Kathryn Raats, 29, is the founding Director of West Coast Music School. She has a profound passion for the holistic benefits of music education, focusing deeply on using music as a tool for enhancing every day life, and not simply viewing it as another skill to be learned along the way.
With over 25 years of practical experience on the Piano, and over a decade of teaching experience, Kathryn has used her background in Nursing and Midwifery to build an empowering, nurturing and inclusive approach to music education that focuses on building students up from the inside out.
What keeps bringing you back to the piano?
I have explored a number of instruments over the years (piano, violin, cello, voice, guitar, oboe & drums), but there is something about the Piano that keeps drawing me back in.
I’ve been playing the piano for more than 25 years now, so I can confidently say that it’s my ‘safe space’. I understand it on deep level and it honestly feels like an extension of myself.
When I play the piano, I find peace. It grounds me and it relaxes me, but it also challenges me and excites me! I feel like there is always more to learn – and I absolutely love that feeling.
When was your first piano lesson?
I grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa, where my Great Aunt worked as a highly respected Piano Teacher. It was she who noticed my musicality at a very young age and started me on the piano when I was just 3 years old. I have fleeting memories of those introductory lessons, but it wasn’t until I was 5 years old that I remember taking formal lessons.
Do you have any favourite memories of your teachers?
When I was in Primary School, my Piano teacher organised an excursion for her students. It was the first time I’d ever seen a Concert Pianist in action! I remember being completely in awe of the person on stage and thinking “woah, I wonder if I’ll ever be able to play like that?”. That experience become an important motivational point for me throughout my learning journey, and I will forever be grateful to my teacher for providing that experience for me.
Tell us a bit about your background and how you came to piano teaching as a profession.
It is safe to say that I did not take the ‘traditional path’ toward teaching piano as a profession. Like most of us, I dare say, I studied the AMEB syllabus growing up. I then began tutoring piano at a local music shop when I was studying a Double BSc in Nursing and Midwifery. I was in my second year of Uni, when the music shop I was tutoring at decided close down their music school.
I suddenly found myself in quite a conundrum! I had completely fallen in love with teaching and I wasn’ ready to let it go. So, I decided to go off on my own and start teaching privately. I sourced a local primary school that allowed me to hire their music room after school hours, which served as the perfect base for my students to continue on their music journey with me. I unknowingly dived headfirst into running my own business whilst continuing to study two degrees simultaneously full time.
As I approached the end of my degrees, I was faced with a tough decision. I had become quite unwell during my undergrad years which forced me to re-evaluate my ‘life plan’. I had always planned to go on and study medicine, but I could not imagine a version of my life where I was not teaching.
After some intensive inward reflection, I made my decision. Teaching the piano had been a constant for me during a very volatile time in my life. It brought me so much joy, and I was incredibly passionate about helping my students, so I decided to put Medicine on the back burner and pour all of my energy into teaching.
I soon realised that I could weave my passions for wellness and mental health (which I discovered through my degrees) into the music journeys of my students. And so, West Coast Music School was born, and teaching piano became my career.
How many students do you generally teach a week and what ages/ranges?
I personally teach 7 students a week. They range from 5 years old through to adults, and from an absolute beginners through to advanced students.
This is a real sweet spot for me now, as I’m also the Director of West Coast Music School which takes up a fair amount of my time each week.
I used to teach upward of 30 students a week, but I’ve now capped myself at 7 students because I know that if I take on any more, I won’t be able to work to the standard that I expect of myself – and that my students deserve!
I’ve also found this mix of students also allows me to keep my teaching abilities across all age groups and skill levels relevant.
What is your go-to winners for repertoire for beginners?
I love this question! It’s a tough one though, because it really depends on the student. With that in mind, some of my go-to pieces include Hyde’s “Gnomes Marching”, Alexandre Desplat’s “Harry and Ginny”, Clementi’s “Sonatina Op 36 No 1”, Beethoven’s “Sonatina in G Major”, and finally, anything Disney related.
Are there any pieces that are your current favourites or new things you’ve found?
I’m going through a real Chopin phase at the moment! My top 3 favourite pieces to play are “Nocturne in C sharp Minor”, “Waltz Op 69 No 1” and “Waltz in E Minor Op Posthumous”.
What music do you listen to in your down time?
Let’s say, my music taste is… varied. I love artists such as Billie Eilish, London Grammar, Flight Facilities, Flume, Elton John, Jeremy Loops, Radiohead, Taking Back Sunday, Paramore, Still Woozy, Childish Gambino and Oliver Tree. I’m honestly happy to listen to almost anything in my down time.
How has COVID-19 effected your studio/teaching?
If there is one thing that I took away from my degrees, it was how to keep a cool head in an emergency. Living in Perth, we have definitely been blessed with our COVID-19 situation, but I still knew from the start that we needed to build a system to support us throughout the pandemic.
I’m really thankful that we introduced that system early on and trained our clients through it. We were hit hard by the initial wave and lost a lot of students throughout that time. We have since developed an online program that we initiate whenever we go into lock down, which means business continues on as normal throughout the whole year.
It took us a long time to get back to where we were B.C. (before Covid), but I finally feel like we are moving onwards and upwards again as a studio.
Is there a book you’ve read recently that you love?
I’m a real book worm! I recently finished reading “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine” by Gail Honeyman. It is one of those reads that will stick with you long after you have finished reading the book. It is such a beautiful and evocative story that reminds us to be kind and compassionate to everyone because you never know what their backstory is.