Katherine Bartol - Music Educator, Professional Singer, Conductor, and Pianist

Katherine Bartol is a music educator who pioneered the Kodaly method in Central Pennsylvania. During her childhood in York, Pennsylvania, Katherine was inspired by a musical family. Her cousin’s band was signed to Columbia Records. In high school Katherine played the leading role in two musicals. She attended West Chester University and won the senior piano competition. After studying music education, Ms. Bartol researched the human voice at the University of Minnesota and studied conducting at Westminster Choir College and The University of the Arts.

Throughout her public school career, Katherine Bartol maintained a private studio, managed her own bands, sang with television personality Davy Jones, and performed as a guest artist. She was a cooperating teacher for three universities and served as guest conductor for Perry and Dauphin Counties. Katherine Bartol has written for professional journals and was an original contributing author for Pennsylvania State University’s Partnership for Music Teacher Excellence: Guide for Co-operating Teachers.

Katherine Bartol’s educator credits include five Carnegie Hall performances under the direction of world-renowned composer John Rutter, NBA games, the WWII Memorial Dedication, and the 400th Anniversary of Jamestown with President George W. Bush in attendance. She was honored by professional associations for her exemplary choirs and has recently received the Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award.

Currently Katherine Bartol teaches at her home in Northumberland, Pennsylvania and writes and performs music. She is writing an advisory book. Some of her famous and successful students include opera singer Elizabeth DeShong and members of the rock band Breaking Benjamin.

How did you get started in the music industry and in music education? What inspired you to start a career in music?

Some of my first memories in life are filled with singing and dancing with my parents to the radio or to concerts on television. I came from a musically talented family, where every gathering included people bringing instruments for a jam session of polkas, old standards, and various popular songs. I noticed that my singing voice stood out since I first attended school. I was especially inspired by my cousin who played just about anything on the piano and saxophone. He was a member of a band that was signed to Columbia Records. I wanted to follow in his footsteps because of my life-long passion for performing and creating music. After years of taking private piano lessons, I was paid to play for various ensembles and weddings as a teenager. At this time, I realized I could possibly have a career in performing or teaching music. After winning the leading role in two high school musicals, I knew I was headed to college for a degree in music. My parents strongly urged me to take a steady job as a music teacher in a public school with health benefits. I embraced the opportunity but could never stop performing. Because I became a highly skilled and experienced performing singer and pianist, I was able to successfully educate students to an outstanding level of ability.

How do you make money?

It is difficult for most people to make a living as an artist in our country. So, therefore, I make a living out of music in all possible ways. I am a public school music educator and a Kodaly method specialist. The Kodaly method is what I believe to be the best way to teach music. It is similar to the way reading is taught to everyone. I am a private voice and piano instructor, a hired soloist, piano accompanist, and conductor. I am also a songwriter, lead singer, and keyboard player for my self-managed bands and solo performances.

How long did it take for you to become profitable?

In order to become known and established as a music educator, I had to prove that my method and skills were effective. I started teaching elementary aged students and took the opportunity to move up to a middle school job to teach the same students again. After I taught them for five to six years, the successful results were evident. My middle school choruses were chosen as exemplary groups for the Pennsylvania Middle School Association and the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association. My advice to anyone is to stick with a job long enough to prove your effectiveness. If you keep changing jobs, you will never establish yourself. Also, I suggest that everyone continue to acquire as much training as possible in your field of expertise. As a performer, I continually marketed myself in a promotional package with an attention-getting picture, biography, repertoire list, and sample recordings. Then I added each prominent venue where I played to a list to show potential employers that my product (entertainment package) was in demand. It took a year of self-promotion and “knocking down doors” to become a successful performer who was able to play every week. I was also willing to travel distances to perform at popular and higher paying venues.

When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?

I never doubted myself. If things weren’t working effectively enough, I would find different ways to approach and embellish my plan of action. Any set-back would only inspire and challenge me to work harder. However, I must mention, that when I was very young, I let older people in the workplace intimidate me with jealous insults and negativity. My new method was challenged and put down. My personal choice of attire and my personal style was attacked because I was being bullied. I almost gave in until I realized I would be letting the jealous bullies control me. Thankfully I saw that they were trying to suppress me and the forward-moving changes I was trying to make. My advice to young people starting out with a new and exciting mission is to keep on going over and around the barriers. You will be questioned and cross-examined. You must believe in yourself, no matter what, in order to achieve excellence. Always learn from people with successful experience and be aware of who those people are. The bullies are usually the people who are not successful.

How did you get your first customer?

I acquired my first private students by demonstrating my skills and by handing out flyers with my credentials and contact information. I performed as much as possible for community events, churches, and clubs, etc. Through my performances people could hear the quality of what I had to offer as a music educator and as a potential professional musician to be hired for an event. I am from the “old school” with using hard copies. Believe it or not, many people do not spend a lot of time on the internet. Sometimes when you give potential clients something to touch and look at, they will remember you.

What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate business?

Beyond websites, Facebook pages, internet ads, and webinars, etc. I believe the first and most important strategy is to brand your business. Come up with a creative name or an identity that attracts attention and sets you apart from everyone else. A logo, name, and picture are crucial. If you develop this identity, then your web image will be clear and consistent. Let’s face it; successful musicians have always had this idea since the start of popular music trends in our country. Look at the logos of bands like Aerosmith. My first rock band was called Fallout and had a bright yellow color and fallout shelter sign. My newest private instruction idea is “Bucket List Piano” with a picture of a piano in a bucket! So, once you have your image you can place adds locally, regionally, and even nationally in programs for music, sports, theatre, church, and community events. You can then advertise in any newspaper, magazine or website and be recognizable. You want to create a strong and noticeable identity. After this is established you should post consistent blogs or publish articles in professional journals, so people sense you have knowledge and ownership in your work.

What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the recent past?

The toughest decision I made recently was to leave public education. I spent years developing a solid and highly respected music program with a complete curriculum only to have it diminished with state budget cuts and local school officials who didn’t value music or the arts. I worked extremely hard but finally realized that my job could no longer be rewarding or psychologically healthy if I wasn’t allowed to do my best. I knew I would miss achieving acclaimed performances with students, but I recognized that it was no longer in my best interest to work at a job that had no room to grow. No human being can be successful or healthy if he or she is stifled and not valued for creative input or innovative ideas. So, I highly recommend developing your own business if you have an incentive and diligent work ethic. The possibilities are endless and no one can shut you down if you are in charge.

What do you think it is that makes you successful?

Spending many years in the daily, rigorous environment of practicing music has empowered me with a strong sense of discipline and accomplishment. I believe you must put time and effort into your work in order to produce quality. People who practice and excel at music understand how to work hard for results. I believe this attitude carries over into most other areas of their lives. I also have an inner drive to create and express my emotions through art. I am a problem solver, which has helped me to work around many barriers. I have learned to become a caring listener and team player in order to successfully motivate and collaborate with other musicians, students, and co-workers. I have been able to instill a sense of excitement, pride, confidence, and love of performing in my students. The challenge of preparing very large groups of students to learn advanced music and conducting them through a concert has highly developed my motivational skills. The fine details I expect from myself and my students have resulted in excellence.

What has been the most satisfying moment in your career?

The most satisfying moment as a vocal music educator and conductor was the first time I performed with my students on the stage of Carnegie Hall in New York City in John Rutter’s world premiere of his Mass of the Children in 2002. The thought of achieving the highest degree of professionalism as a teacher and conductor was exhilarating. There is no sound that compares to the acoustics in Carnegie Hall, with an amazing orchestra and the 250 voice choir that was meticulously chosen from all over the United States, Canada, and Europe to premiere this beautiful work of art. I thought of the full house of fans of the famous British composer, who paid a lot of money to see his concert, and that I was an intricate part of putting it together. I had spent weeks of preparing the students with the music and teaching them about the whole New York City experience. The residency, the rehearsals with Maestro Rutter, the great performance, along with the sight-seeing and Broadway shows were all part of the trip of a lifetime for these students. I was happy to provide this experience for them, which eventually opened many doors for some of their future careers. It took a lot of hard work from everyone involved to reach this advanced level of singing and performing on stage. I realized that I could accomplish just about anything I desired as a music educator if I worked hard enough as a motivator and instructor, while establishing connections with prominent people in my field. John Rutter and other composers, who have heard recordings of my students, have stated that the students sound like they all took private voice lessons. Almost none of my students had the opportunity to study voice with a private instructor so I took this as a very high compliment and affirmation of my work. In my future performances at Carnegie Hall with John Rutter I was able to teach my own daughters and provide this amazing experience for them along with my regular students. This was a very special and exciting time in my career.

The most satisfying moment as a performer was when I first stepped on stage with television personality Davy Jones. The excitement of working with a legendary, talented actor and singer was beyond words. Davy had spent his whole adult life as a successful all-around performer, and I found it to be a great honor that he wanted to work with me. Davy Jones was in a popular television show in the 1960s called The Monkees that I had watched consistently as a little girl. It was an amazing time in my life when I met him and collaborated with him as an adult. I am a life-long learner and embrace the opportunity to learn from other successful professionals in my field.

In any field of business or work I believe connecting with successful people is a main road to personal achievement. In my affiliations with John Rutter and Davy Jones I was able to become noticed for my level of ability and professionalism and have gained much respect and acclaim for my work.

 What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?

My future business in music is now filled with exciting and endless opportunities as a performer, creative artist, and private instructor. Now that I have left the time-consuming public education career, and my children are young adults, I can focus on rebuilding my own skills as a singer and songwriter. It is difficult to make a good living as a creative artist unless you are lucky to become well-known or “make it big”.  Most people aren’t that lucky, but that should never stop an artist from creating something new and exciting. I once told a guitar class of 7th graders to not just copy everyone else’s music, but to write something new and different; otherwise music would be boring because we would only have the same old songs to listen to. I also told them that the big money was in writing new songs. The rock band Breaking Benjamin came out of that class!

I will continue to teach and motivate others to achieve excellence in my own private studio. I have a lifetime of experience to offer others. I am excited to write my advisory book on the real world of teaching music as a performer and offer keys to success. I have learned that anything is possible if you really want it. My parents discouraged me from a performance career because it wasn’t steady income. They were correct in a lot of ways. However, if performing and creating is a deep-rooted passion then one must follow his or her heart I followed my passion in any way I could within the restrictions of a “real job” and still had some amazing and unforgettable experiences in the performance world. Some of my former students are now famous musicians or work with famous musicians in the industry in some way. They took my advice and took the risk. Any entrepreneurship involves being brave enough to take a risk. Trying to achieve greatness in the music performance world or recording industry requires a lot of hard work and much risk-taking in forgoing a steady income with health benefits. I encourage students to take the risk while they are young, before they get tied up with family responsibilities or health issues. Now that I’m retired from public education and a “real job” is not my immediate life’s issue, I will continue to pursue music performance projects with prominent and famous musicians, write songs, and make money as an artist and consultant.

 What business books have inspired you?

The most recent great book I have read is called:  Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tom Ferris, with an introduction from Arnold Scwarzenegger. I chose to read this book because it covered all aspects of success, including my fields of coaching and performing. Tim Ferriss shares the habits and beliefs of 101 people at the top of their game such as tech investor Chris Sacca and various entrepreneurs like Linkedin’s Reid Hoffman.  This book contains a wealth of anecdotes, resources and. entertaining stories.  It is one of the most positive and uplifting books I have read. Tim explains how to improve your life mentally and physically. I especially love the way he explains how to turn what we may perceive as a negative experience into a positive opportunity to learn and grow. I highly recommend this book to anyone desiring success and general well-being. The major themes in the book are all helpful for self- improvement. This book is on my reference shelf when I need some uplifting support or guidance.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie is my favorite book on how to work with people. This is the best book for entrepreneurs and people in a position of authority. The title is misleading in the way it may sound like a manipulation book. It is actually a timeless self-improvement book with valuable information on how to treat people who work for you or with you. The book explains how becoming a genuine and sincere person will earn you respect and admiration as a leader. It stresses how to bring out the best in people and how to encourage them to work hard because you value their opinions and knowledge. The point of becoming a better listener and less self-absorbed is a recurrent theme. Dale Carnegie explains that if employees feel valued and happy, they will do their best for you. I personally have seen too many people in a position of authority try to dictate to others when the authority person knows nothing about the employee’s job, skills, or education. I firmly believe in the book’s lesson about including the wealth of everyone’s knowledge, experience, and skills to make your business an ultimate success. When people feel they have ownership in a project they will work harder!

What is a recent purchase you have made that’s helped with your business?

I recently purchased an iPad Pro with a keyboard case and Apple Pencil. This takes the place of lugging lyric papers and music books to gigs because it can hold thousands of chord charts and lead sheets. It resembles a small black laptop that discreetly attaches to stage equipment or can be placed on a music stand. It is also great to take on trips to work on writing, recording, or taking great pictures. The Apple Pencil gives a visual artist a means to create logos or interactive charts for presentations. The capabilities of this small piece of equipment are endless. You can use it with WIFI only or a SIM card for data. You can send and receive all of your phone text messages through the iPad.

What one most important piece of advice would you give to young people starting a professional career?

I cannot stress enough that being true to yourself and following your heart is crucial for success and over-all health. There is too much bullying, intimidation, gossip, and group mentality going on in just about every profession and area of business. Being honest and genuine to yourself and others will eventually earn you respect and admiration. Respect your own intelligence and judgements. Learn to disagree with a smile and advocate for what you believe. Respect and accept the other person’s point of view, but don’t get lured into doing things that you don’t agree with or that go against your own style or moral code. Be a leader, not a follower. Soon people will be following you.

 

 

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