Our incredible cello instructor, Katie Carmer returned from a trip to Ukraine to play music with her band, Cisco and the Racecars. This was her second trip to Ukraine and each year she returns to share her passion for music with others.
Q: How did you get your start playing the cello?
A: I began playing when I was six years old. I remember a boy brought his cello into my kindergarten class for show and tell, and I went home and told my mom I wanted to play too. Throughout my childhood, I took lessons and played in orchestras and chamber groups. The town I grew up in [in Michigan] had a robust strings program so I started young. Playing music has lead me to meet most of my best friends!
Q: How did you get involved with SOUNDS Academy?
A. I began teaching with SOUNDS in the Fall of 2018. I had heard lots of great things about what the organization is doing to expand access to music education in Phoenix, and I wanted to get involved!
Q: Tell me about your performance career. What is it like being in a band like Cisco and the Racecars?
A: For most of my life I played classical music. When I moved to Arizona for an English teaching position in 2012, I was looking for opportunities to get involved in the local music scene. I saw an add for a bluegrass band seeking a cellist, and I decided to join, even though I didn’t know any of the music. That band became Cisco and the Racecars. We’ve been together for six years and we are working on recording our second album. We have won a few band contests and we enjoy playing festivals around the state.
Q: You are actively involved in youth development. Did you always know this is what you wanted to do?
A: As a kid, I was not sure what exactly I wanted to do when I grew up, but my passions were always reading, writing, and the arts. After studying philosophy and music in college, I was attracted to teaching because it allowed me to share these subjects that I love with young people. Since moving to Phoenix, I’ve been an English teacher, a cello teacher, and a program manager for a college access program. I’ve learned so much from the students I’ve worked with.
Q: How did your passions lead you to Ukraine?
A: Our band got really lucky with this opportunity! The abridged version of the story is that Alan, a Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine who used to live in Arizona, had the idea to bring over a bluegrass band. He thought the music would resonate with Ukrainians, because their folk music focuses on similar themes of hard work, struggle, and love. We submitted a proposal to a nonprofit called the Trust for Mutual Understanding, and they generously gave us the funds to travel. The American Embassy in Kiev also contributed. The trip wouldn’t have been possible without the meticulous planning of Alan and his Ukrainian colleague, Ivan. This summer was actually our second trip; the first one went so well that we received funding a second time.
Q: What was it like visiting and performing there?
A: It was incredible! It was great to visit the big cities, but my favorite parts of the trip were the days we spent in small villages, where we really got to immerse ourselves in Ukrainian culture. We were welcomed warmly with food and music, and we made new friends wherever we went. It was so much fun performing and watching people hear bluegrass music for the first time. People looked both surprised and happy when they heard the twanging banjo and thumping bass. My absolute favorite country to visit has to be Ukraine because the time there is not spent as a tourist, but instead is spent totally immersed in their culture. I have traveled to many countries in Europe and Central America, and my most unique experience has been through performing in Ukraine.
Q: You are an amazing performer and teacher and your passions are helping change the world. What’s next for you?
a. My interests connected me to teaching, SOUNDS Academy, STEP, and performing. I do this because I love working with educators like Kirk, who has a vision to give back to the community. I love being involved in a local effort and helping make a difference. I’d love to keep doing what I’m doing–working with young people and playing lots of music! I also want to learn the guitar. My husband plays a ton of instruments, and we’ve talked about starting a family folk duo.
Katie is helping to develop the youth of Phoenix, Arizona and helping to change the world with her music and talents. One fact you probably did not know about world traveling cellist, Katie Carmer is that she loves creative writing. She has even written half a novel about a small, made-up town in Arizona. Maybe we will get to read the full thing one day.
We thank Ms. Carmer for sharing her experiences with us and we look forward to seeing what she does next.