A Chat with Katherine Ruhle, Part 1

Introduction

Here is the Crescendo Music Education podcast – Episode 30. This episode is a chat with Kath Ruhle. Katherine Ruhle, if you do not know of her music, you must must must must must check it out – katherineruhle.com. I’ll put the link in the show notes as well, seriously I’ll just channel Molly Meldrum, do yourself a favour, get in there and have a look at her music. In this first half of our conversation we’re going to talk about her path to composition, it’s a very interesting story.

We look at some of the pieces and I guess we started with my favourite pieces of hers. We look at the heart and the meaning behind these beautiful compositions. I’m really fortunate that Kath is the choral conductor at my school. We have five choirs at my school, I take the grade one and two choir, which I just adore. And Kath takes our junior choir grade three and four, and our senior choir grade five and six. And for the first half of the year, the girls choir and the second half of the year, the boys choir.

So I’m in this privileged position to watch her work and see her with the children. You get the impression from listening to her, if you’ve never met her, that she’s a lady with a really kind heart and a lovely disposition, and that impression is 100% accurate. She’s amazing. In this half of the episode, we’ll talk a bit about the highlights of her career and gratitude. I’ll stop all this chatting now because you really need to listen to what Kath Ruhle has to say.

About ‘Read the Episode’: Sometimes, we would rather skim visually than listen to a podcast! That’s a great way to learn too! The transcript of episode 030 of The Crescendo Music Education Podcast is below.


Episode 30 “Read the Episode” Transcript

Debbie
Welcome,
Katherine Ruhle to the Crescendo Music Education podcast. Hello!

Katherine Ruhle
Hello. Nice to finally be here.

Debbie
Yes. Finally on the podcast. However, we do see each other fairly regularly and I feel very fortunate that that is the case. But we can talk about that a little more as we go on. Before we start, I’d like to read your bio for all of those who aren’t fortunate enough to have come across you or your work yet. Here we go.

Katherine Ruhle’s Biography

Debbie
Katherine Ruhle is an early childhood music specialist, children’s choral composer and choral conductor. Katherine is passionate about sharing her love of music with children of all ages, and is well known for the original ideas and creativity that she brings to choir rehearsals and also with the choral pieces that she composes. Her choral pieces are sung all around Australia and throughout the world.

Katherine has conducted many mass choirs in Queensland and presented at choral and early childhood music workshops, both nationally and internationally. Currently, she conducts three choirs at The Gap State School. Yay, that’s where I work, and runs early childhood music classes, teaches piano and tries to find time to compose. Yep, I like that tries. Yes, I bet it is like that. So now that you’ve all met, Kath, wait till you actually get to hear her, you will fall in love with her as everybody does. Yay.

Katherine Ruhle
That’s nice.

Debbie
So listening to that bio, that I’ve just presented, is there anything that you’d like to add?

Katherine Ruhle
I think my career has been very eclectic. It’s bits and pieces all over the place. I’ve never had one set job. And sometimes I think it would be easier to have one job. But then I would miss all the little experiences that I have in all the different areas that I do. But I really have been a mum for many of my years.

So 10 years, I was a stay at home mum. And during that time, I felt really fortunate to be at home. But I did miss being involved in music education, being involved in choirs. But I look back at that time now and realise how much I learned that I now put into practice over the years and some of the jobs and little things that I did during that time has really informed who I am as a musician and music teacher and a composer and a conductor.

Debbie
Yes. Wow. Because you have had an interesting, I actually liked the story of your path to composition. Do you mind if we take a little sidetrack. I just love the story of how you started composing music and then I do want to talk about the music that you write as well. So don’t let me forget we’ll come back to that because that it just speaks to your heart. Like the music that you write, there’s something very magical about it. But first, how did you come to start writing music.

How Katherine Started Composing Music

Katherine Ruhle
So as a child, I was constantly improvising. It was something that I loved doing. So I do my one or two hours of piano practice, but then I would sit down and play. And I didn’t realise that that was a strange thing, or that not many people could do that. But it was something that was within me. So I loved composing and improvising.

Through university years, I did some composing subjects and I honestly thought that I could never be a composer. The love of composing was taken away from me, because it was all rules and regulations. That’s not how I compose, I compose by feeling and what felt right rather than following a whole bunch of rules. So I put composition aside for many years.

It’s exactly 10 years ago, in June, that I had a knee injury out of the blue doing a gym class, and I ended up having seven knee operations, I was in hospital for many months, I ended up with a pain condition, which really made me lie in bed for months on end, I couldn’t work, I couldn’t look after my young girls, the children at that stage, and all I could do was sing to them.

So the girls would come in at the end of the night, I might read them a story and say, I’m gonna make you up a song overnight and you can come back in the morning, and I’ll sing you this song. And that’s all the energy that I had to give the girls at that stage. But I could compose while I lay in bed. And I saw the joy that the girls got from that. And then the music teacher at The Gap State School at that stage heard that I’d written some songs, and she said, Can we sing them with the choir?

And I reluctantly shared them because I thought this is something that’s special for me, and my family. But the choir sang one or two of the songs. And that brought me so much joy, to see how those children connected with my music and the stories that I’d written through the music. And then yeah, I met you and you are an amazing advocate for saying, everyone listen to this music or come and share on this journey.

Yeah, out of a really dark, difficult time of my life, music was what pulled me through it. And yeah, composition has been something that’s been very much a part of my life then for the last 10 years.


Debbie
Like that’s such a, it’s such a terrible but wonderful story. I can’t imagine seven operations and not being up, like that must have been horrible. And the little kids that you want to help, they would have been very young then, they would have been in primary school.


Katherine Ruhle
Yeah, I had one who was in prep, and they were all just in school, which was good in one way. Because if they’d been at home, even younger, it would have been really hard.


Debbie
That’s so difficult. But it just shows you the power of music for you and your girls. And then the result, because Anne O’Regan was the lovely music teacher at The Gap State School before I was there and she contacted me and said, You have got to hear this music, this Mum at my school, and it’s amazing. And so from then on, I knew of your work and now I get to work with you at The Gap and see what you do.

Because to me the magic of your compositions, apart from being incredibly singable, and singable I know sounds like a bit of a naf word, doesn’t it? But they are, they’re singable, I can’t think of another word to explain, the phrases are well shaped you know, all of those things, but they have real meaning behind them. There’s a real message, there’s real heart, you know. I’m thinking of Cactus, that is about the prickly outside, but inside you’re nourishing the creatures and you don’t judge a book by its cover. You know, the cactus has a lot to offer. Like so many of your pieces have these amazing messages.


Katherine Ruhle
I love the story of the moth, which is a composition that I wrote comparing moths to butterflies. And it really is a fun silly song saying the moths are the saying What about me? We deserve attention as well. Butterflies get all the attention but we’re important. And I remember after a concert a mother coming up to me afterwards and going oh Kath isn’t that all of our stories. We all feel like moths sometimes and we all want to be butterflies but we’re all important. I thought that was never my intention, for people to connect with it on such a deep level as well. But that is the beauty of choral music where the music and the words all come together and people feel but also interpreted in their own way.


Debbie
Yes, and it’s extra powerful. I could read a poem, and no offense to poets out there, it just does not have the same impact. It just doesn’t access your brain the same way. Like we know that now from neuroscience don’t we. So what we’re doing is so powerful. What you do and what you give to children is beyond measure. So before we leave your compositions, let’s talk about a few others that I really like, I’m going off track here aren’t I, but I just like your pieces. Plastic Bag Ball. I mean, I remember hearing that. And like, I think I may have had a little weep. Alright, I may have had a little cry. So tell us about Plastic. Is that what it’s called? Plastic Bag Ball?


Katherine Ruhle
Yes, Plastic Bag Ball. My family has a bit to do with East Timor and we run a charity over there with young children and giving young adults scholarships so that they can go to university. So we’ve gone over a few times. And I remember sitting on the beach one day and seeing these children who had nothing. But what they did have was a ball made out of plastic bags and rubber bands. Yeah, rubbish bags and rubber bands. And they’d put this ball together, and they were so happy playing on the beach.

And there was rubbish everywhere and sticks and stones. It wasn’t a nice beach, but that didn’t matter to them because they had their ball. And I wanted to write a song about what I was seeing and we’ve got so much here in Australia. But often we take it for granted. But we can find joy in the small things. Yeah. So a lot of my composition ideas come from what I see, what I experience, what I feel.


Debbie
It’s so magic. So think if there’s any more that you’d like to mention down the track, so they were just ones that popped into my head. But there’s so many that I want to talk about, because every time I hear a new one of yours, like, Oh, that was so good. Anyway, and because I’m in this privileged position of being the music teacher at the school, where you’re where you come in, and you’re the conductor, slash composer, and you try out new pieces, well it’s not exactly try out, but you know, you give them their first run maybe, so we often do world premieres. And it’s just such a privilege to hear them first. The kids get a buzz out of that, too. So what would you consider, so I’m getting back on track now and coming back to my questions. What would you consider a highlight or highlights of your journey as a musician, a composer, conductor, music educator, you’re all of those things. What would you consider a highlight or highlights?


Katherine Ruhle
Probably one of the bigger ones was when I was working with Birralee. And I was the conductor of their little Children’s Choir, The Piccolos, and they were doing a big Anzac concert at QPAC and all of the choirs were singing there, including these little children who were prep and grade one. And when I first heard of the idea, I instantly thought of new pieces to compose for these young children. And I’ve always struggled finding music for the younger children that were just right for them and their voices.


Debbie
Well, and especially on a topic like Anzac, I mean, the topic of war and remembering those who have passed away, that’s heavy stuff for like, five year olds.


Katherine Ruhle
That’s right. So I wrote a little song about grandpa sharing his stories with his grandchildren, a song called Parcel of Care where we all put together a parcel of care to send over to loved ones overseas during the war. So songs that had meaning that were simple topics for the children to engage with. So it was a really special thing to prepare with these children, these brand new songs, but then to get up onto the stage and rehearse and see the children’s eyes in this massive concert hall.

And they don’t realise how amazing this experience was, but I sure did. And then to hear the amazing choirs sing throughout the day, the adults choirs and the young children who just, amazing quality and then to have my little children up on stage singing. It was really special to go it doesn’t matter what age you are, we can all get involved in our story telling and sharing the beautiful joy of music with the audience. That was really special.

But at the end of the concert, we all sang a masterpiece together and standing on stage with all of the performers of all different ages, all different backgrounds and singing some pieces together. I was onstage and I was weeping, just like sobbing, it was such a powerful moment, partly because my songs had been sung, partly because I’d worked really hard with the young children to get them to a stage where they could perform for the audience.

But more than that it was singing together and sharing that experience with the audience was really special. So that was a really big moment. But I love the smaller everyday moments, of being in boys choir on a Monday morning, which is always a challenge. And seeing things click and seeing some of these boys who can’t sit still and just want to talk, to suddenly be able to sing a song from beginning to end with passion and joy, and want to tell their mates about it. And for me, that’s as much of a highlight as standing up on stage performing.


Debbie
I love it. And I think that most music educators and conductors will really understand what you’re saying there. And as a witness to my own boys choir, your boys choir, I sort of claim them because I teach them in the classroom. I can just say that you do tend to attract the wriggly ones in boys choir Kath, I’ll just call them the wriggly ones.

All of those people who are listening out there who are music teachers, they know what I mean, when I say you attract the wriggly ones, and you manage to harness their energy, like, you know, in a really calm way too, you are a joy to watch. If anybody gets a chance to watch Kath in action. She’s amazing at behaviour management and all of those things in a very quiet, very quiet, beautiful, calm way. Wonderful.

But yes, I think that’s great to have the big highlights. And then you’ve also got your smaller everyday highlights, which is the magic of what we do I think. So could you tell us about a person or people who’ve been influential in your life, and I’m certain there’s been a lot but professional or personal or both? Is there anybody that stands out?

Who Has Been Influential in Your Life?

Katherine Ruhle
For me, I really think back to my younger years. And I think that’s where the biggest difference in my life happened. My mum who sang to me and made music a part of everyday life, she wasn’t a musician. She could play a bit of piano and play a bit of guitar, but she would sing and do nursery rhymes with me and my brother and sister and seeing how she interacted with every child that she came in contact with.

She had a special ability to be able to help children who were upset. She just was able to get them out of their mood and help them feel joy again. Children who were grumpy or children who were bored, she knew what to do. And so I grew up watching her going, I want to be like her. And I definitely have a lot of my behaviour management skills and a lot of the way I handle rehearsals is a reflection of what I saw from Mum, growing up.

I was very fortunate to go to a primary school where music was valued and important. And we would have two music lessons a week, we had a marching band, we’d go around the streets of Toowoomba playing our melodicas, there’s something that we don’t see much of these days.


Debbie
So they’re the ones you blow in and have keys. Yeah?


Katherine Ruhle
Yeah, that’s right. A piano that you blow into. Yeah. And my music teacher,similar to you, really has an open music classroom. And so I was very shy kid, didn’t feel like I always fit in everywhere. I had a great group of friends. But we stayed at the Music block quite often. And all the instruments were available to play.

And I remember trying out all these different recorders one lunchtime and learning that the notes were all different and the fingering depending on the different sizes. And the music teacher said, how about we put together a recorder band for the upcoming Eisteddfod. And so together as a group, we learnt all these instruments and put it together. We would try out the percussion instruments and she goes, Why don’t you write your own percussion composition?

And so we would spend many lunch hours writing our own compositions. And that was normal and it was so much fun.


Debbie
So normal, not. But how great. Do you remember her name?


Katherine Ruhle
Mrs. Con. I don’t know her first name. Lovely Mrs Con, and she was a Kodály teacher. So we played lots of games and I still remember the dog and the bone with her. But for me, it was even more than what we did in the classroom.

It was her attitude of saying everyone is welcome and I want to support you at whatever stage you’re at in your musical journey, you’re welcome. And she did more for me than I think anyone has. And the confidence that I got through music with her then allowed me to be confident in all areas of my life.


Debbie
So powerful. Wow, that’s amazing. Is there anyone else you wanted to mention that they both sound very powerful? Like, I’m sure there’s more, but more you’d really like to mention?


Katherine Ruhle
Look? Yeah, there’s so many. And Debbie, you’ve definitely been a major influence from promoting my music in the early years, you didn’t even know who I was and you invited me to speak at a workshop. And I remember turning up and I said, Hi, Debbie. And you had no idea who I was, you said, Oh, I thought you had brown hair or something.


Debbie
Hahaha awesome.


Katherine Ruhle
But you gave me a chance. And from then you’ve encouraged and supported, as you do for so many people. And from what you do, we’ve had chances to learn from many different composers and music educators. And, yeah, such a powerful thing that you do.


Debbie
Thank you, Kath. Okay, I want to, we’ll finish now on that note, no just joking. That is very nice, though, thank you very much. All right. Now, let’s get on to gratitude, which is something I like to talk to people about, I think it’s certainly something I’ve found more in my life recently, to focus more on gratitude. And I’m certain knowing the sort of person you are, that gratitude would be in some form fairly big in your life. You know, so what is it that you are most grateful for? Do you think?

For What Are You Most Grateful For?

Katherine Ruhle
For me, growing up in a family where music was very natural and normal, it was a second language for us. To have been in a school where music was celebrated and it was also a very normal thing to be involved in. I know, since then, having lived in country areas and rural areas where that wasn’t the case, how fortunate we are and I know at our school, you’re constantly coming into the choirs, into the bands going, do you know how fortunate you are?


Debbie
I am always telling the kids that, they don’t know yet, but they will one day, I think, yeah.


Katherine Ruhle
I’m really grateful for the Queensland music scene, for the way that we do collaborate, for the way that we share resources and encourage each other and come together for big events and smaller events, schools are always working together and coming up with new ways of sharing the joy of music, and talking to other people in other states. That’s not always the case.

So I’m really grateful that once again, that feels normal, that I’ve always had people advocating for what I do and encouraging me and getting behind me as I do for others. I’m really grateful for schools singing my music, and sharing the stories behind that.

It’s really special to receive comments and videos and the way songs have touched them, out of something that’s really a hobby for me to go, it’s pretty special to be able to share my resources and know that it’s making a difference.


Debbie
And that’s powerful isn’t it knowing that you are positively affecting other people’s lives. Like that’s pretty special, isn’t it?

Sign Off

This podcast is brought to you by Crescendo Music Education, connecting, supporting, and inspiring music educators. You’ll find links to Crescendo’s social media platforms in the show notes. Please connect with me and be part of the Crescendo community. You might consider becoming a Crescendo member. You can access hundreds of files, worksheets, printables workbooks, repeat workshops, and webinars for a low annual fee and receive great discounts on events. So come and connect with me, Debbie O’Shea. See you in the socials.

Just for Laughs

As we know laughter relieves stress. Don’t lose sight of the funny side of life.

I have a question for you. Is a can opener that doesn’t work called a can’t opener?


Links Mentioned in the Episode:

Katherine’s Website

Where to find me:

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