Katie Cooke (CC ’19)

“Expression knows no gender boundaries.”

“If someone touches my chair, I get so annoyed and tense…I know it’s not of me, and I just get so irritated!” Katie Cooke’s (CC ’19) nose scrunches as her eyebrows contort in waves, snickering at the particularity of the pet peeve she just detailed. For the budding conductor, arranger, clarinetist and future picture-book-author to so viscerally despise another person’s presence is surprising, for Katie is someone who loves people and music with her whole being. Find out more after the jump!

Take her major in Music and concentration in Education, for example, a perfect rendition of her passion for extending her love of music to the next generation of clarinetists, conductors, and arrangers. With an impossibly-wholesome glint in her eye, Katie spoke with us about how music education means she will “dedicate my whole life to loving music and loving people.” That love for others, realized through love of music, suffuses every aspect of Katie’s Columbia life: her role as a COÖP leader, as “one of the first people that a new student meets”; applying music to her faith by arranging songs for KCCC Columbia; conducting Columbia’s New Opera Workshop (NOW) in its fall 2017 “greatest hits” production (check out the video corresponding to this post to see her in action!); and as clarinetist and newly-minted president of Columbia University Orchestra (CUO).

Katie’s involvement in CUO, working alongside conductor Jeffrey Milarsky, and her directorship of NOW, neatly align with her newfound love of conducting. After taking conducting with Maestro Milarsky last spring, Katie discovered “a frontier” that “was challenging in a positive way.” The way conducting demands the deepest understanding of a score extends to “any piece of music I play.” As conducting “refined something new in my life” for “the first time in a while,” it solidified something profound in Katie’s musical journey, one that has colored her approach to many other aspects of her life.

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Katie leads the orchestra for Columbia University’s New Opera Workshop in a Saturday afternoon rehearsal.

One of these is advocacy for female conductors, as women at the podium are still considered unnatural, upsetting the accepted social order of male hegemony in classical conducting. With few female conducting mentors growing up, Katie felt “there was something fundamentally wrong” with a woman swishing her baton, akin to the brooding discomfort when the chosen principal clarinetists were always male, even though there were many equally-qualified women vying for the chair.Katie hopes to “hold on to opportunities” rather than be “held down by obstacles,” encouraged by the reality that so many female musicians are great “because they have a different expressivity.” And expression, for Katie, “knows no gender boundaries…once the foreignness of seeing a female up there is gone, it feels natural.”

Aside from music, Katie loves drawing, cartoons, and has budding ideas for a picture book about a mouse who plays music in the NYC subways, a passion project that ties together her love of music, illustration, and education. She once memorized five seasons of South Park. She hates “sassy signs” for telling her what to do as inanimate objects; she loves Leonard Bernstein and the lush chocolatey-ness of Tchaikovsky. And, speaking of which, she adores Oreo Thins. As for advice for musicians? Like the other featured musicians on our blog, Katie dropped a morsel of sage wisdom as easily applied to life as it is to music: “Take things slow.”

We’ll be rooting for Katie to publish her take on If You Give a Mouse a Cookieand keeping a lookout for her on a conductor’s podium soon enough. Pass the Oreos, please.

follow Katie on Instagram @pocketcooke; SoundCloud, and YouTube. She says you can “friend her on Facebook” if you know her. No creeps allowed!

liked what you read? check out more beets & noodz interviews here

contributors: Jordan Lee, Cindy Liu, and Adrian Traviezo
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