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Pickin’ Sprouts Katie Glassman Swings By
This month I was honored to get to meet and talk to Texas style fiddler, Katie Glassman. As well as fiddle, Katie also plays Texas style rhythm guitar. She picked the fiddle when she was eight while attending the Denver Waldorf School and had to choose between violin and cello. Her instructor was a Texas style fiddler, and when she started taking private lessons, Katie fell in love with the music. By middle school Katie noticed the need for rhythm guitar in jams and picked it up to allow more playing at jams. Being from Denver, there was not a huge Texas swing scene, so Katie travelled and spent time studying in Texas along with going to contests and festivals such as the National Old-time Fiddlers’ Contest and Festival in Weiser, Idaho. Katie’s first Fiddle Contest was in Crested Butte when she was ten. She says that she was extremely excited, and she remembers nearly everything about it, from the songs she played, to the name of the judge! Katie says one thing she learned about contests was that there is a strong sense of community, evident from all the encouragement and camaraderie in the campgrounds.
“Going to contests motivated me; I remember thinking, ‘I’m going to make friends, I’m going to become a better player, I’m going to become a professional musician… and that sounds pretty awesome.’” Katie says that no matter how you place, contests are a great way to reflect on your playing, and see places to improve. She prepares for her contests by having arrangements for every song in her repertoire. To this day, Katie still arranges her songs to sound like “the greats,” so that her style does not drift too far from her roots. “I think it’s funny how as we move along in our musical careers, how we always go back to the basics.” When picking songs for contests, Katie says that she tries not to think too much about what the other contestants might pick, but instead picks the songs that she feels the best about. While the notes you play are obviously important, the tone, drive and feel are equally important factors.
Katie says that practice is a vital piece of playing your instrument. As a child, Katie remembers practicing any time she could. Once her parents called her instructor because they thought she was practicing too much. To prepare for contests, she would repeat the songs she chose until they were nearly perfect.
Katie plays in The Western Flyers with Joey McKenzie on guitar and Gavin Kelso on bass. “Playing with The Western Flyers has brought my musical career full circle, because Joey McKenzie has been a hero of mine since I was 13.” She says that playing Texas swing with The Western Flyers is the kind of project she has wanted all her life.
She also plays with her own band, Katie Glassman and Snapshot, with Eric Moon on piano, Greg Schochet on arch top guitar, and Charles Mertens on bass. Katie gets everything that she wants musically from these two bands; a more strict Texas swing from The Western Flyers while Snapshot allows her to do many of her own originals.
Katie’s favorite fiddlers include Terry Morris, Orville Burns and Benny Thomason. Her favorite western swing band is Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. Some of her jazz influences are Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grapelli, as well as Svend Asmussen just to name a few. She started working on her improvisation in college, and knew that she wanted to do work with Chip Stevens, the piano teacher at CU Boulder. At first, being a piano teacher, he did not want to take in a violin student, but Katie insisted that she play him a song. “I basically broke down his door to get in, I played him Dusty Miller, and he took me in as a student.” From him, Katie learned a lot about chord changes, and about Bebop. She said that her ear improved as she learned to hear new, less straightforward chords.
Katie started teaching because she felt like it was her responsibility to pass the torch and keep the style alive just as so many musicians had passed on music to her. Her favorite thing about teaching is watching her students grow from week to week, and helping them reach their potential.
Katie encourages all her students to do contests. She said she wants her students to learn that contests are not a place to be super competitive, but rather a place to find your musical family. When helping her students prepare for a contest, Katie says she is hard on them. She wants them to work hard so that they play to the best of their ability, instead of slacking off and halfway trying. She helps them play with consistent quality and intention, so that a contest can feel just like jamming with friends. Katie said that one of the best pieces of advice she had ever been given was to never forget who you are as a musician. She says that most musicians that she knows get caught up in what they cannot do, losing confidence in their playing because they forget what they can do.
A piece of advice that Katie has for kids that want to be musicians is to not be a jack-of-all-trades. She says that to really excel at a certain genre or instrument, you will have to devote most of your time and energy towards it. If you spread yourself too thin, you get to be good at everything, but by focusing you can become great. You can buy merch, find shows, and learn more about The Western Flyers or Katie Glassman and Snapshot on her Web site. In the meantime, keep pickin’.