Share Your Favorite Memory of Karen - Detroit Opera

Watch and read what former students Bernard Holcomb (recently performed with Detroit Opera in X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X) and Judith Ellis had to say on Karen VanderKloot DiChiera for her 80th birthday celebration last year by clicking the button below.

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Marty

I knew Karen through her daughter Lisa. But it wasn't until Lisa gave me a call about 13 years ago to find out if I could do some financial work for her mom, that I began to enter her world. Since I had retired from the accounting field, I told her I would be glad to help. That was the beginning of our work/friendship that began my first day at her home, to the day she passed away.

I worked on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I sat across from her at her huge dining room table. After I created a space for myself to work at ( the table was covered in "stuff" from end to end), during those twice a week visits our friendship grew. Karen was a source of musical knowledge and I found her a a delight. Her housekeeper Sallie and I worked the same days. Karen was very kind to me and I grew to understand her ways. I miss her. I wish she had lived longer to experience more life. She told me of her travels Up North and throughout Michigan. She invited me to see many operas. She made me aware of women in music, one of her loves.

Karen is a woman that cared for many... and asked for so little in return.

Mary

My fondest memory of Karen VanderKloot DiChiera is rummaging through old sheet music in an antique shop in Pellston, Michigan. Karen was working on a project for the opera company about Tin Pan Alley music. She told me about the great duo team of Richard A. Whiting and Raymond Egan, and others like Gus Kahn and Harry Von Tilzer. She introduced me to Detroit’s famous Remick Music Publisher. It was an adventure and I really got into it.
Overture to Opera was Karen’s vehicle for developing young artists and new audiences. It was her passion and she embraced it wholeheartedly. When she was touring Michigan with her cast presenting La Traviata, she had dinner with me and my friend, and her two sons. Truly a teacher, Karen told the boys what the opera was about, engaging them in the process by giving them things to do during the evening. They have never forgotten that time.
Karen had an unusual ability to connect with everyone, especially children. When I was teaching developmentally challenged individuals, we secured tickets for Donny Osmund in Joseph and the Technicolored Dreamcoat. These children were lucky if they had ever gone to a movie let alone a live fully-stage production with a large cast of singers and dancers. Theatre etiquette was unknown to many of them. The music was captivating, but these young people had never seen singers dancing and acting, only on TV.
So, Karen came to our school several days a week to teach the young them what to expect, how to conduct themselves in a crowd, when to be quiet and when to clap, and what the story was about. We had a diverse group of 183 students and staff, wheelchair bound, autistic, and emotional involved.
The show was at Masonic Temple. We got tickets for the back row of the main floor so not to bother anyone should one of our students become frightened. We were near the restrooms also. Our physically handicapped students had to be in a different section, each with a staff member to deal with mobility. I wasn’t interested in a repeat of the Yul Brynner episode.
Karen had prepared the students so well that we had autistic students singing the songs. They all were totally engrossed in the music and the visuals. One staff member thanked Karen because even she had never been to a live show. What a triumph – all due to Karen.
Karen’s impact is immeasurable because it is so far and wide. She influenced old, young, teachers, foreigners, singers, backstage technicians, singers, actors and dancers. For myself I took what she taught me that day in Pellston, Michigan, and developed it into a book recently published about Michigan’s J. Will Callahan, Tin Pan Alley’s Blind Lyricist. I will always relish my times with her and remember them vividly. The last time I saw her, despite her illness, and much to my amazement, she remembered me.

Gary

My fondest memories of Karen VanderKloot DiChiera all revolve around her creativity and big, big, VERY big heart. Even in these qualities she did not contain them to just being an Artist. She was very much a composer, a musician, a humanitarian, an educator, a writer, an organizer, a historian, a peacemaker, and more. I had the honor of working with her for many years. During my interview as her Assistant, she told me that the description says I’m expected to take calls for her and maybe organize her calendar, but then she added, “…after that it’s whatever we want to make it to be.” She had many qualities that mirrored my own parents, both educators: My mother, who had and instilled in me, a true love of music and opera; and my father who had the sole of an artist, played five instruments, and rarely (almost never) lost his temper and always had a forgiving heart. Karen was a perfect combination of them both. She used to say to me, I could be your Mom, but I would quickly correct her and tell her she was more like another big sister… that I would have chosen.

During my tenure in Community Programs, I was given the opportunity to help in the production and execution of children’s operas (some composed by Karen), music and theatre master classes and lectures, and our theatre-in-residence programs which toured schools from K-12 and some colleges and universities throughout SE Michigan and Ontario, Canada. I became the registrar and manager of, “Learning @ The Opera House,” an annual summer education program created by Karen which utilized the Detroit Opera House, during the company’s summer hiatus. She taught me grant writing and the ways of “the system” and I became the grant writer for our department, procuring a few successful funding grants. During the fall, we would work on educational programing to dovetail the mainstage opera season, creating educational viewing guides for K-12 students focusing on the time period in history, or the lives of the composers, or the back-story of an opera’s plot, and scheduling free matinee performances to invite local school children to experience their first opera or ballet. During the spring we would work on Karen’s cable-tv interview show, “Time Out for Opera”. She also created this, and I became the show’s Associate Producer. We would usually shoot about 20 episodes with guest opera stars not only from our mainstage productions, but local and historical luminaries from the worlds of arts, education, and politics. Karen always stated how important it was for us to record their oral histories for posterity.

Karen was very active as an organizer and champion for arts and education programs with seats on many committees and boards at institutions such as the Detroit Public Library, the Michigan Council for the Arts, the Center for Creative Studies, and Preservation Wayne, just to name a few. She personally, and consequently MOT, was very connected to other arts organizations such as the Detroit Science Center, Henry Ford Museum, and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. As her designated proxy, she allowed me to sit in for her on many of these projects and meetings, educating me on the mechanics of how these institutions operate, and sharing the breadth and scope of her work.

Karen’s life’s work has been a magna opus that has touched and educated the lives of countless thousands of children and young adults that is both impactful and immeasurable. She, and husband David, not only raised two magnificent daughters (also artists, organizers, historians, humanitarians and intellectuals in their own right), but the opportunities for generations of young people to become inspired, involved, to have artistic and cultural opportunities and to become, “…whatever we want to make it to be.”
Peace be with you, Karen…until we meet again.

John

We at the Verdi Opera Theatre of Michigan, were deeply honored and privileged by Karen VanderKloot DiChiera's serving as one of our distinguished judges for the Concert of the Finalists of our annual Italian Songs and Arias Vocal Competition for Michigan High School Students.
We witnessed her mastery in adjudicating from the very first year and for over twenty years thereafter. Her passion and tireless efforts in reviewing and encouraging each of the young finalists every year at the end of each concert was something to behold and truly inspirational.
An unforgettable great lady and a dear friend. Karen, we love you and miss you, but your memory will always be with us.

James

Karen was a force of nature but in the gentlest way. Unfailingly curious and considerate, supportive, and informed. A true renaissance woman with a great depth of knowledge and understanding on so many levels. I never met another with such an encyclopedic knowledge of the arts in Detroit.
She was never too busy to stop and connect with those she encountered and I look back on her sincerity and genuine enthusiasm as a great gift to so many. Even when her mobility was severely reduced and walking became difficult she remained upbeat, positive, and patient. In my mind she was the very definition of successful spreading love wherever she went!

William

In addition to her great love for music, arts and the cultures of all people and eras, Karen also had a great appreciation for historic preservation and Detroit’s history, which she humbly was a important contributor to through her own contributions and the legacy of her amazing family. Karen became an invaluable advisor and supporter to me while I was the director of Preservation Wayne, a group of young, devoted Detroit preservation activists. Karen taught me the basic non-profit management skills she had honed so remarkably: how to network; fundraise; organize; manage a board of directors; and communicate clearly and passionately about one’s cause. She was extremely generous, always accessible, kind and caring, and a devoted supporter and friend who could boost your spirits in a second with a funny story, words of encouragement, and a wonderful smile. She never seemed to stop thinking about how she could help others.
I am so grateful to the DiChiera and Vanderkloot family for sharing Karen with all of us in Detroit and beyond who are fortunate enough to know her and call her a friend.

Constance

Karen was a friend and colleague to my Mother and Father - George and Eleanor Bodurow. When Eleanor was among the founders of the Dearborn Community Arts Council in the 1970s, she reached out to Karen and the MOT to collaborate on arts and educational programming. Karen, displaying her characteristic enthusiasm, immediately said "yes" and was very generous with her time and expertise. George, an Opera aficionado who could sing the libretti to most Italian and German operas, soon realized David and Karen's excelling vision for the MOT and the Detroit Opera House, and offered financial and moral support. I recall attending so many wonderful performances as a teen and young adult. In the early 2000s when I retuned to Detroit, I was fortunate to reconnect with Lisa. I like to think that our "next generation" friendship is an extension of my parents respect and affection, and a living tribute to Karen.

Tom

Much has been written about Karen’s impact on children in regards to music education, particularly in opera. I was fortunate to meet Karen, Dr. D and Joan Hill soon after graduating from the University of Michigan. Karen was not only passionate about bringing opera to children but making sure that the young singers in Detroit had wonderful opportunities to sing. She opened her home to us, she fed us, she drove us all over the state to perform and work with school children.
She made us a part of her family. I watched their girls grow up and I’m happy to say Lisa and Christina keep their parents tradition of a beautiful musical family alive and well.
I am so sorry I will not be at Karen’s celebration of life, but I know she would be pleased as I will be teaching a high school summer Music Theatre camp that weekend.
Always grateful for my long and deep friendship with Karen, David and the girls.

Constance

Karen was a friend and colleague to my Mother and Father - George and Eleanor Bodurow. When Eleanor was among the founders of the Dearborn Community Arts Council in the 1970s, she reached out to Karen and the MOT to collaborate on arts and educational programming. Karen, displaying her characteristic enthusiasm, immediately said "yes" and was very generous with her time and expertise. George, an Opera aficionado who could sing the libretti to most Italian and German operas, soon realized David and Karen's excelling vision for the MOT and the Detroit Opera House, and offered financial and moral support. I recall attending so many wonderful performances as a teen and young adult. In the early 2000s when I retuned to Detroit, I was fortunate to reconnect with Lisa. I like to think that our "next generation" friendship is an extension of my parents respect and affection, and a living tribute to Karen.

Jenny

I had my first piano lesson with Karen in 1967 at the age of 9. She was the most loving, patient and enthusiastic teacher I had ever experienced. I remained Karen's pupil for approximately 8 years and enjoyed learning about the lives of composers and music theory. Karen will forever remain in my heart as a truly wonderful teacher and friend.

Rita

I was privileged to work with Karen and to have my child attend her summer programs. She was such an inspiration and I have so very many fond memories of her-- too many to list! She always had a warm smile and a kind word and a quick sense of humor. She is a beautiful soul.

George

A loving wife and mother, a stalwart champion of the arts - especially opera - and a genuine friend whose memory will remain evergreen!

Marsha

Since her passing, I have been so surprised and impressed to read about how accomplished she was, in music and in the community. A life well lived.

Shelly

For more than 40 years, I had the privilege of observing Karen’s amazing gifts to the State of Michigan.
Not only did she receive national recognition for bringing an opera experience to the children in the inner City of Detroit, but also to the Upper Peninsula, who would otherwise not have had such a stunning opportunity.
In the early days of our beloved Michigan Opera Theatre, Karen and I worked on many projects together in her home, whether planning a pub crawl, organizing a theme afterglow following the last night of every opera production —— serving food that was fitting for a specific opera, planning telethons to reach out to all our subscribers and patrons and so much more.
Thank you Karen for you - an extraordinary woman, who did everything with grace, proficiency and, of course, humor.
You will be forever remembered.

Mathew

One of my first memories of Karen would be Christmas Eve 1959 or 1960 at her parent's home in Bloomfield Hills. She was playing Bach's Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring on the piano. She played it beautifully, and I remember wishing I could play the piano like Karen. Karen was a beautiful woman, always upbeat, always kind to everyone. I loved spending time with Karen.

Gail

Over 50 years ago I met Karen when I was an undergraduate student at Oakland University. I have several good memories of Karen, but one memory in particular, which was special, was a trip to the Bentley Library at the University of Michigan with Karen in 2015. Karen had strongly encouraged me to give a presentation at a music conference at the Detroit Public Library along with her, which led to us doing research together. It was a beautiful day and included having lunch on the campus. Without her encouragement I would not have done a presentation at the DPL. It was truly a wonderful experience!

Jennifer

Wonderful. Beautiful. Inspiring.

Maury

I first met Karen when I was just out of school and a part-time trombone instructor at the old Detroit Community Music School. At a board meeting, I offered the challenge that I could teach somebody to play Twinkle Twinkle on the trombone in 10 minutes. Karen was on the board, as she often did, she volunteered. She did admirably, making me a hero in front of the board. It was the start of a long friendship, and le laughed about it many times over the subsequent 30+ years that I played in the MOT Orchestra.

 

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