Today we are excited to hear how God has been using Kara and her gifts.
When and how did you get interested in playing the piano? Did you always want to be a musician?
I started playing piano at a very young age—my older sister had started shortly before me, and I think I went into it with the mindset of wanting to be like big sister. Before long, however, I began to love it for it for its own sake. My parents tell me that even as a toddler I showed a strong leaning towards music; however, for many years I had other interests as well (art, writing) and I didn’t seriously “going anywhere” with music until I was about 14. That was the year I started taking lessons from a wonderful teacher who pushed me farther than any other teacher had before and inspired me with the power of music and all that it can express. At that point I knew that it was what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing.
What first drew you to MasterWorks? How has MasterWorks influenced your life and your art?
I first heard about MasterWorks from a Canadian cellist friend of mine. I was in a difficult period in both life and music, and she, being farther down the road in her musical journey, was mentoring me with regards to integrating my walk with the Lord with my music. She mentioned to me one day that she was planning on going to a certain Christian music festival—I asked her for more details about it, and well, the rest is history.
MasterWorks has without a doubt been the single biggest influence on my life as a musician. As a young teen wanting to pursues a career as a performing artist, I struggled a lot with how to integrate my faith and my art—I felt like the more “Christian” thing to do would be to become a missionary or something, not a performing pianist. MasterWorks came into my life at the perfect moment to show me that I could be both—that the world needs people who are both. At MasterWorks I saw for the first time I saw what Christ looks like in the performing arts. I learned how we can be his hands and feet as musicians, dancers, and actors, and serve the arts world for the kingdom. I learned how I could reflect my love for him (and more importantly his love for me) through my love for piano. I learned so many principles to lead a life of peace in a field of study full of self-doubt and anxiety. And not only did I learn these things in theory, I saw living examples of them in many of the teachers and students who surrounded me. The impact of this is something I will never forget—I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that MasterWorks is one of the main reasons I am a musician today, and I thank God for the festival and all the people involved in it.
You recently graduated from college this past spring. What were some of the highlights from your time there? What advice can you offer to those currently in college?
Oh, this is a difficult question. I’ve only been graduated for six months and already I’m having nostalgia for the “college days”—every memory seems like a highlight. But I think I can define three main areas of impact for me, and within those areas also include some advice.
You are currently living in Guatemala. When was your first trip to Guatemala? What are you doing there now?
I first went to Guatemala as part of a week-long mission trip with my church in 2010. I fell in love with the country and people and knew that I wanted to go back. The next two trips I took there with my church (in 2012 and 2013) increased that love and planted in me the desire to do further work there long-term. I felt that God had given me the vision to combine my calling in the performing arts with my love of the Latin American culture, especially Guatemala, and waited (and am still waiting) eagerly to see exactly what that entails. In 2014 and 2015 I received the opportunity to intern with Fundación La Misión in Guatemala and teach music at the elementary school that they run, and saw it as a step forward in the plan God has for me there. That is what I am doing now. I have been here for five months this year (in addition to a couple of trips to Honduras to perform with some friends) and will be going home in the beginning of November. It has been a huge growing experience and I am grateful for it. Even though I don’t think I will continue working here or pursue working in the elementary school context, I have learned so much that will benefit me for where God is leading me in the future—and perhaps most importantly, I have learned how much I still have to learn. Which is why I’ve decided to continue my studies while I await what else God has for me in Latin America—the adventure only continues from here.
When did you first start becoming interested in Spanish and Latin American culture? How did you learn to speak Spanish?
I can’t really say when I first became interested in Latin American culture, but I have distinct memories from when I was about 10 years old of playing with my little dolls and pretending they were princesses from Spain or Mexico (as they were the only two Spanish-speaking countries I knew of at the time, and I didn’t think there was much difference between them). I always wished I had dark skin and black hair and eyes (features I thought were common to all Spanish-speaking people), and I enjoyed reading (and inventing) stories that took place in Hispanic cultures. I started learning Spanish with a computer program when I was about twelve, and continued for the next six years with a mixture of books, computer programs, listening CDs, internet classes, and lots of practice with my very patient Spanish-speaking friends. Visiting Guatemala so many times has helped a lot as well: I would say that it was in great part through those trips (along with practicing so much with my friends), that I really achieved fluency—though of course there will always be more to learn.
You have done some research on Spanish piano music. Can you tell us more about that interest, and what inspires you about Spanish music?
Again, I don’t really remember when I first realized my interest in Spanish music, but I do remember that from very early on, Spanish pieces were always ones that I loved and played well. The piano teacher I mentioned who inspired me to become a musician had studied in Spain and had a lot of insight on Spanish music, and that no doubt helped. Every year in college I ended up playing at least one Spanish piece (at first by accident, later by design), and I ended up basing almost every music history research project on a Spanish composer. I suppose this all culminated with my senior thesis project for the honors college at my university, for which I did extensive research on 20th century Spanish piano music and played a recital with the works I had researched and analyzed.
Though I don’t know exactly what it is about Spanish music that so captures my attention (I think that mystery is part of the interest for me), I can say that one thing that always fascinated me about it is the passion that it projects. Whether that is displayed through the rich, late-romantic harmonies of Granados, the sparse, intense neoclassicism of Falla, the dazzling, exotic evocations of Albeniz, or anything in between, the intensity and sincerity is always there; there is no emotion that is concealed or glossed over. (Not to mention that it comes with the eastern, exotic flavor and irresistible rhythms that so many find appealing.) Another thing that intrigues me about it—and this was actually the topic of my thesis—is the mixture between the secular (dance rhythms, folksong, etc) with the sacred (polyphonic textures, modal harmonies, etc). Without going into too much detail here, this synthesis is a recurring trait in Spanish music and it says something very profound and powerful to me, something that I can hear reflected in the music and see reflected in the culture as a whole.
What has God been teaching you at this point in your life?
The past year and a half or so has been one of the most difficult I’ve had. However, I know that once I am completely on the other side of it I will see its results as one of the most fruitful periods of growth in my life. I have seen and felt the paralyzing and destructive power of fear, and am learning that the only way to combat it is to say NO and choose to trust God—even if that trust only takes the form of “Lord, I believe—help me in my unbelief!” I know now that “do not be anxious about anything” really is a command, and was given for a reason. I am learning the power of the mind and the importance of taking every thought captive unto Christ. I am realizing the peace of living in the present. I’m beginning to grasp the fact that God’s love in Christ is wide enough for everyone—no exceptions. I can understand that people are works in progress, even me. I’m learning that it’s ok to make mistakes, that they are one of the best ways to learn—and that my weakness is an opportunity for Christ to be strong through me. And I remain hopeful that these truths will only continue deepening in my heart.
Thank you for sharing your heart, Kara.