At the age of 8, Katie Ott of Miramar Beach fell in love with the harp.
“It was my first instrument, and I completely fell in love with my teacher,” Katie told The Sun. “The first song I played was Moonlight by Susann McDonald, and I still teach it to my beginning harp students.”
Since that time, her music has advanced and, according to the Mobile Register, “has a shimmering ethereal quality that demonstrates why she is so much in demand by orchestras along the Gulf Coast.”
As the conductor of the Snowbird Singers, Katie chose Broadway classics and songs from her childhood for them to perform.
“My job as conductor is to lead and inspire them to sing well,” Katie said. “We all have a wonderful time together and I feel very fortunate to be able to work with them.”
In addition to the Singers, her father, composer/conductor David Ott of Destin, will report on the work of the Music for Healing Foundation and dancers from Destin Middle School, under the direction of Melody Gill, will perform to the melody of Dry Bones.
‘Passionate yet controlled’
Katie has been principal harpist of the Mobile Symphony Orchestra, Pensacola Symphony Orchestra, Mobile Opera and Pensacola Opera since 2006, and principal of the Gulf Coast Symphony Orchestra since 2007. She was also a principal harpist with the Philharmonic Orchestra of Northwest Florida from 2002-2008 and the Northwest Florida Symphony Orchestra from 1998-2001.
“My forte is orchestral playing,” she said. “My favorite type is 20th Century French music and I love opera — anything written by Puccini or Ravel is on the top of my list. I would hope my harp playing would be described as passionate yet controlled, and I want it to seem effortless but still rhythmic.”
Performing at her church, Point Washington United Methodist, about once a month, in recitals and at special appearances, Katie has performed major works as a soloist, including Angel’s Harp by her father, Concerto for Flute and Harp by Mozart, and Sacred and Profane Dances by Debussy.
With more than 10 years of experience playing for wedding ceremonies, receptions, holiday parties and corporate events, Katie is in demand and says she has played for hundreds of weddings — mostly on the beach.
Katie loves to perform in many venues, but her main focus is the Pensacola, Mobile and Biloxi Symphony Orchestras.
“I love performing everywhere, but I especially love small intimate concerts where I can talk to the audience and let them see the harp up close and personal,” Katie said.
Katie has a record as one who strives for perfection in her work and her life, being highly motivated and a diligent worker.
“If I were a student of perfectionism, Katie would be the teacher,” her father told The Sun. “Her sense of rhythm is one of the finest I have ever known in any musician. It's a result of her hard work. Katie has won the respect of every conductor she has worked under. Time and time again, she is asked to return to perform with orchestras. Her playing is colorful, dramatic and exact. As one conductor has said, ‘Katie adds the sheen to the entire orchestra.’ ”
Katie also has his respect and confidence. She assumed some of his conducting duties when he broke his back after he fell 14 feet into the basement below the orchestra pit after the debut of his original work, "The Widow's Lantern," written for the Pensacola Opera in 2009.
“I really learned a lot about myself and my abilities when I conducted for my dad,” Katie said. “It's very exciting leading a group of musicians, but I don't compose like my dad, so I'll leave that to the pros!”
David has written many pieces for his daughter, and is honored when she performs pieces he writes just for her.
“In fact, she owes me a CD of about an hour's worth of music I wrote for her two years ago,” he said. “Whenever she performs, she knows how to show off my work.”
Although the father and daughter have performed some together, David said he has never felt comfortable writing duets for harp and piano.
“The two instruments seem to collide. Because the organ sustains tones, it makes for a better musical combination with the harp than does the piano.”
Katie, who describes herself as “high energy, outgoing and competitive,” loves to laugh, a characteristic she inherited from her father.
“We ate dinner together every day and literally laughed through the entire meal,” she said. “My dad really set the mood for our family and he's hilarious, so we all just grew up laughing.”
“She possesses a hilarious sense of humor which comes out when she is in front of a crowd, and it's often at my expense,” David said. “Katie is passionate and a perfectionist about music and loves life to the fullest degree.”
Put simply, music is Katie’s world.
“There is a great quote ‘Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and cannot remain silent’ by Victor Hugo — that's truly how I feel.”
WANT TO GO?
Katie Ott will conduct the Snowbird Singers during a public concert at 3 p.m. Feb. 23 at Santa Rosa Community Church in Santa Rosa Beach. Admission is free with a goodwill offering.