Liberty graduate flashes light on Brazilian music
Kristen Mather de Andrade’s love of Brazilian music started at Liberty High School.
“My band director was Tom Ruggieri, who’s a great drummer and interested in jazz,” she said. “He gave me something to listen to by Antonio Carlos Jobim. I loved it. I listened to it so much that I started checking out more Brazilian music.”
She now has her own collection of Brazilian music to share. Her CD “Clarao” (which means “flash of light” in Portuguese) showcases the Liberty native’s talents on clarinet and as a vocalist and features songs designed to illustrate that Brazilian music is “more than just bossa nova.”
Her ability on the clarinet is well-established. She earned her bachelor’s degree in clarinet performance from the Dana School of Music and received a talent scholarship from DePaul University. Her pursuit of a master’s degree there was sidetracked when she had a chance to audition for the West Point Band.
“My teacher at DePaul University, Larry Combs, had been in the West Point Band during Vietnam,” de Andrade said. “He saw the auditions were open and told me it was a great band. I was lucky that day and did well, and they offered me the position.”
She joined the band in 2007 and has been its principal clarinetist since 2012. She also plays in its Quintette 7.
“I get a chance to do some really moving things, like playing for funerals,” she said. “It’s very sad, but it feels good to be able to contribute to somebody’s moment.
“Some of the bigger things that have happened in my career, I got to play with the New York Philharmonic on the Fourth of July, which was great. For the Macy’s Fourth of July fireworks in 2018, I got to play a couple of clarinet solos in that performance. I remember thinking how crazy it was, being just a kid in Youngstown practicing clarinet in the Liberty High School Band. I never thought I would be playing a clarinet solo for the entire country on TV. That was a crazy moment, one I’ll always remember.”
Her talents as a vocalist have been on display less. During a taping of the NPR game show “Says You!,” de Andrade ended up singing several songs, and the positive feedback was encouraging.
“At the Dana School, everyone was very open about trying new things,” she said. “I sang some jazz tunes with various combos, but (‘Says You!’) was the moment where the light bulb switched on for me. … I remember feeling, this is so much fun. It was a little bit of validation that I could do it. I’ve been adding singing to my performances since then.”
Another bit of unexpected encouragement helped inspire “Clarao.” During the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil, de Andrade performed a couple of Brazilian numbers on West Point’s Facebook page. The video went viral and even attracted some attention in the Brazilian media.
“Clarao” was produced by Sergio Krakowski, a Brazilian musician who moved to New York in 2013, and he connected her with some of the other musicians in the area who grew up with this music.
“There are a lot of Brazilians living in New York,” she said. “The more I started to learn about Brazil, the more I realized how big it is and how many different types of music there are. It became important for me to share these other types of music.”
“Clarao” includes works by composers less well known in the U.S., such as Severino Araujo and Rubens Leal Brito, as well as four previously unrecorded songs by Brazilian singer-composer Roque Ferreira.
“I had been singing some of his songs that I liked that I’d heard on an album by a different singer,” she said. “Sergio said, ‘I think I have a way to contact him,’ and he asked if he had any songs he was willing to share. He sent us four, and I ended up loving all four of them. It was so exciting to record them.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has kept her from being able to play many concerts to promote the CD. She said she’d love to come back to the area to do something at the Dana School of Music.
In the meantime, she’s already started work on a Christmas EP she plans to release before the holidays.
“It’s kind of a classical crossover, carols done in a different way,” de Andrade said. “It’s maybe a little more energetic or if you mixed a little bit of a pop sound with with classical music, a modern classical style.”