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Kathryn Bostic's many musical hats: composer, singer, songwriter, pianist

Composer, singer, songwriter and pianist Kathryn Bostic.
Composer, singer, songwriter and pianist Kathryn Bostic.
Sherry Rayn Barnett
Composer, singer, songwriter and pianist Kathryn Bostic.
Composer Kathryn Bostic and Frame host John Horn after their interview.
Michelle Lanz/KPCC

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From a very young age, composer Kathryn Bostic was drawn to music.

She began playing the piano at just three years old. Today, Bostic not only composes, but also is an accomplished singer, songwriter and pianist.

Some of her recent work includes the score for director Justin Simien’s film, "Dear White People." Bostic has also composed music for three of Ava DuVernay’s films, including "Middle of Nowhere." And you can hear her score in the upcoming documentary, "Cameraperson," which debuted at Sundance.

And her composition, "Tres Osos y Una Playa," will be performed at the Hear Now Music Festival on April 24 in Los Angeles.

When Bostic stopped by The Frame recently, host John Horn asked how her mother influenced her lifelong love of music.

Interview Highlights: 

Well, my mom was actually teaching a piano lesson when her water broke, so I came in ready to hit the ivories.

Was she your teacher?

She was initially, but that mother-daughter thing can kind of get in the way. But she was a great teacher initially and I learned so much from her. That, at times, was problematic for me because I would be playing my lesson, but then I'd start to hear things, and I'd want to veer off and do my own interpretation of what I was practicing. And it drove my mother crazy. It was an early telltale sign that she was not going to be a good teacher for me. Because I was always hearing things, hearing stories, hearing melody.

You're also a singer. What are the different challenges and satisfactions that come with singing compared to composing

I just love any music that's going to enable me to story tell. And singing — it's the voice, it's coming from a really deep and visceral place. So the singing is a whole other element for me because I'm able to go into a place in my body that allows me to capture a different quality, a feeling, and translate that into a song or a moment. 

Tell us about the inspiration for your piece, "Tres Osos y Una Playa," which will be performed live at the Hear Now Music Festival:

That piece makes me smile because it was during the summer a few years ago ... these bears seemed to find their way into these really high-end gated communities that everybody's trying to be so selective about who comes in and out. Yet the bears don't care. They don't follow those rules and they end up in these people's swimming pools and they hang out. I was thinking about these three bears at the beginning of their day, starting with some sort a sense of adventure and mischief. This particular piece has different levels of tempo and interaction insofar as call-and- response and coming together, just as I envisioned the bears doing. Just having fun, you know?

We love to interview composers on this show, but when we are looking at the composers who are making films, they are almost always white men. I wonder what it's been like for you working in that world that has a very clearly defined idea of what a composer looks like?

People often say, Oh you have to work twice as hard, you're black you're a woman. I already have my own standard of excellence, so for me that's enough. I mean, yes, that's the big elephant in the room that most of the composers who do work in film and TV are white males. I do feel that a lot of it is because of the relationships that directors and producers have. You hire your friends, you hire people within your community, so it's not always so specifically a racist or gender-biased kind of a dynamic...

Ultimately, for me, it's just about the work, because if I get so focused on the inequality of things, then I lose sight of what got me into this in the first place, which is the love of music.

Really the bigger issue is music and the arts having been removed from the schools. A lot of incredibly talented kids aren't even being exposed to music, let alone the notion that they can be a film composer. I'm talking specifically about kids who are in pubic school systems, kids of color who are incredibly talented, but have no access to the resource. So there's this notion that it's an impossible task. In my own way, I want to demystify that. 

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