Katy Wherry Artist Interview
Katy Wherry is a flutist whose passion for varying genres of music has provided her with opportunities to give performances and teach masterclasses around the world. She has performed with renowned artists such as Sir James Galway, LeVar Burton, Marina Piccinini, Christina Jennings, Brook Ferguson and others. Katy is a regular performer with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and plays in many chamber groups in different styles including jazz, rock, pop and open improvisation. As a recording artist she has been featured on albums as a soloist, podcasts, video game soundtracks and more. As founder of Etude of the Week - the popular online flute community with now almost 8,000 members from over 150 countries, Katy has found her purpose in empowering people with a passion for music to discover and pursue their individual musical paths. Her coaching program For the Love of Flute supports flutists in their pursuit of their love of the flute so that more people feel encouraged to share their passion with the world.
Can you give us 5 career highlights?
It’s hard to choose just 5! I’ve had so many incredible experiences that I’m so grateful for and will never forget.
1. Performing with LeVar Burton for his podcast “LeVar Burton Reads” in Boston on improvised bass flute with my brother Jake on synthesizers.
2. Performing a recital as a winner of the Rising Star Award at the Galway Flute Festival in Switzerland.
3. Founding Etude of the Week and For the Love of Flute.
4. Premiering “Siren” by Aaron Jay Kernis at the 50th Anniversary NFA in Chicago with Marina Piccinini and Peabody alum.
5. Teaching and performing in masterclasses and recitals around the world including Brazil, China, Ecuador, South Africa and Switzerland.
How about 3 pivotal moments that were essential to creating the artist that you've become?
One of the first most important moments in my life was the first time that I attended the Galway Flute Festival in Switzerland in 2004. Sir James had come to Colorado the year before to play with the Colorado Symphony. Before hearing Galway play, I had no idea what the flute was supposed to sound like - I was still a beginner and had never had a private teacher. When I heard him play, I knew it was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
After meeting him in Colorado in 2003, Galway and I began exchanging emails and he invited me to come to his class in Switzerland. My family didn’t have much money at the time, so my mom and I worked really hard to raise the money for me to go. When I got to the class, I had no idea what I was in for. All of the flute players there were incredible, and being exposed to such a group of fantastic musicians so early on in my playing was pivotal for me.
There were two different classes at the Galway Festival, Sir James class for the professional players and Lady Jeanne’s class amateurs and the young students. Sir James let me play in his class. I played Bizet's l’Arlésienne and could barely get all the notes out on my little Gemeinhardt Flute. When I got up on stage, I was so nervous - but before I played Sir James announced to the audience, “Katy is not here because she’s at the same level as all of you, but because she worked really hard to get here.” In that moment I felt brave and strong and realized that I can do anything I set my mind too as long as I’m willing to put in the work. I then attended the Galway festival many more times, ended up working for the Galway’s for some years, and have made so many lifelong friends through the Galway Festival. I will be eternally grateful for this experience.
Another critical moment for me was during my undergrad degree - my plan was to become an orchestral player, and I was on the verge of burnout with too many credit hours and not enough practice time. A friend of mine was in the steel drum ensemble at my university and tried multiple times to convince me to join. I’d always argue that there was no way I could fit that into my already too-busy schedule. Finally I decided to sit in on on a rehearsal. I felt so much joy and excitement and positive energy that I decided I couldn’t afford not to join. This led to me being asked to record on an album where I would have to play an improvised flute solo. Improvisation was something I’ve never done before the thought of having to improvise made me want to either cry or run and hide. I made the decision to face my fear and started taking improvisation lessons with the jazz saxophone professor at my university. I learned how to trust my ear allow myself to make mistakes. It was a terrifying and also a very freeing experience.
Then in 2015, I joined a Balinese Gamelan here in Denver. Playing in the gamelan has transformed the way that I approach music. It has expanded my ability to listen deeply and has given me the ability to connect with others more easily. We traveled to Bali with the ensemble to perform in the Bali Arts Festival there. It was a life-changing experience and opened my mind to understanding that being a musician is more profound than playing études or excerpts. It’s a part of being human, and the more exposure we have to other styles and cultures, the more we can understand the music that we choose to play.
What do you like best about performing?
I love performing for the opportunity to connect deeply with others. Whether it’s the audience or the other musicians I’m performing with. I absolutely LOVE playing chamber music. I also love that I’m always working towards being able to express myself better with each performance, and that it will never be a finished product. The goal for me is to spread as much joy and love through performing by showing up as my authentic self - flaws and all. The beauty of it is that the more I understand my instrument, the deeper the connection can be. This is the ultimate inspiration for practicing - for the flute to be a tool rather than a barrier.
Not yet! But the seed has been planted. Planning on putting together some projects for the future. It will likely be a collaboration with my brother featuring flute and synth, with improvisations and commissioned compositions by my friends.
If anyone has any ideas for collaboration, I’m open to them!
Here are a couple of things that I’m featured on:
Pan Nation - Altered Perception
LeVar Burton Reads - LIVE in Boston
Tell us about the inspiration that brought forth Etude of the Week.
I started Etude of the Week after I graduated with my masters degree. When you’re in school there are so many opportunities to perform. You’re playing in orchestra chamber groups, you have your private lessons every week, there are constant opportunities to perform with as many musicians as you’d like. When I graduated, I realized very quickly that I without all of these things I needed to create something to motivate me to continue to practice. Etude of the Week was formed in August of 2015 with with maybe five or ten of us playing through Anderson Op.15. The goal was to show up and play an etude to the best of our ability every week. It was an amazing tool for me to stay connected, and to have a good reason to practice. There was no expectation of perfection - it was a place for us to work through the difficulties of the etude together.
The group has since evolved into something much more profound. As more and more people started to join of all levels coming from many different places different ages, different skill sets it made me realize how desperately our community needed a space for people to feel safe and encouraged to pursue their love for the flute. In our society there’s often an expectation that you have to be at a certain level for your music to be heard and appreciated. I believe that everyone, no matter their age or skill level, should feel welcomed and encouraged to continue to grow and improve together. This way more people would be playing music, pursuing what they love and bringing more joy to the world.
Etude of the Week has become a space where people can show up as their authentic selves - where they are in the moment without having to strive for perfection. We encourage encourage each other and grow together. We show up as we are. I have learned so much from everyone in this group about how to overcome fear of judgment and to work through challenges. It’s become such a beautiful community.
What does your schedule look like for the next 6 months?
Over the next 6 months I will be launching round 2 of my For the Love of Flute program. For the Love of Flute is a 4 month intensive where a small group works through setting and achieving a personal goal. We dive deep into what holds us back, how to increase awareness, work through fears and insecurities in order to show up with more love and joy for ourselves and others.
The program is from March - June 2023. Check out fortheloveofflute.com if you have questions!
I will also be performing, hosting Etude of the Week events and traveling.
What are your goals personally?Professionally?
My personal and professional goals align - I am working to better myself and others through, openness, vulnerability and constant growth. Music is a powerful tool for this. It helps us dig deep into who we really are.
What inspires you the most in life?
Helping others achieve their goals and pursue what they love. Growing a community where people can be open about their fears. Creating safe spaces for people to be honest with themselves and each other in order to grow. Connections like these bring me so much genuine joy.
What has been your professional greatest challenge?
Setting boundaries and learning to say no. Trusting myself - and prioritizing my health, mentally and physically. As musicians it’s common to feel pressured into saying yes to everything. And while I have gained many wonderful experiences from saying yes to things, I’ve also sacrificed my mental and physical health at times. Saying no is hard for me, and trusting my boundaries is even harder. I’m still working on trusting myself and saying yes to the things that bring me energy.
What has been your personal greatest challenge?
Who were your music mentors? and what did you learn from them?
My greatest mentor in general is my dad. Though not a musician (he’s a golf pro and coach) he has taught me to always pursue what I’m passionate about. He’s taught me that integrity, honesty, hard work and passion are worth more than gold and to always treat others with love and kindness. He’s modeled for me how to be a great coach.
I have MANY music mentors. Too many to list here, some flutists, some not. I will mention a few.
Sir James Galway - taught me many things. One of the most important lessons for me is that the only way to grow as a musician is through dedication and practice. There are no shortcuts. Also, that community is extremely important.
Brook Ferguson - Brook has become one of my absolute closest friends, and I will be eternally grateful to her. When I studied with her, we would often get sucked into 3 hour lessons. Listening closely to every detail. She taught me how to listen carefully, to experiment and to be aware of my body.
Christina Jennings - Christina taught me how to find MY VOICE. She helped me to realize that I don’t need to sound like anyone else. Only myself. To trust myself and who I am as a person and musician.
Marina Piccinini - Marina’s standard of excellence has often been a light in the dark for me. The way she performs, the energy she gives and the care that she puts into practice and performing is beyond inspirational. Not to mention her mentorship and advice. She has a way of knowing who you are and what you need.
My brother, Jakey - The creativity, playfulness and curiosity with which Jake creates music is awe inspiring to me. The fact that I get to experience making music with him regularly blows me away. He inspires me to be curious, step outside of my comfort zone and to be open to new ideas.
Can you give us 5 quirky, secret, fun, (don't think too much about this) hobbies or passions?
1. I’m a dog lover, and a mountain girl.
2. I am really into movies and popcorn
3. I’m really good at making toffee, and love making it with my mom.
4. I’m a rockstar video editor and website builder.
5. I love puzzles - any kind, jigsaw, puzzle games… I’m a problem solver.
What 3 things would you offer as advice for a young flutist?
1. Make connections. Relationships are the most important thing in your life and career.
2. Trust yourself.
3. Pursue what excites you. Be curious and imaginative.
Doppler Hungarian Fantasy with Amalia Tortajada Zanón and Milena Lopes
Gamelan Tunas Mekar: