Peter Kater was never religious, but he had his share of divine experiences.
Mushrooms, LSD, fasting, meditation – the classically trained, two-time Grammy-winning pianist has intentionally explored the confines of human consciousness over the decades.
In the apocalyptic fate of 2020, isolated by midlife, Kater found herself turning to something transcendent once again.
“I’ve known rapture for the past 18 months,” he says from across the couch from his home in North Boulder, each of us sucking on cups of jasmine green tea. “I’ve been through the experience of being out of the world, even though I’ve never really been part of the world, because I’ve always been a stranger… always, you know, exploring. whatever. I feel like the change that has taken place over the past 18 months, to me, was like preparing for a rapture or spiritual rapture. Just like, OK, we are no longer a part of this world – we are ascending. “
Kater dropped a dead weight in his life: relationships that no longer served him, actions that no longer made sense. And as always, music flowed through him, building the euphoric collection of songs that make up his latest album, aptly titled. Rapture.
Half-jazz, half-ambiance, half-pop, of the Rapture the instrumentals capture the feeling of transition to a new phase of life: there is sadness, a little fear, but above all love, joy and acceptance.
“I didn’t ask,” Kater says of her own transition. “I didn’t try to create it. It just started to happen… something just changed and all of a sudden things looked different and I was drawn to different things. It was actually so extreme that I talked to a therapist for a while.
This way, Kater is dogmatic: an evangelist for introspection, a crusader for vulnerability. This is evident in his collection of over 60 albums of romantic and contemplative piano works, which have earned him 14 Grammy nominations over the past 20 years. It wasn’t until 2018 – her 13th nomination – that Kater won her first Grammy for Best New Age Album.
Kater has no shortage of inspiration from her own life. Born in Germany and moved to New Jersey at the age of 4, Kater jumped between countries throughout his teenage years, studying in the United States, spending the summer with his grandparents in the Rhineland. There was intergenerational trauma, the effects of two world wars rippling through Kater’s own parents, whose whirlwind young romance resulted in pregnancy and forced marriage.
It was Kater’s mother – who turned down the opportunity to learn piano as a child because his own parents considered him unsavory and frivolous – who urged her son to take the keys.
“I decided I wanted to play a woodwind instrument,” Kater said, “and she said, ‘No, it’s going to be piano.’”
Just 7 at the time, Kater leaned into rebellion, scaring three teachers in her freshman year.
“And [my mom] I just went out and found myself a new teacher every time, ”he says. “She didn’t mind – she was determined. “
Eventually, young Peter, who clicked with the instrument as a teenager and never considered another career beyond music.
But his grandfather was as unfavorable to his grandson’s musical aspirations as he was to his daughter’s.
“My grandfather was the most critical of me,” says Kater. “You know, ‘Get a real job, don’t do that kind of music. He used to tell me, “You dream of Hawaii,” which is a German expression that means you’re having lunch, basically. So of course I ended up living in Hawaii for a bit just to prove him right.
But long before Hawaii, when Kater was just 17, her mother had developed liver cancer. Nine months later, a day after Kater’s 18th birthday, she passed away.
“It set me free, however,” Kater says. “I didn’t have any siblings, my grandparents were in Germany, my stepfather was violent.”
So he traveled, hitchhiking across the country for a year and a half before landing in Boulder in the late 1970s. Here, tucked away in the foothills, Kater ran into “older hippies.” “and explored her mind through psychedelics.
“Never party,” he says. “Always out of curiosity, to isolate yourself, give up and meditate for a few hours.”
He served tables and played the piano during brunch and dinner at cafes and clubs between Boulder and Denver. Deeply inspired by pianist Keith Jarret’s improvised fusion of jazz and classical, Kater felt thwarted by requests from clients looking for pop standards like “Piano Man” and essentially anything related to Elton John’s work.
“So I was playing at the Boulderado hotel, five nights a week during happy hour or whatever,” Kater says. “And one night this guy walks up to the piano and I’m like, ‘Oh, no, here’s another disappointed customer, no, I’m not going to play’ Hotel California ‘,” he laughs. “But he comes up and he puts $ 20 on the piano and says, ‘Play me a thunderstorm. “”
Stunned but impatient, Kater conjured a dark and tumultuous melody.
“He comes back, throws another $ 20 and says, ‘Play me a picnic in the desert. “”
Affirmation was all Kater needed.
“It was like the universe gave me permission to explore music however I wanted.”
In the years that followed, Kater continued to follow this path, capturing the intangible in her fluid compositions. This has earned him a dedicated following of fans looking to explore their own inner world. And Kater has become something of a guide, albeit by accident.
During a home concert a few years ago, Kater noticed part of the audience moving closer to the piano until an uninhibited soul was found below. Soon others crawled and lay down to bathe in the sound. Kater continued to play.
Today, Kater invites his listeners to open up to him for 20-30 minutes before crawling under his piano to experience an improvisation written just for them – piano readings, he calls them. He records the song and presents it to them as a sort of mini soundtrack of their life.
When I crawl under the piano at Kater’s, the melody that surrounds me speaks of the heartache of having lost my last living grandparent a few weeks ago, and the endless gratitude I have for the close bond I have with my family. I can hear the melancholy that has seemed to follow me for most of my life, but hope is the refrain, sadness is only a bridge. I smile through the tears.
Kater lost her grandfather about 15 years ago. Criticism around his music career has never ceased, Kater says, but his grandfather’s death was the most difficult loss he has ever known.
“My mother passed away, my aunt passed away, my grandmother passed away and I handled it all. But when my grandfather, aged 92, passed away, I lost him. I could cry now. I think about him almost every day. I think, ‘I wonder what he would think of that.’ When he died, I finally understood that he loved me, but he just didn’t know how to express it.
Maybe that’s why Kater speaks so easily and encourages others to do so.
“I don’t believe in writer’s block,” he says. “For me, [music] just happens. And when that happens, it’s very clear. I don’t know, but I think it’s all the other things I do around exploring myself and still trying to refine myself in some way, trying to be clear. More authenticity.