By Len Lear
Not everyone who is excellent at his/her job or profession is an effective teacher of that skill to other people. For example, Pete Rose and Ted Williams were two of the greatest baseball players to ever play the game, but both were ineffective and unsuccessful as managers. According to many insiders, both were so extraordinary themselves as players that as managers they had no patience for anything less than greatness.
On the other hand, there are those like Chestnut Hill’s Katie Drake, who is equally impressive as a musician and as a music teacher. If you go on yelp.com, the most widely used website for customer comments about restaurants and many other types of businesses, you will find one comment after another like the following about Katie’s classes at Sound Start (formerly The Music Class) at the Chestnut Hill United Church, 8812 Germantown Ave.:
• Ransy M., Glenside: “I can’t say enough about The Music Class in Chestnut Hill. Our instructor is Katie Drake, who is in a category of her own … You can tell she is genuinely interested in the children; she’s lovely to the parents and has a musical pedigree far above and beyond that of any music teacher we have met yet. And we did try five other music classes before getting hooked on The Music Class because of Ms. Katie. I recommend this class to all of my friends.”
• Rachel G., Philadelphia: “Ms. Katie teaches our Saturday morning class, and we have attended for almost two years now. She is FANTASTIC, and my son adores her and loves the class … Her expertise is obvious, but she educates in a completely age-appropriate way. She’s made me a better parent. too! Can’t say enough good things.”
Katie, program director for Sound Start in addition to teaching classes, lived on the west side of Chestnut Hill for many years but currently lives in Erdenheim. She is the youngest of six children, all of whom play musical instruments. “As a teenager I must have changed my mind 20 times (about whether to pursue a career in classical music),” she told us in an earlier interview. “Eventually I figured there’s only one piano in each orchestra, and that’s not enough jobs.”
As a 15-year-old, Katie’s friends persuaded her to try our for a part in ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ at Malvern Prep, and she wound up with the leading female role. “The director, Rich Roper, was the first person to make me believe I could sing in front of people, not just in the shower.”
Katie took vocal lessons “to learn the proper way to project the voice without doing harm to it,” and she wound up acting and singing in many more musicals throughout the region. But Katie did not neglect her studies, earning a degree in English and a minor in Theater at Villanova University, where she was chosen to be the commencement speaker at her class’ graduation ceremony.
Katie has had numerous non-music jobs — a bankteller, receptionist for an accounting firm, investment salesperson, etc. — but the siren song of music always lured her back. For more than two decades she has performed with the locally based Scott Romig Band, singing everything from pop classics to big band, swing, rock ‘n’ roll and even her own original songs.
They recently played a gig at Sugarloaf and at a private home in Chestnut Hill. They have traveled all over for work, including events in Bermuda, Maine, Florida and Amsterdam. Katie also does “covers” and originals with Carlyle Maranahao at local venues, including Leila’s in Jenkintown.
The Music Class (now Sound Start Early Childhood Music as of June 1) started in the Chestnut Hill area in 2007. They also have classes in Blue Bell and Center City locations as well as a new owner, Rachel Hoffman.
Katie made a highly regarded CD, “Complicated,” as a solo artist, and she has done more informal recording: live performances, jazz standards and songs for demos, sometimes recording in her dining room with Hill musician Chris Marsceill on piano.
Katie has also done corporate training tapes, jingles for radio commercials and station identification jingles. “Somewhere — I think it’s in Montgomery, Alabama — people can hear me on the radio singing ‘97.5 … The River.’”
Who are Katie’s own favorite singers, bands, composers? “That’s not an easy one to answer because I love so many different kinds of music. Dinah Washington, Karen Carpenter, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Freddie Mercury, Tom Waits — throaty but vulnerable and so expressive! For composers, Cole Porter, Jonatha Brooke and Lin-Manuel Miranda have created some of the lyrics and melodies I love most.”
Katie has two daughters, Mairead, 19, and Brenna, 15, both of whom are musically talented.