Peter Kater and R. Carlos Nakai: Let It Be Wild

By: Kathy Godfrey


The artist called Peter Kater sits at the piano with his eyes closed as if to contain all that he has heard, to prevent the least bit of leakage, until his fingers dance the re-creation across the keys. For hours, weeks, years, he has been listening to the music of his world, feeling it collect into a piece. There are birds, of course, coastal and plain and mountain, a world-wide choir stretching into every village and metropolis. And wind that whistles or moans or roars, sometimes a train, sometimes a grieving woman’s wails, always a mystery that is born nowhere and dies nowhere. Water, oh yes and water, lends it voice in pounding surf, roofline rivulet, umbrella plop, sucking through sand, flying between river rocks, crashing into pools, whispering spray, muted sub-marine business of life, the breath of a dolphin, and belly flop of the whale.


The artist called R.Carlos Nakai hears the watersong in Kater, feels the flow of its voice, and responds with his breath and with his fingers.  The flute of thousands of years of shadow, celebration, and ritual answers the piano call with Nakai’s own teeming pool of sound. Chirps and whirs, whines and drones, squeaks and roars. Pounding feet and flapping wings, crackling fire and smacking hands. Voices natural and mechanical, human and celestial speak on infinite frequencies in this moment and all others. Nakai hears, breathes them in until they whir through him like the pulse of his own life, then breathes them out again in music ancient as days but not heard before this moment.


If their Song is made of raw sounds two artists hear, it is most certainly called to life by two creators willing to feel all that is heard, for no sound is without effect on the heart courageous enough to open.


Four years on Maui lavished Kater with every voice with which water sings, and opened him in ways unforeseen and transformative.  He sat like a sleepy-eyed child at the feet of Sunrise, knelt like a suppliant in the court of Sunset; he lay under a sky on an island with water thousands of miles all around until he not only heard but joined the Voice with which it sang. He felt the exhilarating scud of wind-driven clouds, their perfection in each moment. He knew in his body the swing of the earth around the sun, and the urgency and peace of inclusion. For four years he was nurtured there in beauty unrivaled, and then it was time. Changed and grateful, if a little sad, Kater returned to the mainland and to his piano. Hours a day the sound and feeling move his fingers to music, too much to hold alone. There are concerts in his living room.


Few men remain from Nakai’s high school class. They went to Vietnam and didn’t come home. He feels their lives that might have been, their voices that might have sung. He feels too the families of his mother, his grandmother and on back to the family that carried sound and heart from islands in the Pacific to the land now called Alaska. Nakai feels the lostness of a whole new generation who have no music from their ancient family, no sacred message of their people. They cannot feel the importance of their individual lives nor hear their own voice in the cacophony of human history. Nakai feels the urgency of his elder status among these lost to remind them why they’re here. We come to use all of our capabilities, to recognize and influence each other, and to have a good time. We come to hear and respond, to collaborate and feel. It is time to create something new.


The collaboration of Kater and Nakai began years ago in a Westminster, Colorado studio where they just played, and in a few hours Natives, their first CD was complete.


They both know how difficult, how unusual it is to find another musician who creates with the abilities of classical training and steady faith in uncertain space. Formal education builds a beautiful gilded cage around a mysterious gift. Here, it says, these are the ways to employ your love of music. You must learn this method and that theory. You must hold your hands this way and memorize that great artist’s compositions. If you dare to create something new, it must include these things and be in this form in order to be received by people who can judge greatness.


What if it is possible to turn the cage inside out, to use it merely as a ribcage to cradle the musical heart that came into the world with the musician? What if it’s possible then to trust that heart to re-create the songs that gave it life, in its own perfect pitch, in its own perfect way? The artist who asks these questions becomes one who can bring all of his own experiences and gifts to his instrument with no plan, no pages, no real doubt. Kater and Nakai found such artists in themselves and one another. Each knows that he is the music and that he can sit alone or before an audience or in a studio and listen. There will be music. It will be perfect. Both know that grasping for control, imposing old rules is akin to pouring new wine into old wineskins. All is lost.


Life rushes into space filled only with faith. When Kater sits before an expectant audience, he sits listening, willing to feel what they feel, just as he sits under an open sky. For it is all the same and he knows where there is Life: in this moment and no other. Nakai stands before people who bring to him their memories and lostness, grief and joy. He welcomes it all with solid knowing that coming together is creating music like none that has been heard. He feels his deep earth roots and the wings of all who came before and includes all in his beauty-full response. There is laughter and peace in the space created by two artists who trust their wild hearts to play.


What can happen when two such beings share a moment with hundreds of others who find the courage to feel with them, even for the briefest second? Anything.  Everything. What can be impossible when Life has its way? What we call “miracle” is just a moment that has slipped from its ruled cage into the wild present, a space of infinite possibility.


Peter Kater and R. Carlos Nakai will be in Asheville on July 13 for one concert at UNCA’s  Kimmel Arena.


For more info:

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker