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Milwaukee's Traveling Organist

Off the Cuff with Karen Beaumont

Sep. 5, 2017
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Photo credit: Jean-Gabriel Fernandez

That Karen Beaumont applies the adjective “active” before all others in self-description on her website is surely no accident; she is an itinerant organ recitalist who also teaches organ and piano. Beaumont plays the French horn, piano and recorder; she has also both sung in and directed choirs. Her recital schedule takes her far and wide. In addition to performing regularly at St. John’s Lutheran Church and at St. Francis Church locally, she plays the organ publicly in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Denver, Boston and other U.S. cities, as well as in Canada and the United Kingdom. Off the Cuff chatted with Beaumont recently about her thriving career in music.

Where did you study organ playing?

I am mainly self-taught. I took some lessons with Gerre Hancock in New York and a few with John Behnke when he was at Concordia University.

Besides performing works by others, have you ever composed music?

I did a bit of bad experimenting as a teenager and did certain arrangements when I had a church choir. My transcriptions and settings of folk tunes are what I do these days. Nothing is written down—just sketches that I memorize and perform. I have a little something to say that way, but not too much.

Your performance schedule takes you rather far from home here in Milwaukee. What’s the most distant place at which you have performed a concert publically?

I have played in England 10 times, so that is the furthest.

As Baroque music dominates your performance schedule, are there composers and organ works from outside that era that you enjoy or have performed in public?

I play a fair amount of Felix Mendelssohn and a little César Franck and I love the Chorale Preludes of Johannes Brahms. I have [also] done some Philip Glass and Michael Nyman and Kamran Ince. My former student, Eric Meyer, wrote me a great piece for my 50th birthday. (She also mentioned performing organ transcriptions by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.)

Do you have a favorite composer for the organ?

One of the wonderful things about the organ is that I have 900 years of repertoire to choose from. These days, I am playing a lot of Baroque music, and I don’t have a favorite! They all have something to say; they all bring different challenges and moments of joy.

Finally, can you tell us about the program of your next concert?

It is entitled “Dance Music for the Organ,” [program consisting of] a fandango by Antonio Soler [and] music by Bernardo Storace, Bernardo Pasquini and Johann Speth. A collection of non-perishable food items will be collected to benefit the Riverwest Food Pantry.

Karen Beaumont’s “Dance Music for the Organ” recital takes place at St. Hedwig’s Church (1702 N. Humboldt Ave.) on Sunday, Sept. 17 at 2 p.m. Donations of non-perishable food will be accepted for the Riverwest Food Pantry.

Sunday, Sep 17
St. Hedwig


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