Dr. Karen Kennedy…eternal beacon of light

Dr. Karen Kennedy…eternal beacon of light

By UM News

Dr. Karen Kennedy…eternal beacon of light

By UM News
Today we light a candle for our colleague and treasured friend, Dr. Karen Kennedy.

“Karen was diagnosed with Stage IV gastric cancer in June of 2017, something that she battled valiantly and fabulously (as only she could) for over three years. She passed peacefully in her sleep, at home surrounded by family and her favorite Hawaiian flowers on Sunday, August 30, 2020,” as told by her husband Dr. Corin Overland, Associate Professor of Professional Practice Frost School of Music.
 
Karen was a beacon of excellence and artistry. Her students couldn’t help but love her. This remembrance, however, is not solely about her title or achievements, for those can’t ever fully capture her spirit and essence. We shine a spotlight on Karen because she was a beacon of joy and inspiration for all who came into her presence. Karen’s national and international conducting activities, in a single year, would have filled a successful career for most. 

 
Despite praise from the San Francisco Classical Voice describing her “wizardry with voices,” Karen felt equally comfortable on the podium with instrumentalists. Karen had the good fortune of conducting masterworks performed by the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra. These performances were always as full of passion and precision as their leader, including a rendition of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana in 2004, the Honolulu Advertiser described as “powerful,” and “deliciously musical” and Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem in 2008 described as “exquisite” and “softly subdued.”
 
It is unusual for chorusmasters to find footing in the symphonic world, yet Karen took to the drama and passion of large masterworks with ease. Her skill eliciting both grand gestures and subtle nuances from large forces allowed her to conduct in some of the world’s most notable venues including Carnegie Hall (2015, 2016), Lincoln Center (2014), and Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center (2016).
 
Never far from her primary role as educator, Karen maintained a rigorous, almost frenetic pace of All-State and clinician appearances around the globe, even while undergoing treatment. Working with young and amateur musicians was where she shone brightest, drawing on her early years as a hopeful in stand-up comedy to lead rehearsals using a standard setlist of tried-and-true jokes, activities, and games. It was during these rehearsals that some of her most famous catchphrases would be heard for the first time by those working with her, such as “have a stand,” “why do you make me beg?” and “so close to greatness.”
 
"I’ve been in music for a lifetime, but rarely have I ever experienced the radiant joy she and her singers created in rehearsals, which were only eclipsed by the luminous experience of her concerts,” said Steven Moore, Professor in Practice, Associate Dean, Undergraduate Studies at the Frost School.
 
Dr. Raina Murnak, Assistant Professor/Director of Contemporary Voice & Performance Artistry stated:  “She was not only my best friend but also my mentor in every sense of the word. Karen made everything an event; something to look forward to and talk about afterward. She savored life, relationships, simple outings. She did everything with glamour, drama, and flair but never with a diva-way or unkindness. She was always so genuinely interesting, interested, and charming; people drew to her like moths to a flame. She celebrated her life by living as she did- squeezing every bit of living out of it. Her true beauty beamed even stronger as everything was being stripped away."   
 
Many came to value her professional wisdom and personal friendship. She had uncanny insights into others and empathy with people in all stations of life. In conversation with Karen, one felt they were the most important person in the world and her best friend, joining dozens, perhaps hundreds of others who felt the same way. While ever the gracious professional, she could also be hilarious.
 
Karen chose to relish life and people with joy and integrity, even in the face of unthinkable adversity. Many have penned beautiful, touching eulogies. She is often described as a "bright light," a star, and not in the sense of a celebrity—although she was certain that in her profession—but rather the kind that radiates energy to all. And as Elton John sang, “Now you belong in heaven, and the stars spell out your name."
 
While no words will suffice, her friends and colleagues have described her as “delicious . . . too bright a light for this earth” (Patricia San Pedro-Executive Director of Marketing at Frost School), "truth and love with empathy and compassion” (Kate Reid-Director of Jazz Vocal Performance/Associate Professor of Jazz Voice), “passionate and a wonderful gift to mankind” (Gary Packwood-Director of Choral Activities at Mississippi State University)."
 
Her students, like our entire community, are heartbroken. But thankful because she changed their lives. To her students, she was a driving motivation for excellence, yet "her guidance, kindness, and unconditional support was a shining light for me and so many others” (Stephen Pitters-student)."She was “fierce, approachable, and hilarious” (Gabrielle Cartaya-student).
 
“Karen fought a courageous 3-year battle with cancer, and somehow was the one who lifted us up, when we worried the most. I know that if I could ever be a little more like Karen Kennedy, I’d be a better person.” Shelton G. Berg, Dean of the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami.
 
And through her students, friends, and family, Karen’s spirit will shine forever. May you ever grow in our hearts, remembered and cherished, like a candle in the wind.