by Anna Wright
photography by Two Eagles Marcus
When she was still playing classical music professionally, she felt there was a limited view of what everything was supposed to sound like. She wanted her music to become her own voice.
Ritsu Katsumata is known for taking classical music and infusing it with her trademark innovative edge. She began her career as a violin prodigy; she now is a composer and performer.
“All of my music normally has some sort of theme or idea, and I’m always using elements from other genres, she said. “I like to take Bach and add in some Jimmy Page…reggae, punk, or rock and roll.”
Originally from Philadelphia, Katsumata was born to Japanese parents. Her first foray into music was through piano, but she switched to violin when she was only 9 years old.
“Violin just drew me in,” she explained. “I knew that it was what I wanted to play.”
A decision well made, as a twenty-year classical violin career would follow in which she would become a child prodigy, play at Carnegie Hall, rise to fame and then realize that she wanted something different.
“Carnegie Hall was great,” Katsumata noted. “But I just needed more room for interpretation. Playing such stringent music is definitely a craft, and some people are really good at it, but that’s not the avenue I wanted to go down.”
Shortly after her decision to make the switch to a less draconian musical style, she decided to change her instrument as well. She switched to electric violin because she “thought no one was doing it yet,” and liked all of the different sounds she could make. The changes brought an end to her salaried musical career though, making violin her passion instead of her profession.
Having graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in English literature, Katsumata wasn’t worried about finding another paid career. She moved to Grand Rapids with her family in 2008, when her husband accepted a teaching position at Grand Valley State University, and was perfectly set up for her current career in advertising and design at Amway. She still finds plenty of time to perform, and her favorite local venue is the Graham.
“It’s very hard to juggle music and my professional career,” Katsumata said. “Since music is my passion, I only squeeze it in when I can. I don’t feel pressure any longer since I’m not doing it for a living, so I only play when I feel like it to keep my music pure.”
That renowned purity has taken her to some amazing places, with her favorite being the late CBGB’s (country, blue grass and blues) punk-rock club in New York, where bands like the Ramones, B-52s and Talking Heads got their start. While playing a gig in San Francisco, Katsumata got to meet the late Jimi Hendrix’s family and band members, which was “definitely a surreal moment” for her.
Katsumata at her 2013 ArtPrize installation at Fountain Street Church.
She finds inspiration in all sorts of places, but the driving force behind her arrangements is “trying to create a seamless composition,” and learning from other musicians “through collaboration projects.”
With her unquenchable thirst for knowledge and relentless pursuit of creating new sounds, Katsumata doesn’t see a stop sign in sight anytime soon.
“I just started working with Hugo Claudin, a fantastic local drummer. We played with a bass player the other day and I really love the direction that could go in.”
Regarding retiring, she plans to continue until she no longer has interest in playing.
“I’ll play as long as I enjoy it,” she said. “And not a minute longer.”
For more information on Ritsu Katsumata, visit http://www.ritsu.com.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Anna Wright is a budding writer, yoga and music enthusiast. With a deep interest in culture of all kinds, she loves all things art, nature, and travel. She’s also obsessed with small, fluffy dogs.