Alexandria, Virginia native and musician Kate Moran is a renaissance woman! She started the Del Ray Music Festival, has a Ph.D in Special Education, formed the Kate Moran Band in 2006 and then the Rainbow Rock Band for children. In addition she works in special education for the Department of Education. A personal tragedy helped her find her calling in music.
Marlene: What sparked your interest in music?
Kate Moran: I think I grew up just always humming or singing a song, I would sing in talent shows in elementary school or I was always performing in something, but my confidence was always with acting more than singing. I didn’t really gain confidence as a singer until I was much older, well out of college. But I always loved singing, and I am so glad that I get to do it today!
How many instruments do you play?
I sing and I play the ukulele enough to write my music now. For a long time, I did not play any instrument, I was a singer, but I taught myself how to play the ukulele about three years ago and started writing the kids songs.
Take us along on your musical journey.
I grew up singing, I sang in the choir, I sang at church, I sang at school, I took voice lessons. My mom had me take piano lessons for a short period of time, but I didn’t really practice and I don’t think at the time I was that into playing the piano. I also played the trumpet for a bit when I was in elementary school, but I barely remember playing that either. As I got older I performed in a lot of plays in school and majored in theater in undergraduate, and performed in the “1940’s Radio Hour” where I used my singing and tap skills, but again, I wasn’t composing or writing my own music yet.
In 2003, my Aunt was murdered, and I sang at her funeral. I sang “Amazing Grace.” I sang it a capella and everything changed for me after that day. I think you could say I found my voice. In that horribly dark and lifeless moment, where I and all of my family were filled with such sorrow, this light, this small light, this small voice, or rather loud voice came out and traveled through the church. I just felt like I needed to keep singing. I needed to keep singing to keep her close to me. I needed to keep singing to make sense of a sense less situation, because her death made no sense. I needed to keep singing, because after her death I couldn’t breathe and singing helped me keep breathing. I needed to keep singing, because it helped me put one foot in front of the other to show up at a show or a gig, when I felt so completely lost after her death. Singing helped to define a new path and road and with each new musical development it has continued to guide and take me to such wonderful places.
Eventually I began singing in a band and we mainly did cover songs. After playing for about a year or two a friend of mine contacted me about writing and producing an album of my own music, which we did, and I put out a five song EP. At the same time, I also founded a local music festival, the Del Ray Music Festival, which I worked on for 8 years! Then in 2012, my fiddle player Lynn and I were talking and we needed a band for the children’s stage for Del Ray Music Week, which was a spin-off of the Music Festival, and so Lynn and I collaborated and did some classic children’s music. I pulled out this old skirt with a big rainbow on it that I had worn in Bye Bye, Birdie from High School and Rainbow Rock just grew from there. We released our first CD in May 2015, were the Winner of a Parents’ Choice Fun Stuff Award, have performed over 120 shows this year, and this all outside of my full-time job!
I hear you are working with children and music.
I love Rainbow Rock it is just an absolute gift in my life. Getting to perform for the kids, the high fives, the hugs, I went back to school and have a Master’s and PhD in Special Education so I love to teach and work with kids and being a children’s performer is the best of both worlds. I get to perform, I get to work with kids, and many of my songs incorporate educational topics like shapes, colors, movement and more!
What kinds music do you listen to?
Everything, I love local DMV music, I see a lot of local bands around town like, The Beanstalk Library, Classified Frequency, Cowards Choir, and the Uptown Boys Choir. On a larger scale I have been listening to a lot of Trevor Hall and Ben Rector lately…but I am a DC girl so give me some Go-Go or Michael Jackson’s Thriller and I am happy too!
Best venues to see music in DC?
Jammin’ Java, IOTA, Evening Star No. 9 Café, and The Birchmere.
What’s been the highlight of your musical career?
There have been so many fun moments like when we performed at the National Zoo, or heading up to World Café Live in Philly, or going to TLB Music in NYC, or any one of the Tot Rock Festivals (Music Make Life Better/Rainbow Collection Events) that we have done, or even having one our Rainbow Rockers dress up, well actually her whole family dressed up as the band for Halloween, those were all pretty awesome.
But honestly the highlight so far was when I heard this on Saturday:
“Aunt Kate, you know who my favorite rock band is?”
“No Hen, who is your favorite rock band?” (me thinking he was going to say Bruce Springsteen or some other rocker;)
Henry says, “My favorite rock band is the Rainbow Rock Band.”
That’s been the highlight; honestly it’s the smalls stuff!
Advice for budding musicians?
Learn to play an instrument. Hold the mic right on your mouth. Perform as much as you can. Write as much as you can. Don’t get locked into playing with the same people. Contracts, contracts, contracts, get them in place early, with venues, with bandmates, with studios, get them in place even when you don’t think you need them, get them in place even when you think you are working with friends, CONTRACTS just get them!
Who are your musical heroes and why?
I grew up on Joe Cocker and Janis Joplin, but I also think there is a mix of Madonna, Pat Benatar, Journey, and Prince mixed in there too. It’s a weird mix.
What inspires you to write music?
Life, really, I get inspired by people or things in my life. With the kids music, it will be something that the kids will say, or a funny moment, but honestly it’s not really all that different than writing my adult pop tunes, I will get a line or a thought, or a feeling, or a melody and it will just come in my head. Like with Alligator Noodles, I was at my cousins, and we were getting ready to eat dinner and he had alligator macaroni noodles and I was like, “Alligator Noodles?!?” and I just started singing, “Alligator Noodles, nothing could be cuter,” and that line and melody stuck in my head for like a couple of weeks and then I started writing out the other lines to the chorus. My nephew always asks when I babysit if we are going to write any Rainbow Rocks songs because he inspires so many of them! We worked on a Number Train song this weekend and possibly one about volcanoes; he is six years old by the way, but the best writing partner around.
Where can we see you perform next?
Jammin’ Java, on February 12th, at St. Elmo’s on February 15th, then Sehkraft Kids Brunch on February 20th, and finally I am performing at The Manassas Mall on February 27th. For more information and details about these performances, go to their website.