Kate Lee – Less Is More!

Kate LeeWe have written in the past about Kate Lee, a talented young singer, fiddler and songwriter from New York. Kate has just now turned 16 and continues to impress audiences throughout the northeastern US and beyond with her poise and ability. Bluegrass Today is especially interested in the development of young grassers, and we thought it might be fun to have Kate share some of her experiences as a teen musician with our readers. She promises to send us ongoing reports as her schedule allows.

In my last letter, titled The Holy Grail, I told you a little bit about myself, my music, and how I fulfilled one of my dreams by meeting Alison Krauss while performing in Nashville last April. My band, No Strings Attached, and I have been very busy with touring, and recording new material. In addition to that, I just got back from the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where I attended a performance work shop. The time I spent at Berklee reinforced what I have learned about music, particularly bluegrass music.

Chapter 2 – Less Is More!

Most of us have grown up with the statement, “less is more.” As I learn and grow musically – remember I’m sixteen – I am coming to understand that concept more and more. My dad and my band members, who are older and often wiser than me, have always stressed that, although I should set challenging goals, I should not over complicate those goals by trying to perform music that I am either not ready for or that does not display my strengths. That’s not always easy advice to follow for a kid who wants to perform like Alison Krauss or fiddle like Stuart Duncan!

Throughout my school years, I have witnessed students performing music that is far beyond their abilities, especially in the area of vocals. Few ten-year-olds can sing like Barbara Streisand or Ella Fitzgerald. Singing songs beyond one’s ability and/or age is not only detrimental to one’s reputation.  Doing so is also unhealthy for one’s voice, especially if his or her voice is developing. Whenever I see or hear a young singer performing these difficult songs, I thank my band and my dad for their sound advice.

While I was at Berklee, I performed at a few of the college’s gigs. I chose some bluegrass and folk style songs. Both the staff and the students really enjoyed my selections. They weren’t the most difficult tunes to play or sing, but they harnessed what I like to call, my voice’s “sweet spots.” Every voice has unique gifts and unique boundaries, and I’ve worked hard to discover mine. It is absolutely crucial for a singer to discover his gifts and boundaries himself, as no other person can do so for him.

Because of my personal vocal awareness, I am able to let the song be the star!

I was drawn to bluegrass music because of its versatility and simplicity. There are great songs for all levels and types of performers, from the basic strum chords to the very difficult flat picking and everything in between. It’s also true with the harmonies. You may not be able to blend like the Gibson Brothers, but with practice, you can achieve some nice vocals.

The “less is more” idea also applies to studio recording. Good acoustic music doesn’t require a lot of bells and whistles. I try to save my “Brian Wilson” producing for other music that I write and perform. I love listening to complex rock productions or performing intricate classical music pieces, but I always find that some of the best music is so appealing because it’s not complicated.

When I check in next time, I’ll talk about my tour and the challenge for a young, unsigned artist to work the media, especially the internet. It’s not enough to have good music; one must be knowledgeable on how to get it to the people who want to hear it. I find this aspect of the music business extremely difficult.

Good-bye for now, and thanks for checking in. My band and I will be performing at the Remington Ryde Bluegrass festival on Saturday July 11 in Reedsville, Pennsylvania.

Go to the festival web site to see the times. Please stop by, and say hello. We would love to meet you.