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Name That Tune: Katie Butler

Jordan Magaziner Steinfeld
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Katie Butler

Katie Butler, a senior at Kinder HSPVA, is a talented violinist who aspires to make music her future career. (Photo: Tracy Smith)

This week’s Name That Tune is brought to you by Katie Butler, a senior at Kinder HSPVA. Katie is a talented violinist who participates in Virtuosi of Houston, a Premier Young Artists Chamber Orchestra, and aspires to make music her future career. Read on for excerpts from our interview. Watch her video to see if you can name the tune. 

Age: 17 
Profession: Senior at Kinder HSPVA  
Instrument: Violin

Tell me a little bit about how you got into music. 
I come from a musical family. My parents are both professional cellists. My dad [Jeffrey Butler] is with the Houston Symphony and mom [Wendy Smith-Butler] is with the Houston Grand Opera and Houston Ballet orchestras. They both also come from musical families so music runs in our blood. I was 4 when I started violin; I know my parents really wanted me to play an instrument and I must’ve gravitated toward it [the violin]. I didn’t like it that much until middle school [at Johnston, now called Meyerland Performing and Visual Arts Middle School]. 

Wow, you were 4 years old! Did you learn the violin from your parents or a teacher originally?
I took some lessons with a teacher who’s now in Colorado, I was so heartbroken when she left; she taught me how to hold the instrument and use the bow correctly. She was very thorough. I was on Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star for three years! She started me off with a solid foundation.

That’s too funny about Twinkle, Twinkle! Sounds like you got a strong foundation from the very beginning. Do you have siblings and, if so, do they play musical instruments as well? 
I have three siblings and they all play musical instruments. Anna is a violist, Abby is a pianist and Will is a trumpet player. Anna is 14, Abby and Will are 13. Probably my passion is with music [the most out of the siblings]; they all have different passions [in addition to playing their instruments]. 

That’s awesome! So you’re the oldest - do you work with your siblings on their music? Does your family ever play anything together? 
I work with them [siblings] sometimes but that’s very few and far between. Occasionally, our family will play together [partially]. I’ve forced my parents to do some duets with me and my dad and my pianist sister played a duet together too but we’ve never tried to play together as a family. There aren’t many pieces written for violin, piano, viola, trumpet and two cellos!

That makes sense! Can you tell me about your involvement with Virtuosi? 
I’ve been with Virtuosi for about four years. They’re a youth orchestra and I love the sense of community there. I think a lot of times with youth orchestras, there’s so much competitiveness and [with Virtuosi] there’s not the same kind of competition; there’s a real sense of camaraderie. The conductors treat us like adults instead of young musicians - they expect a very high level of playing. We put on three concerts a year. Of course, we probably won’t be doing that this year because of Covid. 

That sounds like a special group. How have rehearsals worked during the pandemic? Have you been playing much during Covid? 
We haven’t been doing it virtually because there’s lag on Zoom and it’s pretty much impossible to play as an ensemble. I’ve been doing some virtual festivals [instead]; I’ve been focusing on solo repertoire because that’s easier to do over Zoom.

I started off taking virtual lessons [with a local teacher] at the beginning of the pandemic and have gradually moved back in her studio six feet apart with masks on.

I would like to be a performance major [in college] so I’ve been emailing a lot of teachers for virtual trial lessons. It’s been really nice to work with lots of teachers without having to travel. It’s the norm when looking for college teachers to work with them in person. In terms of saving money and time, the pandemic has offered this blessing.

Sounds like you’ve been able to use this time in a positive and productive way! So, you see violin in your future? 
I would love to be a violin performance major in college and that’s about as far as I’ve gotten. Violin is going to be in my future – I can’t imagine a future without it. I’d love to play in an orchestra in the future and have a private studio on the side because I love teaching and inspiring kids.

That’s wonderful that you know you want violin to play a major role in your future – and I’m sure you’ve inspired many others with your passion! What or who inspires you?
Well, there’s one violinist – Augustin Hadelich – he’s been one of my idols throughout the years. He’s like my go-to person when I get assigned a new piece; I love the way he plays and the emotion that he can get out of the instrument while also having a really solid technical foundation. He travels all around the world and, during the pandemic, he’s been making these cool videos on YouTube called Ask Augustin, [displaying] important violin skills and how you can improve. He also creates these cool recordings that he does of him playing piano and violin and edits them together. It’s been really inspiring to see the work that he’s continuing to do during the pandemic.

He sounds inspirational. What kinds of music do you like to play? What’s your favorite kind of music to listen to? 
I’m definitely classically trained – it’s just what I’ve been doing my whole life - but I love doing gigs because you can get the chance to sight read some pop songs with your friends. My mom’s a big fan of the band Chicago so I like a lot of those songs as well; The Beatles; Frank Sinatra – I like a lot of the old stuff. Mostly I listen to classical music, but I’ve been trying to expand my horizons a little bit during the pandemic.

That’s great! Can you tell me a little bit about what you’re involved in at HSPVA? 
I am part of the strings program at PVA and we have four music classes embedded in our schedule as well as academics. [This year] I will be in string orchestra, AP music theory, chamber music and I think conducting, which I’m really looking forward to as well. 

Watch Katie's full video clip here.

Editor's note: If you play an instrument and are interested in participating in Name That Tune, email [email protected].

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