SIDNEY — Composer Dr. David Karp, of Dallas, Texas, and Bremen, Maine, was honored Saturday by local piano teacher Kathleen Jendrusik, owner of Ka-Jens Piano Studio in Sidney, and her students.
He was celebrated during the fourth annual Composer Appreciation Day organized by Jendrusik to recognize the people who create the music played by the children she teaches.
Sidney Mayor Mike Barhorst proclaimed Saturday as Dr. David Karp Appreciation Day here. The proclamation was made following a morning of master classes led by Karp and just before a concert by student musicians featuring his compositions.
“There are fewer students participating this year, because his music is challenging,” Jendrusik said.
Karp was born in Brooklyn, New York, and knew by the time he was 8 that he wanted to be a musician.
“I heard a kid playing the accordion and said, ‘I want to do that,’” he said. He came by his interest and talent naturally. His grandfather was a composer and actor in the Yiddish theater in New York City. His grandmother often took Karp to the theater, where he first heard an orchestra play.
“God, that’s exciting’” he thought.
He became proficient enough on the accordion to make it to the top 10 in a national accoridon competition.
“I didn’t win,” he said. “I decided then I was not going to compete. That’s when my father told me something. He was inspirational. He said, ‘You will always be the best you can be. You have to find your passion in another way, not just to win.’”
Karp graduated from an accordion to a piano when he was 13. His first teacher was Leon Portnoy. He also was influenced by teachers Michael Steinberg and Arthur Lloyd. Important musicians began to praise Karp.
“That’s when you start to think you may be somebody,” he said.
He eventually earned a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Music in piano performance and music education from the Manhattan School of Music. He began doctoral studies at Teachers College of Columbia University and finished his Doctor of Musical Arts in performance and pedagogy at the University of Colorado.
“Once I started teaching, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I love college life,” he said. Karp has been on the faculty of Southern Methodist University for 42 years. He co-chairs the piano division and teaches classes in performance, chamber music, improvisation, advanced class for piano majors, required piano classes for music majors and sight-reading classes for piano majors. He has performed, lectured and conducted workshops and seminars across the country and in Italy and Taiwan.
He and his wife of 54 years, Renee, have authored five piano books on Hebrew and Jewish music.
“Everybody’s background (influences what he does. From time to time) pieces (of that background) burst through,” Renee said. “The Hebrew books we did were that for David. It was his way to pay homage to his background. I hear it in his music.”
Not just a composer of exercise pieces, Karp also has written for the concert stage. “Homesick,” chamber music for flute, voice, cello and piano, is another one in which his background “bursts through.” It is based on a poem written by an anonymous child in a Holocaust concentration camp. It was premiered at the National Holocaust Symposium in Dallas and has been performed elsewhere throughout the country.
He’s working now with his son on a theatrical piece, titled “Shanghai 1938,” about Jews who emigrated from Germany to Shanghai during Hitler’s reign in Europe.
“It’s probably not for Broadway. More like an operetta,” Karp said.
One that has proved to be especially challenging is a composition he began just after Sept. 11.
“I started a service, ‘Ani Ma’amim.’ It means, ‘I Believe.’ I learned it from Chasidic children when I was working on the folk tune that was going to be the center,” he said. “I (put) a lot of dissonance (in it).”
He completed the composition, but he got hung up on the orchestration.
“I listened to Mahler symphonies. I want to stretch out the ending the way he stretches out an ending,” Karp said. He has never been able to orchestrate it.
“I’m not proud that I couldn’t bring myself to finish it,” he said. But, he acknowledges with a laugh that life isn’t over yet.
“The struggle is, he’s so skilled at things — what shode he focus on? What from the background should come to the foreground?” Renee noted.
Orchestrating “Ani “Ma’amim” and finishing “Shanghai 1938” are the two main things on Karp’s bucket list, he said. But teaching hours take away from composing hours.
“I spend more time with my students now than I did before. I feel that’s where my legacy will be,” he said. Most of his composing is accomplished at the Karp cabin in Maine.
“I sit on the deck, listen to the leaves, listen to the wind,” he said.
Listening to Jendrusik’s students play his music for two hours didn’t bore him even though he knows those pieces inside and out.
“It inspires me to hear the kids play and see how excited they are. Writing exciting music is what I like to do,” he said.
Performing Saturday were Grace Francis, Colton Smith, Johnny Chrisman, Amelie Phillips, Corinne Smith, Liz Michael, Luke Hamaker, Myla Cox, Martha Chrisman, Haley Cox, Jack Hamaker, Shannon O’Donnell, McKenna O’Donnell, Julia Dilbone, Maria Wiseman, Zachary Ahrens, Keagan Smith, Brooklyn Jackson, Liliana Phillips, Lola Chambers, Maria Wiseman, Loralei Chambers, Cassie Heath, Alice Chrisman, Ryan Nichols, Meredith Klein, Alayna Rindler and Taylor Bisbee.
During a concert interlude, the Karps and several students gave a presentation about Chanukah, the Jewish Festival of Lights. Karp commended Jendrusik for opening windows for her students to other cultures.