Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014

UNO Music Student Buys One-Way Ticket to Success

Graduating senior Catherine "Catie" Rodgers is first UNO undergraduate music student to perform with the LPO

Catherine "Catie" Rodgers, seen here in the balcony, is the first University of New Orleans undergraduate music student to perform with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra Catherine "Catie" Rodgers, seen here in the balcony, is the first University of New Orleans undergraduate music student to perform with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra.

Six years ago, Catherine "Catie" Rodgers left her home in Manitou Springs, Colo. and boarded a Greyhound bus headed to New Orleans. Thirty hours later, she arrived in the Crescent City with nothing to her name but two backpacks and a trumpet. No concrete plans, no place to live, she was seeking a high note.

"I'm just going, I'm going," she decided — and bought a one-way ticket.

Rodgers, 31, graduates Thursday from the University of New Orleans with a bachelor's degree in music performance, just two weeks following her first professional orchestral performances with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. The LPO is the longest-standing musician-governed and operated orchestra in the United States and the only full-time professional orchestra in the Gulf South.

In early December, Rodgers performed twice with the LPO, standing in as third trumpet for LPO Yuletide Concerts in Kenner and Slidell. She is the first UNO undergraduate student to perform with the elite orchestra, said Charles Taylor, chair of the UNO Music Department.

"Something I am sharing with my peers is that if you treat every UNO rehearsal like it's a professional gig, you get professional experience, and sometimes people notice and give you an opportunity — and when they do, either you will be prepared or you will not," Rodgers said. "The way to be prepared is to treat each rehearsal like it's your job. That way you're not going from zero to 60 when you perform with the LPO. It's just a little bump up."

Rodgers performed with the LPO on the recommendation of Doug Reneau, associate principal trumpet of the LPO and adjunct professor of trumpet at UNO. Reneau had taught Rodgers and seen her perform, and when the orchestra came up short, the LPO hired Rodgers to complete the trumpet section for two Christmas concerts that were part of the orchestra's Beethoven and Blue Jeans series, Taylor said. The season spotlights works of classic composers Rossini, Delius, Ravel and Beethoven.

"It meant a lot to me that he thought I could do it," Rodgers said. "I trusted him and it was fine. Once the lights came, on I got a little nervous, but then I got over it because of my training. That's one of the things that they teach you (in the UNO Department of Music) is how to cope with the pressure."

Little did she know when she got off that Greyhound bus in New Orleans six years ago, that she would fulfill so many dreams, Rodgers said.

A self-described "band nerd," Rodgers was a First Chair All-State trumpeter at Woodland Park High School. After graduation, she headed to community college and was later accepted to four-year universities in Colorado, she said, but did not have the funds to attend, even with scholarships, and her parents did not want to take out hefty loans.

"It was really disappointing. I had done everything I was supposed to do," Rodgers recalled. "It just wasn't happening at that time."

She floated through various jobs before finding a position she loved — working in an instrument repair shop, she said. From there, she began teaching private trumpet lessons and eventually she was hired to teach trumpet to band sectionals at her middle school. Along the way, she took an interest in jazz.

"New Orleans just seemed like exactly the right place for me, with lots of people to learn from, so I just went," Rodgers said of that day she boarded the Greyhound bus. "And here we are. It was kind of a leap of faith and it could have turned out all sorts of ways, but I just kind of attribute (my success) to good luck, good people and hard work."

Waitressing in a French Quarter jazz club, she noticed the younger musicians were UNO students.

"And I became interested. After a year I had gained my residency and I had noticed that (the University tuition) was low cost," she said. She applied, got in and enrolled in 2009 as a music education major, with plans to get a teaching certificate in music.

In 2011, her academic program was eliminated.

"The whole trajectory changed and I started realizing that I didn't have a Plan B. I wouldn't be graduating with a teaching certificate that would guarantee me employment, so I had to become 100 percent dead serious about my playing," said Rodgers, who by then had attained a level of local achievement and performed regularly at weddings and local events, in the French Quarter and on Frenchmen Street.

"A performance job that could provide me a steady income — such as an orchestral job — requires a lot more (skill)," Rodgers said. "And so my teachers kind of spelled it out for me what I was going to have to do to get there. The teachers helped me really get an understanding of what was expected of a professional musician."

Rodgers said she needed to achieve consistency, musical maturity, and the ability to "get it right, like right away," as well as "... a depth to your artistry and being informed in the way that you sound."

This month, she had one — just one — rehearsal with the LPO before her first professional performance, she said.

Being a team player, knowing how to follow directions and to "catch on quick," and being a nice person to be around are essential characteristics for success, Rodgers said.

The LPO musicians were "all funny" and brought a level to levity to their work, she said.

"And I could see how it needs that ... I imagine that they are all mentally tough people," she said, remarking on the LPO schedule.

Following her two LPO performances, Rodgers plunged straight into final exams, a senior recital and two large recital performances for UNO. She headed into the week armed with lessons about the mental endurance required of professional musicians.

"I got a little taste of it and hopefully in grad school I'll be able to strengthen," Rodgers said. "It is reaffirming that things can happen, because you know, life can be tough, so you have to be happy for when things go right. You have to not only be thankful for them, but look at them and say ... not just 'where did it go wrong', but 'where did it go right'."

Rodgers, who now performs in a group called The Elysian Fields Brass Quintet, will audition for graduate schools in music this spring.

"Graduating is kind of bittersweet because that's my community," she said. "(UNO) is in a city with a thriving musical culture, so I had a lot of opportunities in the city and that worked hand-in-hand. I think I developed as a professional while still being a student — and the good thing about that was that I started being a student professionally."

She paused, reflecting further.

"I know in my heart that I'm doing exactly what I want to do — and that's the greatest gift that anyone can be given," Rodgers said. "That's the kind of attitude I've got to take to the next step. It goes back to mental, spiritual strength because you have to know: 'This is all for the chips.'"

 

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