Ten minutes with Katherine Kemler, Alumni Professor of Flute at the LSU School of Music and 2018 Rainmaker
“I’m from the DC area originally. I went to Oberlin Conservatory, and from there I went to Stony Brook for my MM and DMA, and then back to DC where I got a job at a community college. I loved teaching. That summer I got into the fellowship program at Tanglewood—playing in an orchestra with really great musicians and famous conductors like Leonard Bernstein, but it was a lot of pressure. I would wake up sometimes in the middle of the night feeling like somebody was stabbing me in the stomach with a knife. So, I thought, ‘Maybe this isn’t what I really want to do?’
I’d been applying for college teaching positions. I was willing to go anywhere—even the moon, you know! Flute on the moon! I heard about an opening at the University of Wyoming, so I applied for it. They called me while I was at Tanglewood and they said, ‘We’re offering you the job on the basis of your recommendations and recordings.’ I had three days to decide. I took the job.
When I got there, I had never seen a wide-open space before. At that time, there were only 350,000 people in the whole state of Wyoming. And I had never seen a town so small, unless it was next to another small town. But I loved my job! I was teaching and I was playing in a faculty quintet and going on tour with them. Because Wyoming was sort of a cultural wasteland, any time I had a solo recital or a faculty chamber concert, I was sent out on tour. I was getting to do everything I had ever wanted. I was there for 11 years. I had so many performance opportunities. I was playing all the time and I got really comfortable with performing and was able to develop sort of a persona as a soloist. After my first five years, I met a zoology professor whose wife had died. We dated for several months and then he asked me to go to Hawaii with him for Thanksgiving and then he asked me to marry him.
“I was such a dedicated teacher that when the baby came early, as one of my students was having a graded recital, I checked out of the hospital, went to the recital and then I checked myself back in.”
Ultimately, the marriage didn’t work out. We had a child in 1985, and he thought there was something wrong with me because I didn't decide to give up everything and be a stay-at-home mom. I was such a dedicated teacher that when the baby came early, as one of my students was having a graded recital, I checked out of the hospital, went to the recital and then I checked myself back in.
About a year later, as my divorce was proceeding, I started looking to see what other jobs were open. I didn’t know anything about LSU, but the former head of our music department in Wyoming had become the dean at the University of Houston and he was good friends with the dean at the LSU School of Music, which was looking for a flute professor. He recommended me and I was invited to come for an interview and audition. When I arrived, I immediately fell in love with LSU, the beautiful campus, the great students, and especially my wonderful colleagues in the faculty quintet.
“At LSU, I have had more high-profile opportunities for performances all over the world.”
LSU has been a very good fit for me. I’ve watched some of my colleagues leave and go to other more prestigious music schools, but I saw that they missed it here.
At LSU, I have had more high-profile opportunities for performances all over the world. I have performed and taught in China, Australia, all over Europe, and this summer I’m going to South Africa. I will be teaching at the University of Cape Town and doing a recital there.
“As musicians, we all want to be perfect. But we have to realize, we’re never going to get there—and you have to enjoy the journey.”
This is my thirty-second year at LSU. I have endowed a scholarship in my own name that is now fully endowed. I give money out of my paycheck every month for this. I make sure that there is enough money in the expendable account for this scholarship so that one of my students will get $2,000 every year. I want to leave a legacy after I retire.
I learn new things all the time, even from my own students. As musicians, we all want to be perfect. But we have to realize, we’re never going to get there—and you have to enjoy the journey.”
Get to know our other five 2018 Rainmakers:
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