Thursday, July 13, 2006

If I were 18 again...

...I'd go ahead and follow my dreams and major in music or art. I listened to naysayers who convinced me there was "no money" in those fields. Well, now I'm almost forty, and I can say with certainty that there is more to life than money -- AND -- that money tends to follow passion (meaning that if you're totally passionate about a thing, you'll invest yourself in it and enjoy it and become really good at it, which in turn creates a market for it).

Here's someone who followed her passion, and is living the kind of life I would eagerly love to live, given half the chance:

Ames native making global music
For Ames native Katherine Andrews, home is wherever she lays her violin. Or Chinese harp. Or banjo, piano, oboe, saz, hammered dulcimer or whatever she happens to be playing at the moment.

"I'm an oboist, but now I play a lot of instruments," Andrews said.

That's because much is expected of an international music teacher, who must not only learn the language of the land, but the instruments as well.

Andrews was teaching at Doha College in Qatar, an emirate in the Middle East, when an ambassador's wife approached her about assembling an orchestra.

At first, Andrews said no. But the woman was adamant about giving her son the chance to perform on his violin. Andrews gave in.

"We started with about 10 string players, and the first rehearsal was horrible," Andrews said.

But week after week, the group grew into a full-blown orchestra with more than 40 musicians from around the world.

"The youngest member was 6, and her feet didn't touch the floor," Andrews said. "The oldest was 50. That was me."

Andrews' teaching job at Doha college has ended, so she recently returned to Ames to visit family and friends before she embarks on her next adventure. Because of all of her travels, she said her definition of home has changed since she left many years ago to pursue her music career.

"It's good to see my family," she said. "But Ames hasn't been home to me in a long time -- home is wherever I am, because I've lived so many different places."

Growing up with 'itchy feet'

Katherine Andrews said she had "itchy feet" while growing up in Ames.

"My grandfather owned a traveling agency when I was a little girl so I traveled a lot," she said.

She also had a passion for music at a young age

"I knew I wanted to be a musician since I was 10 because I had an instructor tell me I was good at it," she said.

She also was exposed to orchestra music by the Ames International Orchestra Festival Association, which drew musicians from around the world in the early 1970s.

"They brought a New York orchestra who came to our houses for dinner," Andrews said. "I thought, they get paid money to do this, that's great."

Andrews' deep-rooted lust for music led her to major in music education and performance at Iowa State University.

"When I was going to school, you had to take classes on how to play all the instruments," she said. "When you plan to teach, you have to know at least the basics."

After graduating Andrews decided to leave her teaching position at Ames and Nevada to travel the world when she realized how severely music curriculum was declining in American schools.

"Public schools across the country were cutting their arts programs, so I left," she said.

Respecting other traditions

Combining her love for teaching and music with the opportunity to travel meant Andrews could do what she wanted and enjoy it. Her first stop was in Switzerland and being a foreigner gave her a more rounded worldview, she said.

"Personally, if you force yourself into another culture, you're forced to expand," she said. "Sometimes you don't like it. It's painful, but you have to do it or you might go crazy."

Andrews didn't go crazy because she had an innate appreciation for learning, which included becoming familiar with and respecting other traditions, she said.

"When I lived in Turkey and Qatar, I had to be aware of how I dressed, so I wouldn't wear a sleeveless shirt, and I would never wear a spaghetti strap shirt," she said.

What the future holds

Andrews' next destination will be a teaching stint at Rock Creek, a privately owned International Baccalaureate Organization school in Washington D.C.

The school offers a dual-language program, and Andrews believes multi-lingual education should be taught in more U.S. schools.

"At this school, children have to learn one language in addition to English," she said. "They have to choose from Spanish, French and Arabic."

The expectation that children are at least bilingual is one that resonates with Andrews' experiences in other countries.

"There was not one child who didn't speak at least two languages, usually three or four," she said.

This not only ensures people the knowledge of other cultures, which lessens superiority complexes, but also allows better avenues of communication, she said.

"Once I was in Italy looking for an apartment and this man's English wasn't good, but neither was my Italian, so we communicated in French," she said.

After Andrews completes her two-year teaching assignment at Rock Creek, she's not sure what she'll do.

"There's a new school opening in Austria, and the man who's opening it will focus the teaching on peace conflict and resolution," she said, smiling.

Okay, minus the touchy-feely peace-on-earth stuff, this is my dream life. My advice to kids? If it's something you love, then go for it. Listen to the naysayers, glean the value from their advice, then go forward with what you want to do anyway.

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