Quick Q and A with Judy Kass

Judy Kass sings from the heart.  Her lyrics are from the heart.  Her audiences can’t help but be touched by her passion and her prowess.  #shepersists could be her hashtag.  Judy has committed to making the world a more empathetic and compassionate place through music; either by playing it herself or by making music lessons for young people more accessible. Judy is all heart.

To find out more about Judy, check out her website.

Here’s a video that clearly shows you what Judy’s music is all about.

Judy is participating in The Ladies in the House Online Festival on Sunday, April 23. This festival is co-sponsored by GoGirlsMusic and NERFA (North East Regional Folk Alliance).

Ladies in the House

For more information about this special event that takes place on April 22 and 23, check out this article.

Musicians will be streaming from CONCERT WINDOW using the hashtag #LITHFestival

Your musical journey started out as many people’s do—taking music lessons.  Were you the kind of kid who liked to practice or was it a chore to you?

I started classical piano lessons at age 5 in a very traditional classical music school and I hated structured “practicing”.   Mostly because it involved playing what someone else (teacher, parent) prescribed and playing it from a cerebral and self-critiquing, joyless  place.  I could happily spend hours at the piano when playing from a heartful, non-judgemental mindset. Jazz pianist Kenny Werner speaks to this concept in his book Effortless Mastery – a recommended read for those wanting to both master and stay in love with their instrument.   It’s one I keep going back to.

Your musical influences are quite eclectic ranging from Rachmaninoff to Janis Ian.  In terms of the music that you write and play now, what kind of lessons did your music heroes and heroines give you?

 I think mostly to get out of my own way and allow the creative magic to happen when and where it is ready to. I was fortunate to have been exposed to a wide range of music.  We had everything playing in our house.  My jazz heroes helped me to break out of the confines of the classical “rules” box and to have fun with “unintentional” notes and rhythms.    With respect to lyrics,  I learned from writers like Laura Nyro and others, to hear and use the cadence of lyrics as a rhythm instrument and to not “over tell” a story – to allow listeners to connect with their personal interpretation and create their own lyrical “visual”.

How would you describe your music to those have not yet heard you?

A mixed bag:)  I don’t like to be bound by genre.  My music blends my influences of folk, jazz, blues and classical and covers a full gamut of moods.  I have several topical songs, a number about healing but also a few that take a whimsical look at relationship challenges or celebrate the ageless wisdom of a river.

Tell us about the music education program that you founded called MusicWorks.

MusicWorks provides one-on-one music lessons to talented low-income school district students who have shown musical aptitude and enthusiasm for their instrument.

When my daughter started middle school, I was frustrated to see that the ensembles in the music program didn’t at all reflect the rich racial and ethnic diversity of our community.  When I explored this further, I learned that while many of our students started an instrument in 4th grade they would stop playing by the time they reached middle school.  I realized that unlike activities such as sports or dance, mastering an instrument when you are young often requires a one on one relationship with a teacher.  Private lessons are expensive and many students could not afford them.  Many also did not live in a setting where they could practice. I approached a friend of mine who was heading up the Jazz department at SUNY Purchase and arranged for several graduate students to give private lessons at an affordable rate.  I wrote a grant for funding from our local school foundation who provided us seed money and together with the elementary school music teachers identified six students who had demonstrated talent and commitment.  MusicWorks was launched and nine years later we have 14 students and funding from a number of sources.  We’ve had wonderful results.  Our ensembles look more like the general student population, our students participate in adjudicated festivals and community performance groups and we have brought the gift of serious music study into the homes of a number of families.  It’s been a labor of love.  The program is now administered by the JCC on the Hudson together with the Tarrytown school district.  MusicWorks is supported by a Year-end Appeal to the community, grants from The Rotary Club of the Tarrytowns and the UJA-Federation of New York’s Music for Youth program.  Parents of participating students also make sliding scale payments.

The events on 9/11 impacted you very personally and profoundly. From what I understand, you very well could have been at work on the 48th floor of the World Trade Center that fateful day but you were working from home.  Do you have survivor’s guilt?  And did that survivor’s guilt push you into different decisions about your life from that time on?

Like many directly impacted by those events I experienced a number of trauma symptoms. The title song of my CD Beyond the Ash and Steel speaks to the journey of working through them. I had originally written the song from the perspective of a lost colleague to her young daughter and found that I could not perform it for many years.t   I re-framed the song to be more about the universal journey of healing rather than about the trauma itself.  In my case, going through the experience gave me greater clarity of perspective and the ability to to prioritize where I want to spend each precious moment.


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