Katherine Connolly '17, English and Music Double Major

Name: Katherine Connolly

Class: 2017, Senior

Major: English and Music

Hometown: Wayne, PA

Campus Activities: The Stairwells, Symphonic Wind Ensemble, Peer Counselors, Equestrian Team

Fun Fact: I don't like chocolate!


Hey, Katherine! Thanks for taking the time to meet with me. First things first: what drew you to Kenyon? How did you decide to attend?

My sister Anna went here, actually! She graduated in 2013. So I had been to Kenyon a few times to move her in and out, and then after my sophomore year of high school, I came here for Young Writers. I had a great time, but I never thought I would actually come to school here. Then senior year rolled around and I ended up having Kenyon and Boston College as my final 2 choices. I ended up choosing Kenyon because it felt like home, like this magical place of fireflies full of kind, weird people that were a lot like me. It was a big surprise to everyone, including me, because I was a huge marching band nerd in high school, and everyone always pictured me going on to march in college in a Big Ten band, or something.


Did you always know you wanted to study music?

Kind of! I played instruments my whole life, and towards the end of high school, I started to really think seriously about becoming a music teacher. I didn't know for sure though until I declared my major sophomore year.



When did you start performing/learning about music?

I started playing piano in 4th grade. I also played cello that year, but when I moved to a new middle school they didn't have an orchestra. So I switched and learned a band instrument instead, and that's when I started playing flute. In middle school, we had this little band of consisting of me, a clarinetist, 4 saxophones, and sometimes a drummer. We were very bad, haha.  


What drew you to your major?

Kenyon's music department is super tight, because there aren't many of us. It also is a really holistic program—you learn a lot about history, ethnomusicology, theory, etc. Conservatories are really cut-throat and their environments always strike me as rather toxic, but at Kenyon, there is just this atmosphere of support, like it's a safe space to try new things and fail at them. No one is trying to beat each other out, and professors are able to give everyone a lot of individual attention.


Conducting is rarely taught at Kenyon—how did you discover this interest? How did you find ways to pursue it?

My senior year of high school, I became a drum major for my marching band. Freshman year, my drum majors (all seniors) were my heroes, so more than anything, I was just trying to be like them. So, I had conducted a little in high school, and just fell in love with it. When I first came to Kenyon, I told my advisor H (Prof. Dane Heuchemer) that I wanted to conduct. Before we could start an independent study, though, I had to take Doc Locke's conducting class second semester of sophomore year. It was an awesome experience; we got to conduct Chamber Singers and I became really close with the other people in the class, most of whom were fellow music majors. Then, junior year, I started my independent study with H, and that is where I'm at now! My official title is Student Assistant Conductor of the Symphonic Wind Ensemble. Every semester I learn one or two pieces and then conduct them in our concert, with H giving me feedback and guidance along the way.



What did you do for your music comps? How did it go? Describe your project a little.

I put together my own wind ensemble of about 20 or so people, and conducted them in 3 different pieces in a concert in November. I also wrote a paper and had written and oral exams, like the other majors. I thought it went pretty well! The performance project was definitely a huge step up for me. Instead of just one piece, I had 3. Instead of 15 minutes of rehearsal time a week, I had an hour. The whole process was very challenging, but I'm proud of the work that I did. Fall semester was a rough time of life for me, but as stressful as comps were, that experience reaffirmed to me that conducting was something I really cared about to my core.


You’re also an English major! What is your area of interest in English?

I love poetry! Especially 20th-century poetry, it's my favorite.


How did you balance the work and comps for two majors?

Well, I'm a creative writing concentrator, so for my comps in English, I put together a poetry portfolio. I interviewed a bunch of people I love about fear, recorded what they said, and then transformed the transcript into an erasure poem. I ended up doing 15 in total. It was really interesting to see how different everyone's ideas and poems were. My inspiration from the project came from a desire to write poetry that reached outwards to a community, rather than inwards like I normally do. Fear isn't something we as a society normally talk about, and what I learned from my project is that we really ought to talk about it more. You can really get to know someone by talking to them about their fears. And those people can learn more about themselves! And you learn about yourself along the way! Oftentimes people's silly fears (like a fear of spiders) are connected to their bigger, deeper, more abstract fears (like dying) in interesting ways, and that's the through-line I emphasized in all of my poems.


How do your two majors intersect? How do you use them both to explore your interests?

I think both conducting and poetry are about learning how to express emotion in abstract, yet precise ways. For the erasure poems, especially, I was working with what was there, and shaping it into something I felt was authentic to the person I had talked to. I had to choose what to include, or cut out, and how to form it into something much smaller than what it originally was in terms of word count, but something much bigger conceptually. And in conducting, it's a similar process. I'm working with what's there (the score of the music), and I shape it into something based on my own interpretation. I have to feel something about it and give it new meaning that it didn't have before. I have to choose what to emphasize, what to make loud, or soft. I have to cue people to come in, which is a lot like asking people questions, in that you have to be there for people. And for both the erasure poems and for conducting, you have to really, really listen.

So, yeah, in essence, they are both about expression, and I'm a very emotional person, haha. And so it's meaningful to me to dig into that and express these very complicated things I experience into something that communicates what I'm feeling to someone else in the form of art.



What are you planning to do after graduation?

I'm moving to Montana with 3 friends of mine from Kenyon! We are going to live in a house and work day jobs and save up money for grad school. I'm currently looking into helping out with equine therapy barns out there, and I also might teach private lessons in piano. Everything's sorta up in the air right now, which is terrifying, but also exciting! I'm looking forward to having a home and getting to slow down my life a bit after the craziness of Kenyon.


What will you miss most about Kenyon?

Oh man! So much! The physical campus, for sure, especially Rosse and the BFEC. The way something exciting or fun is always happening. Seeing plays every weekend. More than anything, though, I'm going to miss my friends. I can't imagine life without them. I'm going to miss Bub Castle (my 8 person NCA)—coming home and playing games or telling stories or just lumpin' around. That's my favorite part of being alive right now.


What advice would you give to your freshman self?

Gosh, I actually remember writing a word doc on my computer about this last year, let me find it. Ok, yeah, so the basic gist that I wrote was "It's going to be ok" and "practice your instruments more." I stand by both those sentiments.


Thanks for taking the time to speak with me, Katherine! Good luck after Kenyon!


Image Credits: Katherine Connolly