Why did you become a Teaching Artist?
I don’t feel as if I ever became a teaching artist, but rather it is simply a component to my art. I can’t help but teach while performing or exhibiting my artistry.
I grew up surrounded by the arts in Columbus, Indiana, with a father who was a music teacher/community orchestra conductor and a mother who was an arts council director. I witnessed artists of all disciplines. When I began performing and presenting for social organizations, senior centers, and church groups as a teenager, I noticed that in addition to the musical selections, I was always sharing a story, a personal discovery, or a piece of information that I thought others would find interesting. I was frequently asked questions about specific songs or instruments. There was always talk that went beyond just playing the music.
Admittedly, I knew early in my professional career that I was interested in mentoring children and intentionally focused on writing and creating presentations and workshops that used music to convey knowledge, or a message tailored to specific ages.
I officially began as a teaching artist with Arts for Learning over 30 years ago (then called Young Audiences), creating programs with my family string quintet, The Silken Strings, pushing the boundaries of styles that could be played on string instruments. Later I added additional programs with my electric band called Collage, “edutaining” with original jazz selections and an undertone of “be yourself” messages.
What do you enjoy most about your art?
I love using music as a tool to connect with audiences of all ages, sharing my passion for it, examples of what I’ve learned from it, and examples of all that others can learn from it too—science, geography, language, culture, history, and life. For me, performing and teaching are ways to have an ongoing conversation with my audiences, for us to learn from one another. The music allows me to open a conversation with listeners regardless of the difference between our cultures, ages, or experiences. Selfishly, I also love that my art allows me to escape from daily details and transcend into the spirit of whichever song I’m playing.
What is your favorite thing about being a Teaching Artist?
I have many favorite things about being a teaching artist.
One is the impact it allows me to have on others. Over the past thirty plus years, I have been so fortunate to receive feedback in the form of countless letters and even drawings from students. They say things like thanks for introducing me to new genres I hadn’t heard of…you stretched me to play things I had thought were too hard…you gave me the confidence to pursue music in college…I learned how to count better and how each section’s rhythm fits together…I’d never even played jazz on my violin before…and you taught me that music is more than gliding bow hair across string—it’s an emotional and mental experience, too. I’ve saved all those letters!
Another favorite thing is the glimpse I get into all the different communities where I perform. The music and instruments are my invitation to become acquainted with all the many different students, preschool through highschool, from all socio-economic backgrounds in every corner of our city.
But most of all I love witnessing a transformation in the audience when I perform and teach. The room feels different from the beginning to the end of the presentation. For example, when I visit incarcerated youth, they often enter the room understandably angry, bitter, evasive, and defensive, but as the workshop progresses, the room feels measurably lighter. There is smiling, eye contact, laughing, and interacting. By the end of the workshop, I get high-fives and respectful thanks for coming.
These interactions inspire me to keep playing, keep discovering connections, and keep sharing my work.
Cathy Morris is a violinist (standard and electric), composer, arranger, producer and educator. Based in Indianapolis and California, Cathy is a graduate of Indiana University, where she studied violin performance and arts management. She has performed with other nationally known artists, including Chuck Mangione, George Benson, Burt Bacharach, and Spyro Gyra.