DR. KAREN BLACK: FINDING HER PLACE AS WARTBURG MUSIC PROFESSOR

JIM MOSSMAN, TRUMPET GUEST WRITER

A love of music and passion for people drive Wartburg professor Dr. Karen Black. 

Black has been a professor of music at Wartburg College since 1993. She teaches organ and church music, music theory, and aural skills. She conducts Kantorei, a mixed chapel choir, and the Handbell Choir, while also being the organist for the Wartburg Chapel. 

From a young age, music interested Black. She is the youngest of six very musically involved girls, so  Black had a lot to look up to. 

“When I was little, I begged to take piano because I wanted to be just like them,” Black said.  

From age 5 she began practicing the piano, and as she got further into school, she joined the band and choir as well.  

Black grew up in a small town of about 700 people in southern Minnesota.  Around 15, she was introduced to one of her greatest passions, the pipe organ. At her small-town Lutheran church, the organist asked if she wanted to learn, since they knew she was so heavily involved in music. 

“I said, ‘sure’ and just really fell in love with it at about age 16 and went on from there,” Black said.  

In Minnesota, she said she knew that she wanted to be a music major. St. Olaf was the place where she realized that she could make a living as a church musician. After graduation, Black said she had the feeling that there was just so much more to learn She decided to get her master’s and doctoral degree.  

“I thought, I’ll just go back get my doctorate. I really like school, I love research, I love practicing, I love studying,” Black said. “I’m one of those people who would just go to school the rest of my life if they would pay me to do it.”  

It was right when she was finishing her doctorate that she found her place. Wartburg has been a very good place for Black, she said, she loves the subjects she can teach, the organizations she gets to lead, and most of all, the people. 

“People really are friendly, it’s what people say,” Black said, “and they’re friendly to faculty, too. 

It’s not just Black that feels this way about the students, the students also feel the same for her.

Dr. Karen Black sitting at the organ inside Neumann Auditorium. Photo submitted by Dr. Karen Black.

“Dr. Black is just so kind and compassionate and caring,” said Anjela Waterman, a third-year Wartburg student on the executive council of the Kantorei. “She tries so hard to get to know everybody in the choir.” 

Black helps bond the group with various activities throughout the year, even inviting the choir to her home. 

The choir is more more like a set of individuals that work as a group rather than just one entity, said Black. 

“I’m not going to go to choir and just be an alto or soprano or a bass or a tenor, I’m going to go Kantorei and be Anjela,” Waterman said. “She makes an effort to get to know you, not just as a singer in the choir, but as a person.” 

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