Music has always been Katy Kristoffersen’s friend and confidante.
Since the age of two when she picked up her first instrument, Kristoffersen traveled along her musical journey, joining in with her siblings as they played piano, lending her voice to choirs and even penning her own notes.
Kristoffersen is layered with a myriad of passions, all rooted in human connection. Her newest endeavor sits in Montrose as the new Valley Symphony Association chorus director, a position that follows a career spanning 20 years in teaching and coaching.
Kristoffersen graduated with a double degree in music and psychology, initially attending Mount St. Joseph University to pursue a career as a therapist. As she went on to form an adult choir in a church she attended and organized Christmas concerts, she quickly “woke up” to what her work would be in the world. She realized she just couldn’t stop directing.
The newly-minted graduate set out in a new direction, gaining experience by teaching in schools despite not having a teaching degree. Many parochial schools, she said, will often hire professionals without an education degree, so the experience gave Kristoffersen the opportunity to get her master’s while living out her passion.
Kristoffersen sees herself as a “joyful forklift,” someone who lifts up others as a team builder and a support for her students and fellow musicians. Her career may have deviated from her original plans, but the end result leaves the director feeling aligned with herself and her vision in life.
Part of that vision is creating a fusion between her musical and psychology background so she can facilitate an environment where her students feel safe enough to be themselves.
“I’ve been teaching private lessons for a really long time and you kind of need to have that little therapist bone in your body because music is super personal,” Kristoffersen said.
“A lot of the adult and young students I work with if you can connect to them and make them feel very safe being who they are and figuring out what their path is musically, then they do their best.”
As a teacher, Kristoffersen loves to shed light on the true meaning of being a musician. She considers it a business of having fun and exploring what music means for each individual, whether that’s teaching someone how to write music, sing it or play it. It’s about getting that “creative muscle” going.
“I think we decide what artistic behaviors look like, and we decide if we don’t fit into that bucket. And that’s a huge loss when you already create this idea of what a musician is,” Kristoffersen said.
The director went on to explain that often people regard musicians as someone who performs on television or on stage in concert.
“It’s such a lie and such a limiting belief that cuts you off from an incredible wealth of ways to be creative, so I would suggest stepping back and asking yourself what kind of creative things you enjoy participating in,” said Kristoffersen, adding that finding a creative outlet can include anything from being a media critic or talking with others about artists.
Whichever medium an individual chooses to take, Kristoffersen assures everyone that anything that lends to a more informed creative audience is good for the arts and the conversation that artists want to participate in.
The director sees this creative connection as a “development of a strong relationship with the self,” describing music as a means of self-expression that bodes well for creating vulnerable connections with others.
“The goal of my work is to hopefully show people that, when you create a new skill, figure out what it is you want to create and what you want to see in the world. When you keep doing it, you find a really profound way to be human and I would never want that to stop, especially for the people that I work with,” Kristoffersen said.
Through the challenges of the past year’s pandemic, Kristoffersen hopes people recognize the importance of the arts as a fundamental part of “being human.”
She pointed out that a spotlight was shone on human suffering because people, especially adolescents, weren’t able “to do the work to figure out who they are and how to express themselves.” Art and music are just two avenues for this self-discovery, said the musician.
With a choir possessing as high expectations of itself as the VSA does, Kristoffersen is ready to tackle a more elevated challenge in her new life chapter. She’s looking forward to helping people rediscover the joy in learning.
“There’s never a time where you can finish a piece and say ‘it’s over’ because each new piece of music we open is like a universe of techniques, ideas and emotional expression with different ways to feel it and share that with an audience,” Kristoffersen said.
With the VSA missing an entire season of performing due to COVID-19, the new director will be walking into the season with a performance template of Americana music already in place. Kristoffersen sees this as an opportunity to focus on forming a working relationship with her new team of musicians rather than shaking things up from the get-go.
The musician enjoys arranging music for her choirs as well, something she hopes to bring to VSA in the future. Getting to know her musicians as people, as well as their voices, is key to writing for them.
At the end of the day, Kristoffersen just wants everyone to be more curious about themselves and the world around them.
Cassie Knust is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.