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Katherine FitzGibbon

How would you describe your music?

I specialize primarily in "classical" choral music, with time periods ranging from the Middle Ages to brand-new music. I conduct choirs and orchestras. My professional ensemble, the Resonance Ensemble (www.resonancechoral.org) has recently received favorable press attention in the Portland area for its innovative programming of choral music from many genres.

What is your role in your band? In the studio? In business or marketing decisions?

In my professional ensemble and at the college where I am a professor, I am the artistic director who makes all musical decisions and many of the administrative decisions.

Describe your gear.

As a conductor, my main gear is my baton; I have a case with several batons that travels with me. As a singer, I don't need much gear! But as a rock musician, I do carry my keyboard and keyboard stand.

Related Themes: Gear

Do you think being a woman and a musician is different from being a man and a musician? If so, how? Was there a moment that made a difference clear to you?

I have sometimes found real differences as a conductor. I think that many people have a mental image of the conductor as a dominating male who leads with a traditional, top-down leadership style, and who has particular physical mannerisms that communicate "power" in physically male ways. When I was studying conducting in graduate school, I conducted a regional orchestra in a master class/workshop, and was given the feedback (by a female violist!) that my conducting needed balls. I was really ticked off by that feedback, even as I understood that she meant that I had not yet figured out how to show aggressive music in an organic way on my curvy female body. I went to my teacher at the University of Michigan, a wonderful male teacher, and asked him for his help. He suggested that I consider how powerful the female body is - what more powerful image than the womb, the giver of life? That led to a real breakthrough for me, that I can show power in my own body by being grounded and true to who I am, not by trying to replicate male conducting gestures (that inevitably looked forced on my body).

Do you see differences between generations of women musicians?

Yes, the generation before me had to fight harder to gain acceptance. I have observed women now in their 50s and 60s with war stories about having to fight to be given opportunities equal to the men of their age. (One of my women teachers was told by her mentor that "it was a shame she had been a woman, she would have made a hell of a conductor.") I think that women today in the conducting field have equal opportunities to have access to training and jobs, but that there are still fewer women with the top positions. People still have subconscious associations with what a conductor should look like and act like that may keep women from some of the top positions; just think about our leadership roles in government and the gradual emergence of women in Congress but the continuing lack of a woman president.

Related Themes: Off The Clock

Did anyone ever give you any valuable advice about making your way in the music industry? What advice would you give to a woman musician just starting out?

You can do anything your heart desires. Just be prepared to assert yourself, know what you want, and have to prove to each new person or organization how competent and creative you are.

Related Themes: Advice

Why did you choose to play the instrument you play?

I fell in love with choral music in middle school. I had played piano since I was in elementary school (mostly because my friend, Maureen, had started taking lessons and I thought that sounded "cool"), and I was the kind of kid who would race home because I couldn't wait to practice the piano. When I started singing in middle school, it was because I wanted to join our famed show choir in high school (think "Glee"), and I was an aspiring dancer. It turned out that I had a good voice and loved to sing, and I studied music seriously at Princeton, the University of Michigan, and Boston University (my degree institutions).

Related Themes: The First Time