A Journey Through Madison's Classical Music Scene
Aug 28, 2014
07:44 AMClassically Speaking
Remembering Howard Karp In Ways Large and Small
On Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m., I expect to look around Mills Hall and be unable to find an empty seat. They will be filled with hundreds of people whose lives were touched by the remarkable pianism, teaching, and humanity of Howard Karp. The revered Professor Emeritus passed away on June 30 at the age of 84; I can’t help feeling that everyone around me will have been blessed by a greater personal connection to him than I had. I enjoyed but one personal encounter of any significant length with Howard, but since this blog space gives me the opportunity, I feel led to share it in the hopes that, however well they knew him, others might be touched by Howard Karp yet again.
By the time I moved to the Madison area in 2001 Howard, and his wife Francis, were finished teaching at UW-Madison, and for that matter, I had little connection with the UW School of Music for the first few years I lived here. In 2010 my freelance career as a critic resumed, and within a few months I had my first encounter with Howard and Francis—via CD. I had been given the four-disc set on the UW School of Music label that included performances from 1963-1996 of these wonderful pianists together. In January 2011, I learned on 24 hours notice of James Crow’s traditional birthday celebration. That venerated professor and violist was doing his annual ritual by recognizing 95 years on this earth by playing chamber music with friends of all ages. I was told that “all musical Madison” would be there—and that started with Howard and Francis Karp. I was eager to meet them, and told them how much I enjoyed the recordings; there was little more eloquence to it than that. The Karps of course smiled and chatted for a moment, graciously and warmly.
But my true encounter with Howard came eight months later, at the pre-concert dinner for the first of the Pro Arte Quartet Centennial season events. When it was time to be seated, I was delighted to discover that Howard was on my right. I could hardly wait to engage in a discussion of the subtleties of Mozart and the sweep of Rachmaninoff, et al.
I dearly wish I could recall how the conversation took such a sudden turn, but the next thing I knew, I learned something else really important about Howard: He was an incredibly passionate baseball fan. In short order he launched into a reminiscence of his very first game at Wrigley Field in the mid-1930s, when he was but five or six years old. “I even remember the starting pitcher,” Howard said, “Charlie Root.” “I know about Charlie Root!” I exclaimed. I went on to tell him how I had enjoyed an old-fashioned, roll-the-dice baseball game years ago, that was based on the actual statistics of great teams throughout the century—and it included the 1932 Chicago Cubs, whose ace pitcher was Charlie Root. Yes, they went to the World Series that year, but you don’t have to be a baseball historian to know that they didn’t win. Over the next thirty minutes we swapped stories about “my” New York Mets, and managing to attend a World Series and an All-Star game back in my southern California days, and Howard’s memories that seemed more vivid (so passionate was his delight in recalling them), that it was better than any Sportscenter highlight reel. It was frankly thrilling to learn that we had so much in common, and that we could communicate on such an even level—in this area, at least.
We never did get around to Bach, Beethoven and the boys, and I didn’t care. I am particularly grateful for the age we live in that I have those CDs, and if I want to learn what Howard thought about Schubert, et al, all I have to do is listen closely. Happily, Albany Records has just released a six-disc collection of Howard’s superb keyboard artistry as well.
But I do wish we could have talked one more time about baseball he saw before I was born. Much like when my father passed away in 2002, Howard’s passing makes me wish the Cubs had won it all again just once. But the other thing my dinner with Howard made me realize is that there was undoubtedly so much more about the man I didn’t know. For all his deserved respect as a musician and a teacher, Howard Karp’s life surely put out the biggest ripples for sharing much more than that with those around him. Rest in peace, sir.