Just in time for a sunny California winter, Kristen Marie is relocating to the Bay Area from Ohio this January. With Kristen on staff at Music Time, we are thrilled to offer extended availability of private lessons on cello, violin, voice, guitar, bass, piano and ukulele. Kristen will also offer lesson in songwriting and beat-making, and specialized lessons for combinations of voice/guitar, voice/piano & voice/ukulele. With 10 years of teaching experience so far, plus performances credentials that include Disturbed and Trans-Siberian Orchestra, we can’t wait to see Kristen’s positive influence here in Livermore. Welcome to California, Kristen! It’s Music Time.

What do you remember about first getting started in music? Did you start young?

I started taking cello lessons and piano lessons at 10 years old. I started cello in elementary school, just in our strings program. I took private piano lessons, and then I ended up having to choose. My mom was like, “You can take one!” So I ended up picking cello. I kept on playing in orchestras throughout middle and high school. I took lessons through high school at the Cleveland Institute of Music, studying cello – so that’s my foundational background with cello. I went on to study Cello Performance and Chamber Music at Denison University, and then I studied music education, specifically string pedagogy at Ohio State University, also Cello Performance at OSU, and a bit of jazz. 

Do you happen to recall what made you choose cello? Or how you got into it? It’s not an average 10-year-old is following cello stars!

I just liked the sound of the instrument, compared to the violin. Violin just sounded too high pitched to me, so picked cello. 

So was there a school program and it kind of showed you each different kind of strings? And that was how you chose?

Yeah, it was just a standard elementary school program. You could pick between violin, viola or cello. I just picked cello. I think I also liked that I could sit down and play, which is kind of hilarious.

Did you have other musicians in the family? Or you had an opportunity with school, and just decided to do music?

My dad is a musician, he plays the guitar and piano, writes songs, and sings. He had a band in high school and college. My mom doesn’t do any music. But my grandmother was a really good singer. She sang a lot of musicals. She could have traveled to Chicago, back in the day, to be in musicals but it was “inappropriate” for women to do that! She was born in 1923.

Wow! Haha, that’s so crazy. I’d like to spend a little more time talking about when you were younger. You mentioned you started at the age of 10. It’s funny because so many Music Time students, start younger than 10. It sounds like your parents didn’t push you too much. Did they just wait until you had interest on your own?

They didn’t push. I think they just waited until it was offered in school. They knew that before then, it’s hard to get a kid to practice. They weren’t one of those parents that made me start getting used to holding the violin at the age of 2, which can also be a really cool thing, but that wasn’t their style. I also remember seeing the Cleveland Orchestra play around that same time, when I was 10, which peaked my interest.

Nice! Was that a school trip?

It was probably my parents? I don’t really remember. I saw the Cleveland Orchestra a lot after I started playing. I would seem them in the summer at Blossom Music Center, which is an outdoor amphitheater venue. They have a whole entire season of outdoor concerts there. 

Speaking of performances, let’s talk about some of your most memorable experiences on stage.

When I was in high school, I had a chance to be a part of the Contemporary Youth Orchestra, it was a 95-piece group that you had to audition. We played all 20th century music. We premiered a lot of pieces of composers that were still alive, and every spring we would play a rock concert. They would orchestrate rock music for us! Kids from all over Northeast Ohio, even some kids from Pennsylvania and Detroit, would travel for this Saturday rehearsal – it was really cool! I got the chance to play with Graham Nash, John Anderson from Yes, and then also Pat Benetar! It was kind of crazy! It was interesting because usually growing up playing cello, you play in orchestras and play classical music (which I did in school), but this was outside of school. And so I think once I got to do that for the last three years of high school. It it really opened up my mind to, “Oh, I want to be in a band.” Around that time was when I started learning the guitar. 

Yes, I wanted to ask about that. You went through all of your “academic” music foundation, but when did you first start moving into the direction of guitar, songwriting, etc.?

When I first started college, I took a guitar class. When I was about 19, I started singing and playing at open mic nights in the same town as Denison is in, and that was when I was in my first country band. I’ve been in a band of some sort since then!

What do you remember about when you first started playing Open Mics? Were you doing your own songs? 

I was playing a mix of covers and originals. At the beginning, I was playing acoustic cello to accompany myself with the singing. Kind of like Ben Sollee, if you know who that is.

What made you go with guitar, if you were first making it work on cello? 

I just knew a lot of singer songwriters. I met my best friend around that time, who was also in my first band. We were called The Hello Ladies, and she played guitar and sang. She was actually the first guitar player that I really “hashed out” learning how to play the cello with. I had never really done anything like that before. I always played in orchestras, with sheet music in front of me. It was the beginning of me starting to ear train to where I could improvise on cello, with a guitar player. That was probably in 2007 or so.

Getting comfortable without sheet music is just such a huge barrier to get past, for so many of us that play classical piano, violin, or winds in school.

Yeah, that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to learn guitar, just so I could know what was going on with playing chords. You totally can play chords on cello, and I did when I was self-accompanying. I guess I just liked the guitar, and I wanted to understand more of what my friend was playing. After that, I had to take piano class in college. I put piano down for a while to do cello when I was younger, but I got way better at it, and now, because I’ve been teaching it for 10 years, I can actually play the piano! I actually really love playing it because it’s just all already in front of you, you can see it! You don’t have to hold down the string and bow at the same time! It’s just…relax. 

Yeah, the learning curve is a little a little bit different on any instrument you don’t have to hold up!

Right! So I got way better at guitar and piano and started writing songs on both of those instruments. Then, I was like, “I want to learn the bass, because bass is sick!”. I ended up playing electric bass in a psychedelic bluegrass bands for about 3 years. Throughout my 20’s, every couple years I would just say, “Okay, it’s time to learn another instrument!”

I mean, there’s so much progress at first! You know, you can pick up an instrument and get going quickly, after you already play a few other instruments. That’s fun.

Yeah! So then, I just practiced writing songs a lot. I’ve had a couple of bands that I’m the lead singer of. I’ve gotten way better at singing! I’m really an instrumentalist at heart, and I had to figure out how to sing. 

That’s a really cool thing. There is definitely a misconception that singing is a sort of gift you are born with, or not. Do you have anything to say about the process of learning how to sing?

I would say that the most successful voice students are ones that couple voice lessons with some sort of instrument, whether it be piano or guitar, so that they have a sense of pitch, a reference for when they’re practicing. It just makes your voice more grounded, more in tune. When I’m teaching voice, I try to get students to learn a bit of piano. It’s good for you, and you can do vocal warm ups yourself! 

So then, moving along your timeline. You were playing in bands and writing music throughout college, what was you curve as you moved beyond school? Did you go straight to teaching, or more touring and performing?

I kind of fell into doing both at the same time. I first started teaching at a music studio in Columbus, Ohio in December of 2009. So coming up next month, I will have been teaching for 10 years. I then went on to teach at a couple other studios and eventually thought, “Okay, I see how all these people are doing this. I think I can just do this!” So about six years ago, I decided to get referrals and do in-home lessons. I really just build that up, and tried not supplement income with being a barista at a coffee shop. Then as far as performance goes, because I’ve been in “the game” for a while, I am blessed to have some pretty good connections. I got to go on a little mini-tour with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, in about 2011 and 2014. More recently, in 2019, I played cello with Disturbed. There’s this thing called “Rock on the Range” in Columbus. It is a rock festival that has been around for years. They just changed it to the “Sonic Temple” Festival. They needed somebody to play it, so yeah, I got to play in front of like, 30,000 people. That was pretty cool!

Haha, yeah! It’s funny, when you picked up cello, I bet you didn’t really picture playing with Distrubed!

Right? Yeah. I really attribute getting to do things like that to playing in that orchestra where I was playing with rockers. It opened my mind to, “Oh, string players don’t just have to be playing Bach, Mozart and Handel at weddings!” Even though I do that! 

Now as far as teaching, you mentioned you started doing house calls. I know from your website though, that’s not all you ended up doing.  How did it evolve?

We never had a permanent location or a studio, it really was just all in-home lessons. Since I was gigging a lot when I was trying to start this business, I really wanted to recreate a gig for my students, so that my students could feel what it’s like to be on a real stage and play for real. All of the bi-annual recitals were held at local live music venues. There was a sound guy, a real stage, microphones and everything. For cello performances, this isn’t very traditional! If you go to a normal recital, you just get up on stage and play, but we would mic the all the instruments. Whenever I teach voice lessons, I have a little amp and a microphone with me, too, so kids can practice singing in the microphone before they hit the stage at the recital. I just really wanted to recreate a gig for kids, so that they could think, “Oh I can I can totally do this.” I didn’t really get to do that when I was a kid, you know? I just played the cello, and that was pretty much it. And then I just discovered all this other stuff.

I thought I saw a few different photos where the kids were playing together in groups? 

Yeah, over the years I have taught several different ensembles that were kids’ rock bands. I would help them figure out how to develop a sense of ensemble together, how to write together, how to sing harmonies. I’ve done a lot of like songwriting lessons. At one point, I taught this after school voice program where we wrote several songs together. We picked one, and at the end of the year, we had a friend’s band accompany us. I’ve done a lot of things like that.

So cool. Well let’s talk about what brings you to California! That’s a pretty big change.

I lived in Columbus for 11 years. I grew up in Cleveland. I’ve been in Ohio my whole life. When I was a kid, I went out to San Francisco, since my aunt lives in Alameda. Ever since I visited the redwood forest, I was obsessed! I want to live IN it! Even though you can’t really do that. I’ve just always loved the area. One of my best friends that used to live here about six years ago lives in the Bay Area. Once I get there, we’re going to do a band. Over the past couple of years, I have been developing this yoga-to-live-music thing. I have a percussionist, and then I play electric cello. I use a loop pedal, and we compose these ambient tracks to play over. I’m going to try to do that out there, and continue to play weddings. I have an acoustic duo here where I play ukulele, piano and sing. I’m probably gonna do that same type of thing. I’m probably going to reform my actual band where I’m the lead singer and play electric cello. It’s kind of like a jazz-fusion, neo-soul thing. I have a lot of plans! 

I have wanted to do this since 10 years ago, honestly, but I just wasn’t ready. I didn’t know what I was doing. Columbus has just been a cradle of musical development for me. I’ve been so lucky to get way better at all these instruments that I decided to learn in my 20s! Now I’m like, okay…

Nice! Well, maybe to close this out, let’s go with some general comments on your teaching philosophy that you’ll be bringing here.

I find that my younger students respond really well to using technology. I’m a big proponent of teaching my students how to record. Specifically, I use GarageBand. We combine that with the scales and chords they’re studying on their instrument. Making original compositions that students can play is interesting for them. Plus, they like to press buttons, they like iPads. I try to stick to the classic material that you learn in music lessons (like scales, etudes, music theory) and then kind of whip that all into a little, recording project. 

The other thing that I definitely am a proponent of is having performance goals! That’s why I had the performances at local live music venues a couple times a year. Between those, we would also have a “Kid’s Open Mic” on a Saturday afternoon. I think it’s important to get in front of people and get over your stage fright. It helps kids to develop confidence, in general, whether they’re having to speak in front of their class, or if they’re singing at church. I’ve had a lot of parents tell me that these crazy recitals at local live music venues have really helped their child’s personal development. 

I like that! Those 2 points seem so obvious when you bring them up, yet rare to hear about from teachers. Technology, and that live performance is not necessarily a music-related goal. 

I really like teaching the most now, because now I can see that there’s just so many benefits to children’s brain development with playing music. Their their motor skills, hand eye coordination. It’s also a creative outlet that can just help you have a better quality of life. 

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