Alumni Profile: Katy Wherry
Just Take the Risk and Try
There is an impetus within entrepreneurs. They grab opportunities, responding to existing or unmet needs. Sometimes their ideas propel them to meet a demand for something that does not yet exist. As an entrepreneur, Katy Wherry (BM ’11) has done both impressively. She is someone who takes the initiative, makes uncanny connections, and puts herself into situations where success can happen.
Katy started playing the flute around age ten. The instrument didn’t have a noticeable presence in her life until hearing Sir James Galway perform with the Colorado Symphony while in her mid-teens. She was inspired by how this performer and his paying could affect so many people. “From that moment,” says Katy, “Playing the flute was what I wanted to do.” Signing autographs at the end of the concert, Sir Galway asked her why she wanted to play the flute. Without blinking, the teenager said, “Someone’s got to take your place someday.” He loved her reply, gave her his email address and told her to keep in touch. It was a meeting that would change her life.
Galway did stay in touch, inviting her to his master classes in Switzerland, something she did nine times. She heard some of the best flutists in the world, and she made connections that she still maintains today. The experience gave her more evidence that the flute was going to be central to her life.
Katy began her studies at Lamont thinking she would audition for orchestras. While she had an “amazing experience” studying with Pamela Endsley, practicing excerpts was uninspiring. So she broadened her studies, joining the Steel Drum Ensemble under Tom Miller and studying improvisation with Art Bouton. She learned there are many things one can do through branching out – although she kept practicing her excerpts! “Playing these other styles of music opened up my understanding of how to practice and play these orchestral excerpts in a way that was so much more connected and joyful,” she says. Katy remains stylistically versatile today playing classical, jazz, rock, electronic, and open improvisational music.
It was her third trip to Sir Galway’s classes when opportunity knocked. Sir Galway learned of her skills with technology, something that developed from years working at Apple stores. She ended up working for his organization for five years managing its social media and flute festivals, building the website, doing graphic design for posters, and traveling the world. Building that website led to building those for flutists Maria Piccinini and Paula Robison.
In 2015, after finishing her masters’ degree from the University of Colorado Boulder, she founded Etude of the Week on Facebook as a way to stay motivated and keep practicing. The group started with 10-15 colleagues meeting every week. After the first year, there were 1,000. Now it has almost 9,000 followers from almost 200 countries! The group explores repertoire ranging from Böhm caprices to works by Carmen Mirulanda. It also has inspired spinoffs: Saxophone Etude of the Week, Clarinet Etude of the Week.
Success of the etude group inspired her to found For the Love of Flute. She noticed that adult amateurs who had chosen to do something outside of music felt “unseen” and “not safe” playing for others. There seemed to be no space for those between professionals and young beginners. “It’s become a purpose for me to try to backtrack, help people fix that idea,” she says. “The more people who play music because they love it, the better the world is. Many people have told me that they have never felt so seen, so safe; you don’t have to pretend to be better than you are. There is such a deep need for connection and overcoming judgment of fear and failure.” Her company has been a life-changing experience for Katy. The flute, that instrument she fell in love with as a teenager, is now a vehicle for self-discovery and connecting with people.
What advice does Katy have for Lamont students? “Show up and be nice to people. You never really know what connections are going to stick or where things are going to lead. I also think it’s about trusting yourself. So often we wait for things to be perfect, or we tell ourselves that ‘I can’t do this until I do this.’ We hold ourselves back. Instead, just take the risk and try! Then see what happens. We think we know how things are going to be, but it never works out that way.”
Katy has settled in her native Denver (“I’m a mountain girl”) building her online business, subbing in the Colorado Symphony, performing in Gamelan Tunas Mekar, and more. (There was a stretch when she lived in Boston for a few years, working as a sales representative for Flutistry Boston.) She teaches often at a festival in the Netherlands every summer and runs Maria Piccinini’s festivals in Switzerland in June. A trip to Shanghai is planned for August.
“It’s been an amazing journey,” she says. “I’ve had wonderful opportunities.” Congratulations, Katy, on your bold entrepreneurial spirit that has made so much of it possible!