In addition to her work as an arts educator, administrator, and stage director, Karen VanderKloot DiChiera is also an accomplished composer, a role that she seemed destined to fill from a very early age.
Karen often recounts her childhood interest in the arts and her time spent at her family’s piano, putting together simple melodies. These formative years at the keyboard, along with other experiences as a young dancer and musician, would set her on the path to her life’s work.
In an interview with singer and Bloomfield Television cable television host Jonathan Swift, Karen talks about her early years of composing, dancing and arts education:
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By age 14, Karen’s compositions were being performed publicly by local orchestras, and at age 18 she won the South Oakland Symphony Music Competition Award. Her work “Children Dances for Orchestra” was performed by the South Oakland Symphony in 1960 and again on June 16, 1962 at the Birmingham Arts Festival in Shain Park. She went on to study music and theater at Bennett College in Millbrook N.Y. and composition with Ross Lee Finney at the University of Michigan. She did further coursework at Wayne State University and studied composition with David DiChiera while he was a professor of music and composition at Oakland University. She graduated with honors from Oakland University.
Throughout her career, Karen has composed nine children’s operas, four musical revues, and numerous songs for children, many with her frequent collaborator, librettist Joan Hill. Her operas for young audiences each had an educational focus, from ecology (Crisis in the Wetlands) to literacy (The Great Grammar Review) to Michigan history (Vigilance; The Cadillacs and Their Great Lakes Adventure; Nanabush).
In 2018, Michigan Opera Theatre created a brand-new production of Karen’s opera Rumpelstiltskin, which she composed with David DiChiera. Rumpelstiltskin played to more than 15,000 children throughout the state, from schools across the metro area to those in communities as far as Three Rivers and Cheboygan.
In 1987, Karen told the Detroit Free Press, “I don’t remember NOT composing. Most children start out composing and then are stopped because they’re told they can’t do that.” She went on to say, “Would I like to be another Mozart? No, I’m not another Mozart; I am Karen DiChiera.”
In honor of Karen V. DiChiera’s Birthday, please consider making a generous donation to the MOT Education Programs. https://cart.michiganopera.org/donate/q/86
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