About Kathryn

The Awakening

I never really heard music until I was twelve. My family lived on a modest farm, 149 acres, in northern Idaho in Sanders, a community so small it doesn’t appear on the map. My grandparents had emigrated from Sweden and obtained their property through the homestead program. They built a two-story house by a trickling creek. My father was born in that house, as was I. We had no running water, no electricity, and the closest neighbor was more than a half mile away. We were isolated from civilization with no radio, and only a crank-up party-line phone.

Kathryn B. HullI attended a country school a mile and a half away which had only thirteen students in eight grades—there were three of us in my class. Because my sister was afraid to walk to school alone, Mother and I, thenage three, accompanied her in the morning, and again in the afternoon. When I was five, I was allowed to stay at school and start first grade.

The only church in the area didn’t believe in having music, so they had no instrument with which to accompany the singing of hymns. It was not very musical, to say the least. My mother had an acoustic guitar with which she sometimes would pick out tunes (see picture, left), but she never really played it.

When I was 12, we made a trip south to visit relatives in the Palo Alto/Redwood City area of California for the Christmas holidays. They had a radio and I heard music for the first time! It was mostly country/western, but I recognized the guitar and violin, which we called the fiddle. (One uncle played the fiddle for barn dances.)  My aunt heard a new song, and spent time copying down the words so we all could sing along. It was "You Are My Sunshine."

 

Potatoes for Piano Lessons

When we returned home, Mrs. Dittman, the lady on the farm next to ours, started giving me piano lessons. We didn't have a piano, but Father had received the old pump organ that had been my grandmother's. I practiced on that and took lessons on an old upright piano. It wasn’t long before my pieces used notes beyond the end of the organ’s shorter keyboard. We didn’t have very much money then, and for the first five months, my lessons were paid for with potatoes, which we raised. I loved being able to make music.

That spring my parents sold the property and nearly all of our possessions and moved south to California. My sister and I stayed with relatives until school was out the end of May so we could finish our school year. Music lessons ended.

My sister and I traveled south by train and arrived in Palo Alto frightened and exhausted from the three-day trip. However, when we walked into our new home, there was a piano! For me! I sat down and played what little I knew. I started lessons that summer from someone, who to this day I can't remember—not even if my teacher was a man or a woman. I do remember the music I played, and strapping it to the back of my bicycle and pedaling to my lesson. I can only surmise that the person was not important to me, only the music. I practiced at least four hours a day. That summer all I did was play the piano until I was tired of sitting; then I rode my bicycle until I was tired, and then back I was at the piano.

When I turned 13, starting high school in California was a cultural shock. Coming from a school of 13 students to a school of nearly 1,500 was frightening. There were 300 in my graduating class. The main hallway was as wide as our little Idaho country road where the horse and buggy traveled. But music was my friend during my high school years, and all I wanted to do was play the piano. I didn't want to go to movies, go shopping with friends, go to the beach or anything else, I just wanted play the piano.

 

Captured by Music

When I did anything socially, it involved going to concerts. It was so easy to get from Palo Alto to San Francisco by train, which dropped us right downtown. We’d take a street car to the opera house, the theater, or any place where music was being performed. I heard as many operas and operettas as I could afford, and attended performances by the San Francisco Symphony with Pierre Monteaux as conductor. We bought standing room only tickets for fifty cents, but then were able to take empty seats when the music started.

The first time I heard the Symphony in person, it was a very emotional experience. The music was so powerful I could hardly sit in my seat. It physically lifted me up. I felt that my chest would explode with the sound. I was captured by music, and music has been the passion of my life ever since.

 

College Studies—From Drawback to Bonus

At Pasadena College (now Point Loma University), music was my major, specializing in music theory. At first, I felt at a disadvantage because of having started studying piano as late as I had. Most of the students had had ten years or more of study while I'd had only a little more than four. However, I discovered I was playing the same repertoire as most of them. Yes, there were some better than I, but there were many not as good. Because I had practiced much more than most of them, I had caught up with them.

The first teacher I was given, the Dean of the music department, was not a very good teacher. My technique was limited, but I found I could read much better than he. If I missed a week of practice, he didn't know it. (I tested him on this.) At that point, I seriously considered becoming an English major. However, a new teacher came to the school, and she taught me how to play and to develop the technique I needed. I was practicing no less than four hours a day, and when preparing for junior and senior recitals, it was not unusual to practice up to eight hours a day. I became the staff accompanist because I was an excellent sight reader and could transpose at sight. Singers love that. That’s how I earned money for my tuition. I also joined the orchestra as a percussionist, which was a great experience.

About three months before the end of the term, the teacher of the theory classes became ill and passed away. Bad news on one hand, but good news on the other, because now a senior, I was hired to teach the theory classes for the remainder of the year. After all, I was the best theory student in the school even if, at twenty, I was younger than many of the other students. That experience, and being an assistant teacher to my piano teacher, probably led me into the teaching profession.

 

In spite of having started late to study music as I did, I am so grateful for one of the great loves of my life—music.