Kathryn Wilson rolls her eyes at me as we sit in Platt Student Performing Arts House. “It’s the most convenient week ever to get sick,” she laughs. She’s being sarcastic, of course. A few days later the Glee Club had their spring show—needless to say, Kathryn had been pretty busy.
Kathryn joined Penn Glee Club at the beginning of last semester, her sophomore fall. “It was all kinds of serendipitous,” Kathryn says. During move–in, she ran into a friend from sign language class who’s the accompanist for the Glee singers. He knew Kathryn played bass, so he gave her a flyer for auditions. “I auditioned, and I got it, and here I am,” she says. It was simple.
There are three parts within Penn’s Glee Club: the singers, who are all male, band, and tech. There are some women in tech, but onstage, Kathryn is the sole woman. “I’m very pro–female–involvement,” Kathryn says. Sometimes she wishes that Glee were co–ed in all its sections. “Girls bring a lot to the table. I’m proud to be one of the only women.”
What’s more, she says, is that there aren’t a lot of female bassists. Kathryn has recognized that since she got started in her junior year of high school, when the jazz band needed a bassist. “Of all the music groups,” she says, “it was the coolest one you could be in.” She didn’t know how to play bass at the time, so she borrowed the school’s bass and taught herself.
“It wasn’t that daunting of a task, because there’s only four strings on a bass,” Kathryn says with a shrug. All it took was memorizing the string notes and a few YouTube videos. Kathryn isn’t bragging when she tells me this—it’s a statement of fact. Besides, she already knew how to read music.
That’s because Kathryn isn’t just a bassist. She runs through the other instruments she plays as though she’s reciting a grocery list. First, there were "ten–ish" years of classical piano training. Then, she adds, “I played the violin for a while. I dropped that though. I play the guitar, the banjo, the ukulele, the mandolin, the dobro, which is like a slide guitar, but acoustic.” She pauses, remembering. “I played percussion in band for a year. That was interesting. Pitch percussion, mostly. And, um, flute.”
In Glee, Kathryn sings, too. She’s the female harmony for “American Boy” and “Sunday Candy.” Last year, before Kathryn was in Glee, there was a woman in tech who sang, but she graduated. Having a woman in Glee means that the group can achieve a more diverse range of songs. For example, “Come on Eileen” is “kind of the Penn Glee Club band anthem,” Kathryn says. “That one, you could have it sung by a male but it goes better in a female’s vocal range, and it can get very hype.”
Kathryn doesn’t mind being the sole woman onstage in Glee. At first, she says, “I was a little put off by the fact that it’s a lot of boys.” But the guys are really nice and besides, Kathryn grew up with two brothers, so it’s nothing new.
Really for Kathryn, it’s all about the music. “For better or for worse we’re just a bunch of band nerds,” she says. “So even if there’s the gender separation, we all share the same love of music.”