Sounds of the Spirit
Epple's Magic Flute : by Beth Francis
is a portrait of complexity. She's simple, yet complex, down-to-earth,
but worldly. The soft-spoken flautist performs unassumingly at various
Southwest Florida events, yet her music is as popular on a national
she's chugging along in her late-model silvery Plymouth Voyager van
to area elementary schools to play her flute for the children, hoping
they'll gain an appreciation for music. Turn around and she's jetting
off to big cities such as New York. In September, she was an accompanist
for world-famous artist Robert Rauschenberg's opening at the city's
Guggenheim Museum. Yet Epple, 45, lives in a modest concrete-block home
with blue trim in North Fort Myers. Passersby would never guess that
two of the three bedrooms in the small home make up the state-of-the-art
studio from which she composes and produces film and video soundtracks
for the likes of CNN, the late Carl Sagan, The Travel Channel, Turner
Broadcasting and even two soap operas, The Guiding Light and Another
person, Epple nevertheless uses the cutting edge of computer and music
technology to produce sounds in her studio. She calls her company Emerald
Web, but she uses Kat Epple Music Productins more and more as her business
expands. If you ran into her in the grocery store, you'd never guess
from her kind manner and easy smile that this woman has won eight Emmy
awards for her work in video and 10 Addy awards for her music in advertising.
Epple is a world-class flautist. She's traveled to China, Africa, the
Amazon, Europe, Peru, Mexico, Japan, Costa Rica and the Caribbean to
learn of the different cultures, their environments and music. Most
recently, she toured Russia playing songs from her April 1997 release,
White Crow. Even though she performs all over the world, Epple says
she enjoys living in Southwest Florida because of its size-not too big,
not too small. She has good friends here, and she loves the natural
environment. A flute is never far from reach. "I always have a flute,"
she says, "even kayaking." In her North Fort Myers home/studio, she
leans forward from her perch on the beige couch in her living room and
fingers a flute one of more than 100 she owns, many collected from her
travels around the world. Dressed comfortably in shorts and a T-shirt,
she picks up the white PVC flute a simple pipe with holes in it and
plays amazingly beautiful music. "I take the one when I go out on boats
because the salt water can't hurt it."
flute is gust one of a pile of 30 or so instruments under Epple's wood
and glass-topped coffee table. Her collection includes two Japanese
Shakuhachis, an African flute and the brownish ceramic flute she played
through the night with some Indians in a Peruvian rain forest. "When
I play that flute now, I can feel the rain forest around me," she says.
The sound is soft, primal as she puts the instrument to her lips. "I
remember how I felt so close to nature that night. There were all these
animals around me, and I was just one of them." Epple says she tries
to promote environmental and humanitarian awareness through her music
and by sharing her flutes from various cultures. Playing the flute is
more than just a gig for this woman with a soft touch, but a strong
spirit. It's a beloved way of life. When she breathes into the mouthpiece,
her sounds are an expression of her spirituality, and her music has
an ethereal, almost hypnotic quality. Other times, the sound is more
high-energy, depending on the mood she's trying to create.
moods with sound is possible because the flute has universal appeal,
she says. It communicates. She gives the example of her trip to China.
She could barely speak a word of the language. "But all I had to do
was pick up the flute. No words were needed anymore," she say. "Often,
people think a person in that remote part of the world is so different
from them, when in fact they are people very much like us. If you can
get to know each other better, it makes you more concerned about their
lives and their culture in general, and in that sense brings humankind
together." Epple began playing the flute sometime during her middle
school years. Her first performances were in high school, playing background
for poet readings. She's largely self-taught. She does have a bachelor's
degree in psychology from the University of South Florida, saying she
chose that because it allowed her to take a broad range of classes.
As for fromal music instruction, Epple discovered it took the fun out
of music. "It didn't work for me having someone shaking a finger at
me telling me I h ad to practice every day, butit was there that I studied
electronic music and recording engineering," she says. "The thing that
keeps me in music is that I have a real passion for it. If you don't
love it, it's way too much work to make a living at." Flutes first drew
Epple's attention because she was fascinated by the mythology surrounding
them, she says. "Flautists are storytellers, bringers of magic, healers,"
she says, explaining that the shaman, the medicine man, in many Indian
tribes uses the flute as a means of healing. "I like to think of myself
as a storyteller," she says, running her fingers through her slightly
disheveled blonde hair. "Music adds so much to a person's life. It adds
balance; it helps you get in touch with your inner self."
music, Epple is mysterious about revealing certain details of her early
life. One interesting fact, though. Kat isn't her real name. It's not
short for Kathy or Kathryn or any of those longer names Kat might come
from. Epple (her true last name) changed her first name in her late
teens. She says it was a means of taking control of her life and transforming
herself from the difficult childhood she prefers not to elaborate on.
"I wanted to create a memorable name; I wanted to become memorable,"
she says. And, yes, she likes cats; her two house mates are felines.
"I've also been accused of being somewhat like a cat," she concedes
with a smile as she crosses her fair-skinned legs and nestles comfortably
into the corner of her couch, softly fingering the strings on the blue
blind covering the window behind her. "I'm quiet, yet confident; loving,
yet independent; I have a sense of humor, but I don't like it when tricks
are played on me."
even in the face of adversity, that she has the power to overcome. "You
can't let yourself become a victim. I'm a very positive person," she
says. One of the tragedies Epple faced was the drowning of her husband,
Bob, seven years ago in the backyard pool of what was then their home.
It happened shortly after the couple moved to Southwest Florida. Epple
made some changes. For example, the name of the studio was changed from
BobKat to Emerald Web. She moved to another house. And althought she
continues to grieve, her positive mindset helps her move on with her
down the hall from her living room, contains at least 14 keyboards,
all wired to the main keyboard. That's where the computer comes in.
Epple can choose from a bank of different sounds like a guitar, a harp
or a French horn, she simply selects that instrument. Then as she plays
the keyboard, the sound that comes out is the one she chose. As she
composes, the computer records her creation. Epple transfromed her ability
to match music to movement in August from video to the live stage when
the David Parson's Dance Company and some local students performed "Calusa
Culture," a piece about the Indians who first lived in Southwest Florida.
She tried to recreate the sounds the Calusa might have made by using
a bamboo flute as the voice of the Calusa, reasoning that the Calusa
probably used similar instruments, since cane prows wild here. After
the performance, many in the audience told Eppple her music moved them
as much as the dancing. Parsons also praised her, saying she was the
perfect pick to direct the music for the Calusa piece because she's
so in tune with history and culture. "She's able to capture the spirite
of the people. When we went out to Mound Key where the Salusa lived,
she could feel then," he says. "She can imagine what their life was
like. She tells their story with her music."
she is grateful for the chance to work with well-known artists. "it's
not one the honor, but also the inspiring," she says. "One thing I enjoy
about Rauschenberg is just talking to him about art and the energy of
art." Epple met Rauschenberg at a party. She started playing music by
blowing air into wine bottles. He started tapping the bottles and all
of a sudden they were having a wind-bottle jam session. A friendship
was born. "He's been real supportive of my music," Epple says, motioning
toward several pieces of his art that decorate her living room walls,
several of them birthday and Christmas gifts. Her latest project is
the music for a PBS documentary on Guatemala's poor, hosted by Ali McGraw
and taped by John Biffar, owner of Trilogy Media Group, a local film
and television production company. Epple watches the opening of the
videotape, listens to the singing of the children and adjusts her keyboard
to the key the children are singing in so the background music she creates
reflects the country. Biffar calls Epple a gentle lady who plays powerful
music. Her cultural background made her perfect for the documentary
and the cultural mood Biffar wanted. "Kat's flute playing is unparalleled,"
Biffar says. "She has an artist's soul."
is a Fort Myers freelance writer who comes from a musical family, but
prefers to express herself with words.