Manor Moments

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Resident Profile: Meet Karen Wagner

September 2022

Karen Wagner is so interesting and accomplished that to adequately do justice to her fascinating life would probably involve writing a book! That being said, we shall make an attempt, while stipulating that space limitations may necessitate a few omissions.

Karen and her two cats, Shamas Puma and Phoebe Lynx, moved into their cozy home on Gatehouse Lane from Hastings-on-Hudson, NY, in January 2019. The daughter of a college professor and a school nurse, Karen grew up in Collegeville, PA, with a bevy of animal companions, including a pony, various cats and dogs, a rabbit, and a talking crow. As a child, her appreciation for travel began early, as her family took numerous cross-country road trips, eventually passing through all forty-eight contiguous states. (Alaska and Hawaii were added in adulthood.) Summers were spent at riding camp, where she developed a life-long love of horses and even wrote horse stories.

Karen’s interest in music was also evident at an early age. In high school she was drawn to the guitar, and in the Joan Baez folk tradition, she taught herself to play. After high school she earned a B.A. degree in music at Hood College; then moved to New York City, obtaining a M.M. degree in voice from the Manhattan School of Music. Karen enjoyed numerous musical experiences and positions as a pastoral musician, chorister, and soloist with guitar at several New York churches, performing at the Papal Mass at Yankee Stadium during John Paul II’s first U.S. visit. She was also a member of a folk-rock trio which performed at People’s Music Network sessions, Yale radio station, and at area resorts and churches.

Although her degrees were in music, Karen discovered a talent for college administrative work as well. This led to numerous positions at the Manhattan School of Music and the Juilliard School. These included, among others: Director of Financial Aid and Placement, Registrar, Associate Dean, and V.P. and Dean of Academic Affairs. Karen also served as Fulbright Program Advisor, Consultant to the Royal Academy of Music in London, and Juilliard Coordinator for Lincoln Center’s Mozart Bicentennial. The latter provided what she describes as “an exhilarating period of interaction with faculty, visiting scholars, students, and colleagues at Lincoln Center.” Her favorite moniker, however, came near the end of her tenure, when Juilliard’s Provost dubbed her the “Course Whisperer.”

Karen had always enjoyed writing (remember those horse stories from her youth?). So, two decades after her M.M. Degree in voice, she earned a M.A. degree in English Education from New York University, with summer studies at Trinity College, Oxford. She continued working at Juilliard, joining the graduate faculty, where she taught a writing workshop. Karen later served as administrative liaison for the Juilliard Jazz Quintet on their first voyage performing aboard the Queen Mary 2. In 2013, shortly before retirement, she was awarded the President’s Medal for Service to the Arts. This award was established to honor individuals who have made significant contributions to the arts and served as role models for the profession and for Juilliard.

Throughout her life Karen has enjoyed exploring other countries and cultures through travel. In recent years she has journeyed to the Galapagos Islands, Madagascar, Kenya/Tanzania, and Patagonia Chile. When she was younger, an arts tour with Hood College Choir took her to Europe and Norway, and later she went to Ireland. In 1993, she traveled to the Isle of Skye, Scotland, to honor a friend’s untimely passing, writing five poems in commemoration. These poems of loss and healing, Sea Skye Songs, were later set to music by Eric Ewazen for tenor and chamber ensemble and premiered at Lincoln Center in 1994.

Now, as a new chapter begins, Karen is free to pursue her passion for horses and travel, and to participate in the many volunteer opportunities and activities here at Cornwall Manor. A quotation from Karen seems an appropriate way to end this remarkable narrative: “Life has been understood and inspired through words, in story and poetry; music, in folk ballads and art song; and nature, with its magnificent creatures and wild places.”