While Peter Kater’s music continues to reach far across the globe, his focus is small and intimate now.
Kater, who lives part-time in Boulder and part-time in Hawaii, is gearing up for his 14th Grammy nomination in the New Age category. He won a Grammy last year for his album “Dancing on Water.” He is one of the world’s best-known New Age musicians.
His latest nomination is for his album, “Wings,” made up of all compositions. This may surprise Kater’s fans, because many of his recent albums were entirely improvised, often with another artist; the sounds were made up on the spot — freeform, spontaneous and impossible to replicate.
“Wings” was composed in Boulder. It was inspired by the birds he kept seeing while working on it.
“I was trying to capture the feeling of freedom and flow that happens in my improvisations in composition, so they don’t feel too structured or too premeditated,” Kater says. “I think I actually succeeded pretty well on this record. It has a lot of flow and passion to it. It’s very heart-centered, and I like it a lot.”
The album was a success before the Grammy nomination. Before it was even released at the end of August, it hit No. 2 on the Billboard chart in pre-orders alone. It reached the top 10 list for iTunes, too.
Kater will find out how “Wings” landed with others when the Grammys are awarded Jan. 26.
Regardless, he says it’s fun to be able to replay songs from his album and continue to explore them.
‘An Exchange of Energy’
Kater has sold millions of records, and you’ve heard his music on more than 100 shows, from Broadway to TV. Yet while celebrating another larger-than-life accomplishment, the Boulder pianist and composer wants his music to connect with people on an intimate level.
He’s focusing on small, in-home concerts with just a handful of people. He guides small, artistic, meditative retreats overseas. And he’s offering something you’ve probably never heard of from an artist of his caliber: one-on-one, “beneath the piano” performances.
He calls them “piano readings.”
They start with a personal meeting with Kater. You talk and hang out so he can get to know you and sense your energy.
“At some point in the conversation, I hear a very distinct beginning to a song: exactly what key it is in, the feeling, the vibe, the melody,” he says.
Inspired by each individual guest, he performs a personal, improvisational song just for you. Guests are invited to lie on the ground beneath the piano, which adds another layer of experience. You can feel the ground below you and the air around you resonating with the notes.
Kater plays for 15 to 20 minutes and professionally records the song, so you can take it home with you as your own “personal piano journey,” as he calls it.
Kater has done several hundred piano readings so far.
“Every improv is different. Of course, it’s me and my style, but it varies a great deal, depending on who’s under the piano and what’s going on,” he says. “I find myself doing things I’ve never done before, because it’s a new person.”
He says he is naturally sensitive to people’s energy and emotional states, and the more he practices piano readings, the more sensitive he becomes.
This idea started organically, he says. He was leading a retreat in Maui, where he brought the attendees back to his house to listen to him play the piano. The people just kept moving closer and closer until someone crawled under the piano.
Now, even at his public concerts, he welcomes people to come lie under the piano. People do it, too; they come up on stage out of the audience and take turns lying on the ground. This changes the listening experience, Kater says.
“It makes it real personal,” he says. “It’s a big sound bath that goes through their whole body.”
It changes the performing experience for Kater, too, he says.
“It makes me feel more connected to myself emotionally, as well,” he says. “It’s not this whole thing where I’m performing and people are listening, with this performer-audience separation. It becomes very much an exchange of energy and really intimate.”
Being more connected and inspired makes him feel more comfortable and relaxed, and the more comfortable he is, the better he plays, he says.
His retreats in Maui and Montana are another extension of that connection that Kater values. The events focus on being present. They typically include music, fire circles and good food.
“Early in my career, I was all about reaching more people, and I still want to reach as many people as possible, but what’s really interesting to me now is intimacy, vulnerability and transparency,” he says. “People are starved for that, with the digital world. … People are really hungry for connecting and being seen—expressing themselves on a deeper level with another human being. I find that very rewarding.”
His next Maui retreat is at the end of February and some spaces are still open.
The Boulder Influence
Boulder highly influences Kater’s work, he says.
While writing “Wings,” he spent time in the nearby mountains or near the river, watching nature. He says different areas have inspired him over the years—Sugarloaf Mountain (where he used to live), Chautauqua (where he first started doing concerts in the early ‘80s), the Flatirons—but lately he’s been drawn to a park up Lefthand Canyon, where Old Stage Road meets the canyon and the river. East of town near Boulder Reservoir, Kater also enjoys a hiking trail that goes toward the mountains. It feels remote and you can barely see houses, although it’s close to town.
“Boulder’s great for me for writing, and it always has been,” he says.
In Maui, he says he feels more inspired to improvise and create less-structured music.
“But it’s part of the energy here: Boulder’s structures, it’s solid, the earth, the landscape,” he says.
He first moved to Boulder in 1977 and has watched the city grow up.
“Boulder is the most familiar place that I know of,” he says.