Cristi Catt teaches in the Contemporary Improvisation department here at NEC Prep. Wait, what? Yup, that’s right. We have Contemporary Improvisation at NEC Prep! And as of this year, we’re thrilled to welcome Cristi Catt as one of its newest faculty members.
About Cristi Catt: Cristi grew up in Lawrence, Kansas. After living in Salzburg and New York, she has made her home in Cambridge, MA for many years. Cristi is married to an actor and they have two kids – a piano playing, tap dancing basketball player and a writer/performer who is part of the Chicago comedy scene. Cristi bikes to NEC when weather allows and loves riding along the Charles to get to work.
Fun fact: Cristi loves to go birding with her son Peter at Plum Island.
Cristi Catt serves on the Contemporary Improvisation and Voice Departments for NEC Prep, teaching private lessons and leading A cappella ensembles. She is also a faculty member for the College and Continuing Education Program at NEC in the Contemporary Improvisation Department.
Q&A with Cristi Catt
What is your earliest musical memory?
One of my earliest memories is being 9 years old, getting ready to walk on stage to audition for a part in Aaron Copland’s The Tenderland at the University of Kansas. I had walked down to the college campus after school at the suggestion of my music teacher. When I arrived, others kids were there with their mothers who were giving them all sorts of advice. I tried to pick up what I could and then decided that I would sing the loudest. So, I went with that. It worked and I got the part. It was a life changing experience for me as I got to be part of a fully staged production with orchestra and such wonderful musicians. Copland came to some of the rehearsals. Since I was the “cute kid” in the cast, I ended up sitting on his lap. It hit me that through music this one man, had created a huge, wonderful world that we were working in. I knew then that music was for me.
What made you decide to sing/choose the instrument that you play?
Oops, I think I just answered that. I got the bug to sing in 3rd grade. I tried other things — flute and piano but for me singing is the best way to express what I want to express. I do wish I had practiced my piano more!! I became a singer because being able to express a text or tell a story through music is what really excites me.
Are there any musicians in your family?
Yes, my grandfather Harp was known in Winfield, KS as being a fine tenor who sang in his local church. His daughters, my grandmother and aunt Mackie, were both musicians. My grandmother played organ and piano. My aunt had a beautiful singing voice. They both planned to go to music school and even had scholarships but because of the depression, it wasn’t possible for them. My grandmother kept playing. She accompanied silent movies and played organ for her church. My grandmother and aunt Mackie performed regularly for a local radio show. I think it was called “Ake and Drake in the Morning.”
If you could be anything other than a musician, what would you be?
If I wasn’t a musician, I think I would work in the field of health and wellness. I am very interested in nutrition, yoga and wellness. Or, perhaps I would be a linguist as I am fascinated by the way languages adapt over time with pronunciations changing and languages splitting off into different languages and dialects.
What do you like doing outside of music?
I enjoy riding my bike, reading, birding, and hiking. I think I am happiest when I am swimming whether it’s at Walden Pond or at the beach. I love the water!
Most inspiring composer or piece of music?
That’s hard. Steve Reich’s Tehillim is an important piece to me. My ensemble, Tapestry, made our debut with that work for vocal quartet and chamber orchestra at Jordan Hall many years ago. It’s such an exhilarating piece to sing. There are 6 percussionists clapping and playing tambourines, maracas, and marimba. The melodies are wonderful and the piece just flies along in a mix of meters. At some points the singers are in canon, off an eighth note from one another. It’s very challenging but so rewarding. Later Tapestry performed the piece for Steve Reich’s 70th birthday with Marin Alsop conducting the Colorado Symphony. At the post reception we sang Happy Birthday to Reich as a canon, each coming in an eight note apart. That was a kick! I am inspired by Couperin’s Lecons des Tenebres and Piazolla’s Oblivion, the opening of Dvorak’s New World Symphony, Bernstein’s West Side Story, songs of Faure and Barber, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, Appalachian folk songs, medieval cantigas and folk songs of Portugal.
What are the last 3 pieces/songs you listened to?
I have been listening to Elisabetta Scano singing on a recording of the complete works for voice and piano by Respighi. These are gorgeous songs and beautifully sung by Scano. In the last few weeks, my listening has focused on getting ready to teach this year. Just a few minutes ago, I listened to what might be the only song written in the Locrian mode, Dust to Dust by folk singer, accordionist and songwriter John Kirkpatrick. This was to prepare for a Medieval/Folk Roots class I am teaching. I have also been listening to pop music that my students want to explore in A Capella ensembles, most recently “Royals.” One great thing about teaching is that you are always learning new things. My every day listening is quite varied. When I want to let loose, I put on the Horse Flies. They are hard to describe but I encourage everyone I know to listen to them. They mix traditional, ethnic and indie rock styles and have an amazing sense of groove. Lately I have been listening to composer David Lang. It’s a real mix.
What do you love most about NEC Prep?
I love the people here. This is my first year and everyone has been so kind and welcoming. I am impressed by the dedication of the faculty and staff. I know how over scheduled everyone is these days and it is so wonderful to see parents and students value music and make a commitment to serious study. I know these students are tomorrow’s leaders and it is wonderful to be a part of this.
What’s the best piece of musical advice you’ve received and who gave it to you?
One of my earliest teachers simply told me to follow my heart and make my own path. I try to stick by that and pass this along to my students.
Any advice for young musicians in general?
I would advise young musicians to take criticism with a grain of salt. I encounter so many adult students who have confidence issues and blocks because of something a teacher said to them. Usually, once we get to work, it turns out they have been holding onto something that wasn’t even true. A teacher or someone leading a master class pointed out some issue. To the teacher, it was likely a passing comment but to the student it can sometimes be debilitating. So, remember that teachers are trying to help you get better and take comments in stride. Let them inspire you to reach higher but don’t worry about criticism too much. Music is supposed to be uplifting so don’t let it get you down.
To learn more about Contemporary Improvisation at NEC Prep, click here, or reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or (617) 585-1160.