I interviewed Catherine Boese at the end of one of those weeks where the workload was just about too much, but I didn’t quit my job like Beyonce said I should. Moments like this wonderful interview are what give me that push. For this latest installment of UNO Creatives, I had the pleasure of speaking with Catherine, a flute player who often goes by Kitty. She realized, during a recent orchestra gig, that Catherine was just too common of a name, and Kitty is willing to stand out in a crowd.
Our meeting was remote, but I got a little glimpse of Kitty’s world through the screen. The walls were adorned with almost antique-like treasures; the environment resembled a different time beyond my years. So don’t ask Kitty her favorite album of the year: she told me she doesn’t really know what has come out in recent years.
Do you have those singers or artists you are drawn toward more?
So, very niche opera singers. We got Kiersten Flagstad, who was known for an enormous voice that could cut through an orchestra. As a flutist, we try to imitate the human voices, right? So, I often listen to her and try to imagine how she would sing something when I’m playing.
Are you drawn to the specific genres that move you because of the energy of the music you want to exude?
I think it is just the sound that is appealing, that’s why music is so interesting. We tend to say music is a universal language but that’s not entirely true; we all get different interpretations out of the same song. But we all have our tastes and this type of music happens to be the one that makes me really happy. I vibe with it, is the easiest way to say it.
So, let me clear some things up. You play the piccolo, right? Or do you play the flute?
(Laughs) I play everything! As a flute player you kind of must be expected to know the concert flute but I enjoy specializing in things as there are tons of flute players, so many good ones, even in our school. So, to me the best way to stand out and market myself is to specialize in things that aren’t as common. I play the piccolo a lot. I made it to multiple ensembles because I have that skill. I also play Baroque flute and that’s even rarer to find people who can play that. If you need someone who can play multiple things, I am one of the few people you got!
I love how you are geared toward the unconventional kooky things in life and in music. You are playing those rare instruments that people aren’t looking at. But since you play them well and right, people will notice that you are out of the box, and it pushes you out of the crowd and spotlighting yourself.
Exactly. Because most people know what a flute is, but when you are suddenly playing something that doesn’t match with their idea of what a flute is, then suddenly you are more likely to start a conversation.
Good point. Being a flutist, what drew you to this specific instrument?
It’s because of my family. My mother bought a flute for fun when she was in college, and she would bring It around when I was a child, and she would play it and I thought it sounded pretty. When I was a kid, we used to go on long car rides. So, my parents would put in CDs that were sometimes instrumental and quiz us on what instruments were playing and I always really liked the sound of the flute.
There’s been a lot of mainstream hype around flutes lately, especially with Lizzo and her amazing flute skills. Would you say one of your goals is to keep the flute mainstream?
I mean it’s difficult to say. As musicians, especially classical musicians, we always need to stay relevant because there is just an assumption that we are outdated and play “old people music.” So, something that I like to do is play modern contemporary pieces, which can have a lot of fun sound effects. I did a piece that had a lot of train noises, and a lot of people weren’t expecting that, so it’s kind of a way you can gauge an audience. It’s not my goal to imitate being a contemporary artist but it’s good to stay relevant.
So, I heard you name your instruments?
(Laughs) Wait, I’m trying to figure out how you got this information?
As a writer, I pride myself on doing thorough research on who I interview.
The name thing kind of started off as a joke. As a musician, you spend so much time with your instruments and we cannot do what we do without them! I just named them all because it just makes it more personable, because to me, instruments have personality. They’re all different; most of the ones I own are handmade, so I might as well give it a cute name.
I also name every single thing. My car, my water bottle, you name it!
Same, I name my plants.
What have been your favorite moments in your flute-playing career so far?
The first moment I can think of is sophomore year in high school, we used to go to an honor band clinic, and I hadn’t really played outside of school before. I didn’t really know much about my abilities. They put me as a piccolo player in the top bands and I had a good time. I learned a lot and I had a lot of great solos. And at the final concert, I was given a scholarship to a music camp that they had because they thought I stood out as a musician.
When you say that music is a competitive field, have you had moments when you have been told no or someone has taken a position from you?
Every year we have to audition for the school of music to see which ensemble we get placed in, and I have never placed top or I have always placed piccolo and a niche seat, but not the position I want to be playing. I’m always second or third, and that’s okay. I have to remember hard days and moments may take a toll on my mental health a little bit, but musicians get to a point where they feel okay with where they are because eventually, they’ll get something if they keep going.
Well, you have done amazing things! You were part of the NFA Inaugural LGBTQIA+ flute choir. How was that experience for you and what was it like being within a community of people who support you but are also playing with you?
I feel like classical music is a fun collision between a lot of very traditional conservative kinds of people, and people who have queer identities, and we do it because we enjoy it. Being in the choir was a really great experience. Me and my colleagues were the only undergrads in that ensemble; it was powerful to be playing next to a group of professionals playing music that represented me. Most of the time, I play music by old white cis dudes who are now dead. Playing music by queer composers, you kind of feel seen. It’s a reminder that I’m not alone, just having so many people around was wholesome. I also held my own.
Okay, now let’s talk about your fashion. You have such a cool taste, It’s a combination of multiple aesthetics. What era style are you gravitated toward?
I resonate with so many kinds of styles, generally it’s going to be older stuff from the sixties — I have stuff that I made that are Victorian-influenced and I really want to make a lot of fancy baroque gowns since I play Baroque music. Part of my fashion is just a vanity standpoint. I am trans, so I don’t have the ideal feminine body in a lot of ways, and clothes from these eras that were made to flatter the body the way modern clothes don’t. So, I just naturally gravitated towards those silhouettes because I felt nice in them. The clothes are also another way to stand out and that can be something I am known for. I have also been trying to delve into matching the outfits I wear in performances to the vibe of the piece that I am playing to match the energy. So, for one of my last performances, I played a piece from the thirties, but I wore this really pretty 1960s gown that was gold and had this really nice design woven into it because the piece had this mystical shimmery mirage vibe to the music.
Music is also a visual art, so if you are performing live, they will be watching you. So, I always like to be a little too dressed up almost just because it kind of helps boost that interesting factor.
From talking to you today, to me you are multifaceted and knowledgeable about music; how do you stay so grounded when all these moments in your life are happening to you?
I mean, I joke around that every great week I have in terms of how I feel my music is, I will have a bad week where I’m like, “I feel like crap, I’m not producing a good product,” so that’s why I probably do so many side things like sewing. The other things are ways that I can relieve some of the tension by doing something that will end up with a somewhat good result in the end.
Do you have advice for people who are about to embark on playing an instrument?
Consistency is something every musician is challenged by because we are human, and how we feel and what your bodies are doing each day is going to change the product that we give. The best way to keep going is to do the stuff you want to do. If you want to learn piano to play pop covers, then play pop covers, even if that’s not the best way to learn, you are going to be motivated.
Kitty and I proceeded to have a wonderful conversation about old Hollywood movies and facets of life. By the way, she does not want a biopic about her, so put the pens down. I mean, based on some of the ones that have come out recently, I find her decision very wise.