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Joy in Collaboration: A Conversation with Catherine Rinderknecht Moritz (Part Two)

Violinist Catherine Rinderknecht Moritz

November 1, 2023

I’m Erika
 I’m a violinist and teacher based in the Seattle area. I love learning everything about the violin, how to be a more effective teacher and holistic player, and new ways to approach repertoire and artistry.
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Originally published May 25, 2019

Welcome back to part two of my conversation with Catherine Rinderknecht Moritz, an Iowa-based violinist active in the contemporary classical music scene. In this interview, we discuss Catherine’s views on the classical music world and how to introduce students to contemporary classical music.

EB: What excites you most about classical music right now? 

CRM: This is a tricky one because I’m actually re-exploring what actually excites me most about it since that’s been a tricky thing academically last year. To be really candid about it, that’s been hard. One of the things I always come back to is collaboration. That brings me so much joy. 

CRM: Another thing that has always brought me joy in classical music is teaching. I love giving some sort of creative outlet to students. I love helping them cultivate it so they know how to use it, so it’s available to them when they need it. That is a passion of mine [for] a long time. I think [I] had it in writing that I wanted to be a violin teacher in seventh grade. Yay, I guess goal accomplished since I teach? I mean, I hadn’t thought about it like that. But, yay, goal accomplished! That’s a really cool thing that brings me joy. And it inspires me because you learn so much from students too. Questions they ask. The things they come up [with], sometimes they’re very silly things, sometime they’re not… “Did you know the winding on the bow looks like a slinky?” That’s still one of my favorites. It’s true! Why didn’t six-year-old me think of that? Then I get a little jealous, but then I’m like, that’s awesome. Or you give a little kid that sings the “everything is awesome” song but changes it to “violin is awesome when you have a straight bow”. That one’s been a couple years, but again, one of my favorites. 

CRM: Also, I like to share these funny things on Twitter because everybody needs to hear about how [my] students were funny. It’s like, wait, so my kiddos were really funny today, and they said this ridiculous thing. Or, my students made me say this ridiculous thing, and somehow some important lesson was learned. Alright! But yeah, no, it’s great, just the creativity that teaching inspires. I had a kid that I’m teaching; she sprained her wrist before the recital and couldn’t play violin or couldn’t move her wrist, so she couldn’t bow. I mean, she wanted to, but I was like, no, you’re not going to able to do that… So she just started playing this year; she’s going to do Lightly Row. She played it pizzicato. I was just like okay, so you’re gonna learn how to properly pizzicato that. That was a creative thing, and that was really fun. It gets my brain connecting different wires, and I end up finding things that are really important, for my own playing then, which is neat. Yeah, it seems like it’s a lot of external things, but I’m an extrovert, so I’m fed by people. 

EB: What are some of the things you’d like to see changed or to introduce into the classical music scene? 

CRM: I have a giant list of things. Some of them aren’t really well worked out in my brain, and some of them would turn into a rant, so I will not try to do that because that’s not nice. I took a class on 19th century performance practice, and basically as it went on, it talked about how [the way] they performed pieces then is very different than how we do it now. Our model of a recital came out of late 19th century sort of canonized things. So the more articles we read, I’m like, this is so contrived. It made me angry, and there’re a bunch of things I’ve filed away. It’s like, oh, what would I want to do differently if I were a professor? It might be a slightly different conversation than you’re thinking. 

CRM: But one thing that I would like to work on, and it probably depends from professor to professor, like I have a professor that’s really encouraging in me working on contemporary classical music. But I found that I wasn’t really nudged that direction until I developed those connections when I was in grad school, and I would wish that that would start younger, actually. I don’t know, high school me would probably have been too much to jerk about it to want to do, but undergrad me might have gradually gotten more receptive, especially for music history, too. There is something about just the climate in general that was the backdrop for that music that made a lot of it click for me, even if I didn’t like it. I respected it more. But, yeah, just an introduction to it at an earlier point, I think. Or even just reframing. Just so much of it is, you know, we learn about it based on the theory of it, but the composers don’t actually care about the theory about it. I remember my music theory TA for Theory IV telling me that, no, we don’t care about this; we just write things. We write what we like, and people analyze it, and maybe it fits something. And actually, that TA wrote me one of the pieces I played on that recital two years ago. That stuck with me that he said that. That was kind of cool. You know it was a challenging piece for me to really get inside, but I’m like, I really respect how you talk about music. Okay! You’re making a thing that has meaning and value to you that’s not just a theory. So finding different ways to frame it than how we get it in theory. Fostering that sense of collaboration earlier would be great. That’s the thing thing I would love to do at some point. Someday, when I’m a professor! You know, cause a lot of times I’ve found in my academic experiences, unless you’re friends with the composer so they write for you and you’re willing to play for them, a lot of times, if there are composer workshops, they’re last-minute recruiting people to play their stuff. You don’t get a lot of time with it. You’re not in on the composition process. You have no ownership, and so you don’t really care about it about. I mean you care about it, but you don’t. And that’s a tricky thing because it doesn’t give the composers the product they want. You don’t get the experience that you want playing it. It’s just not a good situation. So figuring out some way to change that. I know at Iowa, one of the things that helps is they have their center for new music, and there are many grad students that are in the center ensemble, so a lot of composers and musicians to work with already that are built in. But still you run into people that are still asking for musicians. 

EB: So that’s kind of a good segue then. I’m was going to get your take on what advice you would give a student or a colleague who’s interested in playing contemporary classical music, whether it’s in terms of how to set a timeline or work with a composer or even in terms of financial advice because commissioning is great, but it takes a lot of resources that not everyone has. 

CRM: It’s interesting. Like, secret, besides the Fifty State project piece, which was a large scale commission split amongst people, so really not bad in terms of finances, only one of the other pieces I actually ended up paying the composer money for. A lot of the composers, I was just, “hey, will you write this for me?” And they were like, “yeah.” I was like, okay, cool. So there’re actually quite a few composers that if you are interested, you work, you come up with something, they’ll write pieces because they want you to play them. Now, it’s nice to pay composers. I’m a firm believer in that, so it’s not like you shouldn’t make a practice of just being like, hey, write me something. You know that’s not cool. Support your friends. But yes, so that’s something. As I work on getting more pieces, I’m looking into getting some grants. I’m not made of money. I want to give composers money for pieces, though. You know, it might not necessarily be their going rate… You know, it’s also good for them to say, hey, somebody paid me to write this. And then there’s publishing costs if you self self publish, and that’s a pain. I don’t know nearly as much about that as I should. 

CRM: So my advice is find out if you’re interested in contemporary classical music, find out what interests you about it. Some people get really lucky, and they like a lot of weird-sounding stuff, and that’s awesome. Go forth and like the weird stuff and have people write more weird stuff for you! Because the weird stuff can be some of the funniest stuff. I remember there were some really intriguing sounds in some pieces that I played on my recital a couple years ago. And there was a two-year-old in the audience who, every time I played something that I thought would make her freak out, she laughed. She thought it was funny. And it was the best thing ever because I started getting the giggles while I was playing it…. Yay unexpected reactions! Yay two-year-old for setting me straight! I’m subverting my expectations. You know, little kids are cool. But find what you like. Find what draws you in. For me, it’s the collaboration. So my goal is to always find somebody I would be really proud to work with and really enjoy working with. I approach it very much from a relational aspect rather than theoretical or even aesthetic, aesthetic helps, but relational is mostly my thing. 

CRM: I think that actually this relates to me as a musician more in general, that applies to teaching, that applies to performing because, you know, what we do on stage, it’s about sharing about being human. We’re conveying humanity to an audience who knows humanity. But, they’re hearing it in a different language than they normally might. So that’s kind of cool. So yeah, I would figure out what you actually like about contemporary classical music. Figure out which thing interests you and pursue it in that regard. Timelines are weird. Honestly sometimes you end up sitting on a piece for a while, like I sat on a piece for almost a year before I premiered it, and that’s how it worked out. I’ve sat on a couple pieces that I really want to play again for like two years now. There is also the idea sometimes [that] composers are busy, and they might be like, “ahh, can’t try something like a year yet. Sorry.” But then, you file it away, and you’re like, hey, can we actually work together now? Sometimes it’s an eventual thing, or you make plans to work together. I have one like that where she approached me after my first doctoral recital and was like, hey we should work together. I want to write something. I was like, okay cool. And now she’s moved to Portland Oregon. I still want to work with her and figure out a way to do that; it’s just more complicated now. We can’t just go get coffee and talk about a piece. Yay FaceTime and Skype; that’s also really cool. That’s a very viable use for things. I send recordings to people all the time. I’m like, hey, you like this. How does this work? So timelines can be tricky so I guess my best advice is don’t necessarily be married to a timeline unless you actually have something like a grant tied to it, and you have to have something. 

EB: So what are you looking forward to this next year project wise? 

CRM: I’m hoping I can actually get in contact with more composers. I’ve started compiling a list so I can get some more solo violin pieces written, ideally so I can start to get out and perform them in more rural settings. That would just be super fun for me. A lot of people kind of give me the “why do you care about that?” look. I’m from a small town that still doesn’t have stoplights. So I relate to that…There’s a huge distance [between rural and urban life] that I don’t actually think is that big. And, I see this as an opportunity to bridge that in a way. That’s kind of, to pardon the phrase, a little brain-vomity description of that, but it’s a work in progress. Eventually it’ll get more codified, and then I’ll probably blog a bunch of about it on my website finally. It’ll happen eventually; I will resurrect the blog! But that’s the thing that I would love to be more transparent about the more I know about it. I’m starting to cook up ideas. I’m in the phase of getting nuts and bolts put together so I can figure out when I need to try to do things. So it’s an exciting part of the process. It’s also really tedious. It’s also annoying because in this type of setting I’m like, I can’t really talk about it yet, but it’s cool! 

EB: Evil genius planning. 

CRM: Basically. 

EB: How can we best stay up to date with what you’re up to right now? 

CRM: Twitter is a good place to keep up with things. I typically have an Instagram account. It’s great. Right now it’s a lot about my cat being weird and food, but when I’m in the midst of a project, you’ll see pictures of me working through things on projects. And I often share those then to my Twitter account directly. So those are really the best places to keep up with what I’m doing or what I’m plotting about. 

EB: Great. And finally, I always love to ask people what are they reading right now. So any recommendations? 

CRM: I wish I were reading things. That’s been the worst part about being a DMA student. I never read anything for fun. Right now I’m mostly reading research-y things in line with my evil genius plot, trying to get some structure for that and some coherence. So I guess I’m reading, but I’m not reading anything for fun right now. If I were reading for fun I would be reading the second story arc from the Sword of Truth series. 

EB: Well hopefully you’ll have some time to do that this summer. Thanks so much! This is really fun. 

CRM: It’s been so good to catch up with you. It’s been way too long. 

Learn more about Catherine and read her blog at http://www.crinderknecht.com/.

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