would find the most interesting, or what exactly I would be doing in the music industry. My studies at Waterloo, I believe, completely shaped me. In first year, it introduced me to contemporary music, which I fell in love with.

I was encouraged to partake in directed studies which allowed me to branch out and learn about alternate techniques on my instrument (also known as extended techniques on the bass clarinet), and I also learned that I had a keen interest in Canadian repertoire in particular. This was also the first time in which I had a bass clarinet specialist, Tilly Kooyman, who I was able to study with on a one-on-one basis. Tilly opened up a whole new world for me. She introduced me to the vast and diverse body of bass clarinet repertoire, and she also taught me a lot about the most renowned bass clarinetists around the world (such as Lori Freedman, who I later ended up studying with).

While at Waterloo, I was able to play as a soloist, a chamber musician, and a large ensemble musician. This experience made me realize that solo and small ensemble playing was what I enjoyed the most, and that is the type of playing that I’ve chosen to specialize in as a professional. I think it’s also important to note that I knew going into university that I wanted to specialize on the bass clarinet, and Waterloo was the only school I applied to that would allow me to do this. Even schools with larger music programs (such as Wilfrid Laurier University), would not allow me to choose this specialization. So, choosing Waterloo and being able to specialize on bass clarinet (rather than on soprano clarinet as most other schools require you to do), was certainly life-altering and has affected everything in my musical life since.

You are currently teaching the first-year musical skills class at Wilfrid Laurier University. As a musician, what challenges does teaching present?

Up until this point, the only real teaching experience I had was with private instrumental music lessons. I taught clarinet, saxophone, and flute for a number of years. As well, I have done some guest lecturing, visiting university composition classes and discussing compositional techniques used when writing for the bass clarinet. I have also coached smaller ensembles and ensembles that perform freely improvised music.

A lot of the concepts are similar to those used in improvisation, as so much of it is about developing the ear and being able to recognize and replicate musical phrases and intervals, so I feel that it really plays to my strengths. The challenge with this type of teaching is that first-year music classes are so diverse. Everyone has a different background, and the comfort level with the course material varies so widely from person to person. Unfortunately, music is just one of those subjects where your high school work simply isn’t enough to prepare you for the program. Because of this, there is little consistency in the training that students applying for the program have and some students have to really work hard at catching up in their first year. However, the advantage I have here is that I can completely relate to the students who are unprepared and have to catch-up. When I first started studying music at Waterloo, I didn’t have the background that others in my class had and I really had to work hard at catching up during my first year of study.

Do you have any advice or insight to share with graduating students, especially music grads?

I think the best advice I can give is to figure out what it is that you really love to do and to work at that − regardless of what you think your level of success could be. I chose to specialize in an instrument that has many limitations as far as a career is concerned. I say this because professional orchestras generally don’t hire bass clarinetists − they hire clarinet specialists that will double on the bass. So already the career opportunities available to me were significantly minimized. Also, I love New Music and Free Improvisation − two of the least popular genres out there!

While I was a student, I always wondered how I could possibly make a go of music when I played an unusual and uncommon instrument with few opportunities, and the music I enjoyed the most had a limited audience with limited . However, this is what fulfilled me. This is what I enjoyed the most. Fortopportunitiesunately, regardless of all the things going against me, I just moved forward with what I loved, and I feel that I’ve carved out a nice niche for myself. I truly believe that if you really want something, you can get it if you try hard enough and you stay focused on that goal.

To find out more about Kathryn, visit her website.

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