Musicians of Irvington: Katelyn Au

Music has been such a big part of my life. I love listening to music. I play music a lot for both school and for church. Almost all of my friends and my community are people I’ve either met through music or have become closer with through music because music has become so ingrained in my life. And it’s fun playing with other people too. Once you get there, even if you get stuck, the time and effort you dedicate really pays off and makes you want to continue.

I started playing piano first—I was like five or six at the time. In fourth grade, my friend and I joined our elementary school band and we got to choose our own instruments to play. My friend wanted to play the flute, and I wanted to do that with her, so I picked it up too. My mom said I had to reach a certain level of proficiency before I played a second instrument, which I think helped me a lot.

When I was in seventh grade, my flute teacher founded the Fremont Youth Symphony Orchestra (so it’s really recent). Because I was her student, she asked me if I wanted to join, and I’ve been doing it since then. At some point, she needed someone to play piccolo for one of the pieces. And she asked me if I wanted to do it. And I tried it. And I really, really liked it, because it’s kind of like having your own unique part. It’s also fun to play. And it’s a lot lighter play in marching band. 

At Irvington, I play in the marching band and in the school band. They’re pretty similar because you have an almost identical set of people around you, and the same director – Mr. Rodda. I think the biggest difference though is that in marching band you don’t have as many concerts as you do band reviews. So I’m a lot closer with people in the marching band because I see them and practice with them every day for like two hours after school. And we go to these 12-hour band reviews, and we sit in the bus together. And I think it’s just the experience of a community. With marching band, you have a lot more things to think about as you’re literally marching with music. It’s a lot of time commitment, I think I liked to joke in freshman year about it being so tiring. But then, after it’s over, you get kind of sad, because you’re like, “Oh, well, it was kind of fun, actually.” Whenever I smell sunscreen now I just think of it. A few weeks ago was our last band review for the season. And I was really kind of sad. Like, even though it’s a lot of time commitment and a lot of work. It’s actually it’s really worth it. It’s a really great experience.

I actually stopped piano before quarantine started. I had an off period in ninth grade where I stopped piano and started again, and with the pandemic, I stopped lessons for real. So I haven’t had piano lessons in a while. Right now, the only thing I remember playing on the piano from a while ago was a Sonatina—I forget which number, but I played it for a CM test. I don’t know if I enjoyed it. I’m kind of working on different contemporary pieces. Right now I’m learning the ‘Up’ theme song “Married Life.” I still play accompanying my church’s worship team. I really like meeting people and collaborating with the piano. In middle school, my church’s worship team asked if I wanted to play the piano with them and I was like, ‘sure!’ so I started doing that too. For those songs, I listen to the song first and then I play with the chords, because I use chord progressions a lot.

But for the flute, I still take lessons. I actually had a lesson earlier (at 4:15). It’s more of a mentorship thing now, rather than a strict student-teacher thing. My teacher’s helping me learn more advanced techniques and phrasing rather than going over the basic stuff over and over again. She’s really good at giving constructive criticism. I think she really cares about the music and she’s passionate about it. She’ll have you listen to the music and say “take notes, guys.” Sometimes (she’s a little older so) she can be a little strict but then, at the end of the day, she’s really passionate about music and you can really tell through all the different community activities that she participates in and that’s awesome. 

I think when I was younger, I really wanted to improve based on the level and technique in any instrument I played. It was like “Okay if I do this, then I’ll be like this and I’ll reach this level.” After the break, I’ve played less, but when I do, I’m doing it to enjoy myself. I’m not aspiring to get to a level, I play what I really enjoy instead of making this an achievement I have to check off a list. Now, I really want to inspire younger people with music. About a year and a half ago, I started teaching kids how to play the flute. It’s through Zoom, so the kids get distracted super easily. They’re pretty good at playing, you just have to think of good ways to communicate with them. I want to show them comfort and give them power through music. Playing at senior centers, or anything else like that really, can be super moving. Giving people that peace and momentary joy when they listen to someone playing music just for them is really impactful. My ultimate goal is to impact people with music.

A lot of people I know no longer play their instruments in college. But I don’t know, I feel like I maybe I’ll carry on and see what happens.

It’s never too late to learn an instrument. My grandpa is actually learning to play the piano and my grandma was learning guitar. If you really like music and your instrument, you should stick to it. Find an instrument that speaks to you. That sounds kind of cheesy, but find something you think you would enjoy playing. There’s a period of time when you’re going to hate it. You’re gonna hate playing it every day, you’re gonna hate practicing. But then, once you get past that, you’re gonna start to really like it. I think quarantine made me play more because there was more time. And I think now that I’m going to college, I feel kinda sad that I won’t get to play as much. So just don’t give up on it.