PHOTOS BY MARISA NICODEMUS
Meet Kathryn Brown, cohost of Classically Black Podcast. “Most people call me Katie. I have found that Kathryn is too formal.” Classically Black Podcast is a podcast where classical music is discussed from the Black perspective. “People often view classical music as an elitist art form in which you have to be trained in order to enjoy. We, however, want to help change that narrative. We speak candidly and colloquially about classical music in the same manner that one might speak about any other musical genre. When tuning in one might hear things like, ‘Man! Tchaikovsky is lit.
We never deserved him,’ or, ‘That piece is a bop.’ My cohost Dalanie and I are also black, classically trained musicians. So, in addition to changing the narrative about how one might speak about classical music, we are also breaking the stigma and adding to the conversation about who creates classical music. Black classical musicians are here, and we’ve been here. This is our music and we are not going anywhere.”
Katie is a classically trained violist from Evanston, IL. She did her undergraduate studies at Illinois State University in Normal, IL in Music Education. Meaning she is certified to teach K-12 orchestra in the state of Illinois. She moved to Rochester to attend the Eastman School of Music in August of 2016. “Eastman is certainly my dream school, so I was ready to move to Rochester the day I got my acceptance!” She is currently completing a double masters in Viola Performance and Literature and Music Education at the Eastman School of Music.
So, WHO IS KATIE BROWN? In her own words: “I think that I am hilarious and most of my friends will say that I don’t take anything seriously. And while I think this statement is laced with a bit of hyperbole, I definitely like to have a good time, laugh, and see the people that I love laughing around me. While this is true, I would still say that I am an introvert. On an off weekend, you’ll find me on my couch scrolling through social media or finally catching up on a book that I have been meaning to read. I am a Christian, and take my faith very seriously. I believe that everything always works out for our good in the end, even if it’s not exactly how we pictured it or would have liked. You just have to ride the wave of life, believe that everything happens for a reason, and take comfort in knowing that whatever happens, the sun will always rise in the morning.”
Who is Katie’s biggest inspiration? “I have been blessed with a multitude of strong black women in my life who have done a lot for me and have helped mold me into the person that I am today. My mom, a single mother, made a lot of sacrifices and went above and beyond to make sure that I got to do everything I wanted to do…like play a musical instrument.
I will forever be indebted to her and she is certainly an inspiration. I will say, however, that my grandmother is my biggest inspiration. She immigrated to this country from Jamaica later in her life, and had to start from scratch. She worked as a certified nursing assistant and together with my late grandfather, was able to lay the foundation that supports me now. I would have never become a classical musician without her sacrifice. And to this day, I would be nowhere without her ceaseless prayers. She is truly an inspiration.”
Being a Classical musician is a lot of work. Mastering an instrument takes hours of daily practice and years to achieve. When asked if she can shed some light about the obstacles she encounters as a musician she informatively responded with, “What I have found as a violist is that the better I become, the more work I find I have to do. The more you practice, the more your ear becomes nuanced. Therefore, you’re always searching for ways that you can turn a phrase in a more convincing way or play something cleaner. I would say, on average, I practice my viola 4-6 hours a day, depending on the day. The biggest obstacle for me is finding the balance between building a brand and committing to excellence on my instrument.
This is especially true since I am still in school. There are certain quality expectations that I must meet in regards to how I perform and I still have weekly lessons with my viola teacher. I have goals that I plan to attain as a violist, like winning a performing job, that doesn’t always coincide with Classically Black Podcast. Juggling meetings, recording, and editing with my school, teaching, and practice load has definitely presented a new challenge but it is one that I am happy and grateful to take on.”
It is apparent that the love Katie and her cohost, Dalanie Harris, have for classical music is the driving force behind starting Classically Black Podcast. It is a very new podcast.
They made the announcement on November 1, 2018, and dropped their first three episodes on November 12th. Now that they are two months into the game, they have released 17 episodes. “We release a new episode every Monday. In the planning stages of Classically Black Podcast, which began back in March 2018, we were most concerned with developing an audience.” Most of the time podcasters have a fan base before launching their work. They usually have a large social media following or have an audience based on the content that they have already put out. Katie and Dalanie did not have this. Therefore, they went into it knowing they had to put a lot of energy into advertising. “Our very first project was our photo shoot to help promote our podcast. We knew that we had to create a brand, and we thought having a face to the brand would be a great way to draw people in.”
When asked about their first project, Katie replied, “We spent months planning… There we were – microphones on, recording going, hoping that the content we put out will be well received. I remember having to call a friend right before we recorded to help us figure out how to record two separate tracks at once!” They have certainly come a long way from then! From that moment until now, Katie explained they are in more of a groove. “We switch back and forth on editing weekly, plan content out months in advance, and communicate with potential guests and sponsors.” They also try to diversify their content by filming videos for their Instagram and YouTube channel. For example, they did a video on five reasons we never deserved Tchaikovsky on Instagram back in November. “We were hoping to not only give people scrolling through our feed a look into the conversations we have on Classically Black Podcast, but also provide a different type of content for our followers. Navigating the brand Classically Black Podcast definitely feels better and more natural now than it did in the beginning.”
Since the podcast is fairly successful and in a constant state of growth, we asked her what she feels is her greatest achievement. “As a podcaster, I would say that my greatest achievement thus far has been creating content that people actually want to consume. You come up with an idea and you take a leap of faith when you present it to the public. It is such a vulnerable experience because regardless of how much it is loved, no one will quite understand how much you have tarried over it like you do. With that being said, people have been really excited about our podcast, with some calling it necessary. Using my voice to steadily build a fan base is an achievement that I am definitely proud of.”
So, what makes Classically Black Podcast special? What about the podcast is different and makes it stand out amongst other podcasts discussing Classical music? “Classically Black Podcast features two black girls having a conversation about classical music. This has never been done before. And not only do we talk about classical music, we are also classical musicians.
This is not how we have been conditioned to view classical music. That is, we do not normally see people of color in this space, loving this music.” This concept alone is what makes Classically Black Podcast different from any other podcast. Aside from who is talking about classical music, it is also the way in which these ladies talk talk about it.
“When you tune in, you’ll feel like you’ve been invited to two home girls having a conversation about why a symphony is ‘lit’. We also discuss news in the classical music world and infuse pop culture into our discussions.” One of my favorite segments on the show is “Intermission” where they do a classical music inspired activity. “On our first episode, we compared classical music composers to mainstream artists. I found that Schubert, the Romantic composer, is most similar to Young MA, a rapper; in that their approach to writing music is similar. They both wrote music for the sake of writing music and enjoyed the process.”
Don’t be mistaken, Classically Black Podcast is for everyone…It is very inclusive. “You don’t have to be black or a classical musician to listen. We speak candidly about classical music because it is what we enjoy, and we want our listeners to enjoy it as well. This is a podcast for the people, and we’ll make sure that you’re not lost while providing a cackle along the way. As a podcaster, I am hoping that our listeners continue to grow with us and consume our content. I also am hoping to diversify our audience so that people from all backgrounds are interested in learning about classical music and joining the conversation. Classical music is for everyone and it is everyone’s music. It is also extremely exciting once you know what to listen for.”
How has the content been received within the music community? Katie explained the community has welcomed them and their content with opened arms. “The conversation surrounding the lack of diversity in the classical music profession has been at the forefront of arts, administrators, and classical music leaders’ agendas. How can we get more musicians of color participating in classical music? Because of this, Classically Black Podcast was met with a lot of support and enthusiasm. Here, you have two black classical musicians having discourse about classical music in a new and exciting way. This has never been done before. And because of this excitement, we have been welcomed into our industry with an intent desire to have our voices heard.
When Katie isn’t working on Classically Black Podcast or practicing her viola, she enjoys hanging out with her sorority sisters. “I am a proud member of the Theta Omega Sigma Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. Whether it is laughing at stroll practice or going out to eat, I always have an amazing time with my Sorors. We are all professional women and are all working on varying projects, but when we do have a chance to get together, it is always an amazing time.” When she’s not with her Sorors, she also enjoys travelling. “I have been very fortunate in that I get to travel a lot for viola. Most recently, I gave a lecture at the International Viola Congress in Rotterdam, Netherlands. I also get to travel for fun sometimes too. For example, I attended a family reunion in St. Ann, Jamaica last year. Depending on the time of year, I am always on the move so when I get a chill moment, you will most likely find me sitting on the couch scrolling through social media or trying out a new Vegan recipe.
Classically Black Podcast releases new episodes every Monday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, SoundCloud, Google Play, and YouTube. Make sure to tune in, and let Katie know what you think about her after getting to know her through this article.
Social Media Info: @kaybee727, @classicallyblackpodcast
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Katie wanted to make sure to thank some of the special people in her life with a shout out:
1) Jessica Lewis, owner of LáLew Public Relations and my beautiful Soror. Thank you for providing me with this opportunity.
2) Dalanie Harris, my cohost on Classically Black Podcast. Thank you for taking this wild ride with me. We really took nothing and turned it into a podcast.
3) George Taylor, Professor of Viola at the Eastman School of Music. Thank you for always believing in me and for always seeing the things that I can never see in myself.
4) Ena Brown, my mom for always supporting my dreams no matter how many times they have changed.
5) Countless friends who have been listening ears, helped with business questions, recording questions, and photo shoots.
6) My family, for their undying support. Every person has played a role in getting me to Eastman.
7) The ladies of the Theta Omega Sigma Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. for teaching this only child the true meaning of sisterhood.