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A graduate of note

French horn player wins national awards for performance and composition
Friday, May 11, 2007 | 1:57 a.m. CDT; updated 4:54 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Katie Andres, a French horn player, hopes to join a professional symphony after completing her master’s degree. She graduates from MU on Saturday.

When she first came to MU, Katie Andres felt like she was a pretty good French horn player. So she auditioned for one of the school’s concert ensembles. After her audition, Andres nervously walked into the Fine Arts building to see if she had done well enough to qualify for the Symphonic Wind Ensemble or the Symphonic Band, MU’s most prestigious bands. Her name wasn’t on either list, and when she asked her teacher about the audition, Andres was informed that she had finished dead last out of 16 horn players.

Andres says she was so depressed that she did not even touch her horn the next day. She feared she wasn’t as good a musician as she thought. Then she began group lessons, which gave her the opportunity to hear the performers who had finished ahead of her. Andres says she thought to herself, “Oh, I can play better than that.”

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And she did — much better than that. In March, Andres, who will graduate Saturday with a degree in horn performance and a minor in German, won second place in Young Artist Brass at the Music Teachers National Association convention in Toronto. She also won a second-place teacher’s association award in Young Artist Composition for her woodwind quintet piece, “Moodswings.”

Winning in two unrelated categories is extremely rare. In fact, Linda Stump, the association’s competition director, said that during her 30 years with the association, she doesn’t recall a year in which anyone else won national honors in two unrelated categories, mainly because of the sheer amount of practice time each competition requires.

Marcia Spence, an associate music professor at MU and Andres’ mentor, says the awards highlight Andres’ superior musical talent. “She’s operating at a graduate level,” Spence said. “The world doesn’t move fast enough for her.”

Andres says she’s most proud of the performance award because she focuses on playing, rather than writing, music. She studied composition as a junior on a whim and ended up writing what would become the first two movements of “Moodswings,” which also won this year’s Sinquefield Family Foundation composition award. Andres still considers composition a hobby. She wants to continue writing music, but only “just for fun.”

Andres, from Bonne Terre, has dyed jet-black hair and large dark eyes that suggest an unusual intensity. She also has multiple piercings on her ears and her left eyebrow. But she used to sport pink hair, black eye makeup and tall platform shoes.

“Obviously I’m much more neutral now,” Andres said.

Andres selects the most difficult music because mastering it has the most benefits in a performance setting. Pointing out that French horn is one of the most difficult brass instruments to play, Andres says she enjoys playing up-tempo pieces and employing the horn’s upper register — a challenge because the notes are played so similarly.

For example, a C, D, E or F sharp are all played using the same combination of valves. The difference between the notes is a slight change in the shape and position of the player’s lips on the mouthpiece and the amount of air supplied by the performer. Andres’ perfect pitch helps, because she knows when she is playing exactly the right note and when she needs to correct herself.

Andres also employs a rare technique — Spence calls it a “parlor trick,” invented in the 1800s — that combines singing and playing at the same time to create chords. Most of the time it takes multiple instruments to play a chord, three notes played at once. Andres forms a chord by playing a single note — for example, an A at 440 vibrations per second — while simultaneously singing another — a D, for instance, at 200 vibrations per second. “Resultant tones” form when the two vibrations add and subtract from each other.

At first glace, Andres seems introverted, but family members and close friends know her as driven and assertive about her ideas.

Robert Trussell, who plays bassoon in three ensembles with Andres, says she is often vocal in class. This semester, they took a class devoted entirely to Mozart. Both of them came to despise the text for the class, “Mozart: A Life” by Maynard Solomon, and Andres encouraged the class not to read the book.

“I don’t even know if he actually believes what he is writing,” Andres said.

Spence pointed out that when Andres got to MU, she often stayed in the Fine Arts building until 2 or 3 a.m. to practice. Andres’ boyfriend, David Munson, also noted her dedication.

While working on one of the movements for “Moodswings,” she had an abstract idea for a particular passage but struggled with writing the actual music. Instead of giving up, Andres worked for three solid days to perfect that part. There were moments of frustration, Munson says, but she kept coming back to the piece and revising it.

Munson, a freelance photographer who graduated from Ohio University in 2003, says he and Andres connect because of their similar musical interests — they both enjoy “a lot of really weird, obscure stuff” such as The Chemical Brothers, Air and Japanese noise music.

Music is also an interest she shares with Alice, her twin sister. Like many sets of twins, Katie and Alice Andres are similar in many respects. They both share a sarcastic, witty sense of humor, they both excel in language and music and they’re both “cat dorks.”

“If you met us both,” Alice says, “you would know instantly we’re twins.”

Growing up with a twin, Katie wanted to differentiate herself and find her own identity — hence the pink hair and piercings. At MU, spending more time apart, the sisters learned to value the time they spent together. Alice graduated in May 2006 with degrees in Spanish and psychology. She now works as a bilingual customer service representative.

“When I see my sister perform, I have enormous pride,” Alice says. “As a twin, I see her perform and I realize that that’s a reflection on myself as well, and it feels good.”

Besides music, Andres’ other love is learning languages. Her degree program required 15 hours of either German, French or Italian. While many students recoil at German grammar, Andres likes it because of the structure of the language, which appeals to her analytical nature and logical mind. In the first few German classes, she asked questions about grammar that weren’t covered until German 3, so Andres bought her own grammar workbook. She soon skipped ahead to senior- and graduate-level classes.

Andres says she appreciates knowing German because it expands her access to music literature and she can learn things she might never have known about if she only knew English.

Andres used her initial experience at MU as motivation to improve, and by junior year, she was first chair in the wind ensemble. She was quickly auditioning for nationally recognized graduate schools.

Starting in August, Andres will attend one of the most competitive and intense music programs in the country, at the University of North Texas, in Denton, north of Dallas.

“To be a professional musician you have to really want it,” she says. “You have to put yourself in the company of better players who make you feel like crap. Then you have to practice a lot to make yourself just as good.”

Andres wants to be a professional musician, to play in a large symphony, teach at a university as an adjunct professor, and maybe work in Germany at some point in her career.

Those who know her have no doubts Andres will accomplish her goals.

“Someday,” Spence says, “we’re going to know who Katie Andres is.”


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