In the 1960's,
the musical "Hair" included a famous number about the Age of Aquarius,
and era in which the paradigm of human relations would shift to a focus
on harmony, peace and love. Well, it hasn't exactly happened yet. But,
the fast-approaching millenium, for many people, symbolizes a potential
new era, and popular music, always reflective of social trends, is marketing
its own Aquarian commodity: New Age music.
spite of the fact that the New Age label has been the impetus for her
success, internationally renowned flutist and composer Kat Epple of North
Fort Myers says she gets a bit weary of the term.
with New Age, she says, is that it's hard to define: "It incorporates
so many varying things. It can be anything from a zither player to Tangerine
Dream." Still, New Age seems to have some basic, identifiable components.
less structured than other kinds of music," says Epple. "It usually has
no lyrics. It has a 'world' influence; it incorporates a lot of different
cultures. And, it usually relates to the spiritual, unlike rock music,
which is a lower shakra; or classical, which relates more to the intellect."
Indeed, Epple's work has a soothing, spiritual effect - it's non-threatening,
unlike certain forms of pop music. And, it could be called therapeutic:
even the non-musically inclined could benefit from listening to her tapes
while driving, as an antidote to "road rage."
has a dreamy, floating effect, and much of it is decidedly non-linear.
Instead of having a definite beginning, middle and ending, like the standard
American song, it has a continuous flow; it seeps into the listener's
mind, visits for a while, and then fades, leaving wind-like wisps of lingering
gift has put her in demand in artistic circles around the globe. With
12 albums of original music and two more in the making, she has performed
in China, Africa, the Amazon, Europe, Peru, Russia, Mexico, Japan, Costa
Rica, and the Caribbean.
of soundtrack works reads like an encyclopedia of media: National Geographic,
PBS' "Nova," astronomer Carl Sagan's programs, the Travel Channel, Turner
Broadcasting, CBS's "Guiding Light," ABC's "Another World," and CNN, to
name a very few. In addition, she was commissioned to write an orchestral
score for the Southwest Florida Symphony's Young Composer's" series, and
was musical director for the film "Captiva."
She has won
seven Emmy Awards for her work in video, 10 Addy Awards for music in advertising,
and she is listed in "Who's Who in Entertainment" and "Who's Who in the
World's Emerging Leaders."
But, of course,
all this didn't happen overnight. Looking back at her musical journey
so far, Epple can truly say, in the immortal words of the Grateful Dead,
"What a long, strange trip it's been."
not the progeny of musical performers - or even great appreciators. "My
family's not very musical," she says. "My brothers and sisters listened
to rock and roll. My father, who died when I was 9, listened to opera
and some classical. But, I always felt like I wanted to play the flute.
I loved the whole myth of the flute player. In medieval times, the flute
player was a storyteller."
playing around age 12. "I worked and saved money to buy a student-model
flute. Somebody showed me the fingerings and how to blow it," she says.
Her first hands-on experience with the difficult-to-blow instrument was
no struggle at all: "I got a note the first time. It wasn't a beautiful
note, but I got a note."
is 45, was blossoming right at the beginning of the Beatles era, so she
"practiced Beatle tunes." Her first gig was at age 17, and was typical
of the times: "It was improvisational playing for a poetry reading." The
experience of performing improvisationally, without prepared music, and
the "cross-discipline" of working in a musical/literary genre, left a
significant mark on Epple.
still like to do that. I'm friends with Alexander Tkachinko (poet laureate
of Russia) and we do that together on our tours. The last time we played
together, we decided we'd like to do a U.S. tour of university literature
departments," she says. From the poetry-reading gig, it was on to join
a band that played Moody Blues and Jethro Tull material.
Tull's leader Ian Anderson, while perhaps not the world's greatest flutist,
was still influential. "He was innovative, using his voice through the
flute for effect, and he brought the flute to the forefront of pop music."
went on the road, the integral dues-paying part of any musician's experience.
"We went on tour, doing the typical rock band thing - the old bus, the
whole band staying in the same room. I wouldn't do it again, but it was
fun when I was in my 20's. It teaches you hot to get along on the road.
The experience comes in handy today when I play in Third World countries
where there isn't always a luxurious place to stay.
move was to New York, where she formed the group Emerald Web with her
keyboardist husband, Bob Stohl. Consisting of flute, electronic keyboard
("very primitive back in those days; we used a Mini-Moog"), two guitars,
and percussion, the group was beginning to experiment with the not-yet-named
New Age approach. And record companies responded: "We got out first record
deal in 1977," says Epple. "It was produced by Paul Leaka, who also produced
But the group's
sidemen were not ready for the discipline of professional recording. "The
record deal willed the band. The pressure of the recording studio was
too much. And, we figured if the musicians couldn't deal with recording,
they probably couldn't deal with the road either." Undaunted, Epple and
Stohl hired studio players to finish the album - and then continued on
their New Age quest. "By the time the first album was released, we had
started the second album - the first really New Age one. It started selling
really well," she recalls.
Emerald Web moved its base of operations to San Francisco, whose music
scene was quite receptive to its ethereal approach. Album sales were excellent.
"We got good radio airplay. The DJs called it 'space music.' I still get
royalties from those albums. We played planetariums a lot, like Morrison
Planetarium in Golden Gate Park, and we did Star Trek conventions," Epple
next 10 years, Emerald Web toured the country and released seven more
albums. Then, the cosmic roulette wheel took its turn and a lot of things
changed for Epple. "My mom was living in Fort Meyers, and I wanted to
visit her," she says. "We came here thinking we would stay long enough
to complete our next album, but ended up staying for good. We both loved
it here, and I really enjoyed being close to my mom."
But all was
not joyous. Stohl died in a tragic accident in 1990. The loss was tempered
by the music itself. "He was a big part of my life, but the music got
me through; it empowered me." Epple says she believes in the healing power
of music and has taught courses in it. And, the music itself changed in
Stohl's absence. "He wasn't really a great keyboardist; he was more into
electronics. So, the music became more acoustic-oriented and orchestral.
It also took more of a 'world" direction. I started branching out and
using different kinds of flutes," Epple says.
the ensuing years, Epple got more deeply involved with composing, performing
and recording her own music. New things began happening for her. She began
traveling abroad. In 1995, she went down the Amazon River. "When coming
down the river, I played my flute and the animals in the jungle would
respond back. People along the banks, gathered around campfires, would
call back, too."
she played solo flute at the Guggenheim museum's retrospective of Captiva
artists Robert Rauschenberg's works. "I played in the big main hall, with
speakers pointed straight up into the five-story corkscrew-shaped spires
of the building," she says. Earlier last year, she toured Russia with
poet laureate Tkachinko and also worked with a Russian band called White
Crow. Local activities have included composing and performing with the
David Parsons Dance Company at the Arcade Theater and solo performances
at the Lee County Alliance of the Arts.
she says she "enjoys collaborating," which can involve anything from an
upcoming album with keyboardist Chuck Grinell to "jamming" with local
rock band The Juice or jazz guitarist Steve Uscher, Epple is no longer
part of a group; she is a now singular entity with her own specific identity,
greatly admired and in-demand. As she says, "I always knew I would play
In the Studio
in North Fort Myers speaks of her taste in art, music and life in general.
On one wall hangs an original work by her friend Raushenberg, who is considered
one of the world's greatest living artists. Other walls are adorned with
similar abstract work. in various corners are ethnic musical instruments,
including an African balophone made from crude wooden bars and gourd resonators.
There are also pieces of "musical" artwork, consisting of suspended metal
plates which can be played with a violin bow or mallets.
glass-topped coffee table is a collection of more than 100 flutes gathered
during her world travels and made from bamboo, would and clay. The flutes
are of all imaginable sizes and shapes, from a 3-foot-long bass recorder
to a small "Pan" flute made from a bundle of bamboo tubes.
On the shelves
of her stereo case sits an eclectic collection of CDs and tapes, ranging
from the Turtle Island String Quartet - a pioneering classical group which
has ventured into things like Jimi Hendirx - to Natalie Cole. All in all,
it's cozy and artsy at the same time. But, just down the hall is more
modern, spaceship-like environment - Epple's studio, the place where her
musical dreamscapes are created. Mystical, snake-like coils of electronic
cables connect keyboards, amps, a 24-track recording console, and a Macintosh
Power PC on which she can compose directly from piano keyboard to musical
score, using "performer" software.
the uninitiated, this is quite an amazing process to see: as the composer
plays on the keyboard, the notes appear on the musical staff on the computer
screen. The program has full editing capabilities, much like a word-processor,
and can create a complete orchestral score from any piece of music.
plays excerpts from a master tape of her works. One, done mainly with
electronic synthesizer, is from a documentary about the Calusa Indians.
"I'm trying to replicate the sounds of the ancient Calusa instruments,"
she says. "They used conch shells, shell percussion instruments, and reed
or cane flutes. Underneath, I had a sound that had a 'long past' feel."
one can indeed hear an eerie echo that seems to come from across the centuries.
Over that is a flute playing a primitive, repeated melody. It is clear
why Epple is in demand for sound-track work: she has a gift for fitting
the music to the visual images.
Next is music
from the documentary "Children of the Fourth World," which shows the squalid
living conditions of Guatemalan children living in garbage dumps. "The
scene here shows these huge garbage trucks," says Epple. The music, done
with a violin bow on the musical metal structures in Epple's home, resonates
with a steely groan. Later in the documentary, as the kids are shown escaping
from their sordid environment and attending school, Epple has scored a
triumphant, child-like folk melody, cheerful and jingly. Epple also gets
a kick out of her work for soap opera soundtracks - admittedly a more
commercial enterprise, but one in which she is no less creative. A track
from "Another World" has a jaunty melody with a "hip-hop" type rhythm.
"I usually do music for the soaps to create suspense or a 'lurking' effect,:"
she says. "But I wanted to branch our and do a more light-hearted kind
main flutes are a Haynes and an Artley. The hand-made silver Haynes is
appraised at $9,000. "I got it in 1980. There's still a waiting list for
them," Epple says. The Haynes, probably the most coveted flute made, is
not always appropriate, however. "It's so sweet-sounding. My Artley works
better for rock an roll. And I don't carry the Haynes in Third World countries,
it's so valuable."
different flutes from her "world" collection, according to the occasion.
"I also love the Costa Rican cane flute. It has a real resonance to it,
a reedy sound." She even has a simple flute made from a piece of PVC pipe.
"I like the PVC flute because you can take it outside and not worry about
it. It's not bothered by salt spray or hot sun."
keyboards (there are six in her studio) have varying applications. Some
are "midied," which means they can be hooked up to the computer for electronic
composing. Epple says electronic keyboards are similar to computers in
that they seem to become near-obsolete every six months because of rapid
advances in technology.
currently working on several documentaries about the Calusa Indians. She
has also been doing voiceovers for audio cassettes with children's books.
"I'm proudest of 'The Adventures of Dizi.' It was done beautifully. It
was read and acted out with the music scored to the story. I worked with
Andy Wahlberg on that. It's a nice book because it's educational. "I also
recently finished a video soundtrack and voiceover about quartz crystals,"
she says. "It has the ethereal aspect of crystals and also the scientific."
also musical consultant for the SyZyGy art gallery, performing there as
well as booking varied entertainment for gallery openings. Her upcoming
solo album, she says, will include "more keyboards. I play enough
to get by. I'd also like to do more with modern dance. And, I'd like
to travel more. I love different kinds of world music. It's thrilling
to hear music that is so different. . "I remember being in the Amazon rain
forest and meeting a flute player. He and I and a bunch of drummers played
all night long. It was so wonderful to hear the wall of sound from the
animals in the rain forest. When I listened to a recording of it, the
rain forest sound was almost on the same level as the music."
a woman's place in the arts is often hard-won. "It's a bit more difficult
for (women) to be taken seriously. It takes a little more self-assurance
for women, but it can be done. Years ago, I was singing in a rock band.
The other band members were called musicians, but everybody called me
the 'chick singer.' So, I quit singing!"