Popular Music in Education: An Interview with Kat Reinhert

Today I’m talking to Kat Reinhert. Kat is a New-York-based singer-songwriter whose music is rooted in jazz and popular styles. She has released two albums, Chrysalis and Spark, and is currently working on her third, titled Home Movie. As a voice teacher, Kat specializes in contemporary voice techniques and is certified in Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method. After earning a bachelor’s in jazz and commercial music from the Manhattan School of Music and a master’s in jazz pedagogy at the University of Miami, Kat has returned to Miami to get her doctorate while working closely with their Bruce Hornsby Creative American Music Program. Kat is on the board of the Association for Popular Music Education. They recently had their annual conference, and I wanted to talk to Kat about the conference, the organization, and some of her thoughts on teaching commercial voice. 

Jess: Hi, Kat! Thanks for chatting with me today. Since this is a blog that’s focused on popular and commercial music, let’s start by talking about how those things play a role in your life. As a performer, you obviously have lots of training and experience in jazz, but you also bring popular music into your work as well. Tell us more about that.

Kat: Popular music has become a much larger part of my life in the past five years.  Not only has my original music moved more towards a singer-songwriter esthetic, but I currently run popular music ensembles and work with about 30 contemporary vocalists and songwriters a week – ranging in styles from gospel to jazz to EDM and country.  

Jess: Nice! In addition to your private practice, you’re currently working with students in the Bruce Hornsby Creative American Music Program at the University of Miami, which is a popular music program. Most of the teachers who are reading don’t come from popular or commercial music programs, myself included, so can you tell us a little about what you do with the students in that program?

Kat: Sure. These are students who are working on their craft – as artists, as singers, as songwriters, and as entrepreneurs. In their private lessons with me, a typical lesson might consist not only of working on helping them gain function within the voice, but also on accompanying themselves, crafting songs and arrangements, theory, business discussions, song file management, recording techniques, microphone technique for live performance, gig advice, and of course, just helping them navigate being an artist. In the ensemble I direct, we concentrate on many of the same aspects, but from a band perspective. It certainly keeps me on my toes.  

Jess: And, on top of all of that teaching, you’re doing research for your doctorate. Where did you decide to focus your research?

Kat:  My research interests lie in contemporary voice and popular music performance and pedagogy.  My dissertation is an exploratory study of two fairly new tertiary popular music programs within the US – looking at how they started, their curriculum, the philosophies driving their creation and the challenges and successes each program has had to date.

Jess: Oooh. That’s a huge area of interest for me, too. I foresee some future interviews about that topic. 🙂 So between your performing, your teaching, and your research, you’re obviously very passionate about popular music. You’ve taken all of that one step further by taking a leadership position in the Association for Popular Music Education, which connects and helps other teachers who are passionate about popular music. It’s a relatively new organization, so can you give us a little intro about APME’s purpose and goals?

Kat:  APME’s mission is to promote and advance popular music at all levels of education both in the classroom and beyond.  APME was created to advocate for popular music education and its advancement as a discipline.  It provides educational opportunities for teachers and students, honors the rich history of popular music, and develops innovative ways to create, perform, and teach it.  APME also serves to bring together all involved in the pursuit of teaching and making popular music at all levels including higher education, public school modern band and contemporary music programs, music companies, manufacturers, and popular music organizations.

Jess: What are some of the services APME provides to members, and to voice teachers in particular?

Kat: There is an annual conference where people can meet and garner new ideas and resources about popular music.  Additionally, there is a blog that is available that discusses topics related to popular music.  Lastly, launching in January is the Journal of Popular Music Education (JPME) which will be available to all members.  For voice teachers in particular, this is a space to present research, to network, and to share knowledge about contemporary voice to other voice professionals, but also to people who often need the information the most – the choir directors, the school music teacher running a rock band, the a cappella directors, etc., but often don’t have access to the information because so much of general music education vocal training is still classical focused.  

Jess: Tell us more about the conference you all had back in June. I wasn’t able to go, which seriously bummed me out, especially when I saw I’d be missing out on classes like “Sufjan, Spektor, and Solfege: Popular Music as Aural Skills Exercises.” What were some of your favorite moments there this year?

Kat:  While there were so many, I’ll give a brief synopsis of three: Hip Hop and Haring was a really great presentation by Martina Vasil.  She melded the art of Keith Haring with Hip-Hop dance moves to get students moving and listening in her classroom.  A multi-media exploration.  There was also a beautiful and powerful presentation on social justice and awareness and the possibilities that lie within popular music to affect change in our world.  Matt Edwards gave some great presentations on rock singing and contemporary vocal technique that while I couldn’t attend, were very well received as well.

Jess: Those classes sound great! What were some of the biggest things people seemed to take away from the classes and the conference in general?

Kat:  A sense of community.  I think in contemporary music education, people often feel like islands in their work.  Many people at the conference express joy at finding other people who are wrestling with similar challenges and to know they are not alone.  Belonging is a huge impact the conference has for its attendees.  

Jess: Yes. Community. I’ve definitely felt very isolated at times in my work as a contemporary voice teacher. It’s made all the difference to go to conferences where I can connect with other people who are doing this work. I can’t wait to go next year. 

So tell us more about the new APME journal that’s coming out soon. What will it offer that might be different from existing journals? 

Kat:  The Journal of Popular Music Education seeks to define, delimit, debunk, disseminate and disrupt practice and discourse in and around popular music education. Through drawing together rigorous, diverse scholarship concerning learning in, through and around popular music worldwide, Journal of Popular Music Education identifies, probes and problematizes key issues in this vibrant, evolving field.

This will offer a space where researchers from any discipline can have a platform to share their findings and explorations.

Jess: That sounds really exciting! I can’t wait to get my hands on the first issue. 

If a voice teacher wants to get more involved in APME, what are some of the ways they can do that?

Kat:  They can join the organization, attend the conference, or even better, submit to present at the conference.  The call for papers will go out by September, 2016 and the conference will be held in Denver, CO in June of 2017.

Jess: APME aside, what are some of the reasons you personally believe in using popular music in music education?

Kat: I think all music is important. I love it all and it all serves its own unique purpose.   I feel participating in music at all ages of life is extremely important to the development of a human soul and a community.  Often, in education, we try to ‘expose’ students to things the are not ready to explore.  I think that popular music – whatever is most listened to or that students are most drawn to is a way to engage them in participating in music as a lifelong journey.  Some of them will go on to participate in the profession of music, but most will not.  And that’s awesome.  Music is something that can be the creative part of someone’s day, it can be something they pursue simply for the sake of the pure enjoyment it adds to their life.  If popular music helps people enjoy their lives more, gives them a creative outlet, and engages their brains in ways that will help them be better humans, then why shouldn’t it be used in music education?  It’s awesome unto itself, just as jazz or classical are awesome unto themselves.  And if, by learning about popular music, people get interested in seeking out other music and cultures, then that too creates a better world.  One where there is much more understanding and love.  

Jess: I totally agree. Popular music can be just as powerful as other genres at enriching lives, and I personally love being able to include it as a vehicle to do that. Kat, thanks so much for talking to me, today. I’m looking forward to connecting more with APME, and to talking to you more in the future. 

Kat: Thanks so much! I look forward to it.

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