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The Daily
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UW School of Music faculty and alumni remember the artistry and warmth of departed pianist Howard Karp
Karp's contributions to the local community were wide ranging.
Credit:Katrin Talbot

Monday was a very sad day for the music world and for Madison in particular. Pianist Howard Karp, professor emeritus of music at UW-Madison and patriarch of the city's beloved Karp family of musicians, died at age 84.

His recitals both here and abroad garnered adulatory words, but he was a gentle and humble man.

Karp began his teaching career at the UW-Madison School of Music in 1972 and was an integral part of Madison's music community for some 42 years. The annual Karp Family Labor Day Concert on the UW campus drew thousands of listeners throughout its 38-year history. These extraordinary concerts included Howard and his pianist wife, Frances Karp; their sons, UW professor Parry Karp (cello) and physician Christopher Karp (violin and piano); and daughter-in-law Katrin Talbot (viola), who is a member of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Sometimes his young granddaughters, Ariana, Isabel and Natasha Karp, joined in.

Karp's contributions to the local community were wide ranging, from performances with symphony orchestras to intimate programs in retirement centers. But his closest circle of influence was with his colleagues and his students at the School of Music.

Martha Fischer, professor of piano and collaborative piano at the UW, remembers him as a wonderful colleague and beloved teacher who "held himself to the highest standards of excellence in performance and teaching."

"His deep knowledge of music and its lore was legendary and extended well beyond that of the piano," she says. "He had recently become a devotee of the jazz singer/pianist Blossom Dearie."

Despite the high standards he set for himself, he had a sunny disposition.

"His deep seriousness about his art could be leavened with a certain light and playful quality that endeared him to many," Fischer says. "He will be sorely missed."

Because of the Karp family and Howard specifically, Fischer and pianist husband Bill Lutes, who studied with Karp, moved to Madison in 1987.

Christopher Taylor, professor of piano at the UW, filled the vacancy created when Karp retired in 2000.

"From the outset, Howard, like many others, made tremendous efforts to provide a welcoming and encouraging environment for me as a callow newcomer," Taylor says. "I remain forever grateful for the graciousness he showed and the inspiration he provided, and will always miss his many anecdotes, which reflected such a profound understanding and love for our instrument and for music generally.”

Todd Welbourne, professor of piano and keyboard area chair, remembers his colleague's exquisite piano tone.

"When I arrived at the UW in 1984, I was immediately struck by his devotion and selfless approach to life and music," he says. "And I am so grateful for the CD collection that has come out recently (Howard Karp - Concert Recordings 1962-2007, released by Albany Records) so I can revisit 'that sound' again and again. There is something in 'that sound' which defies description, a kind of liquid warmth that envelops every note."

During his illustrious 46-year teaching career at the University of Illinois, the University of Kentucky and UW-Madison, Karp taught numerous students. Some of those students now serve on the faculties of universities throughout North America and Asia.

Dan Lyons, principal keyboardist for the MSO, began doctoral studies with Karp in 1992."I was immediately struck by his overwhelming love of music," he says. "He shared so much of his life at each lesson... Listening to him perform was always extraordinary."

And a good teacher always gives students advice for the stage where skills are put to the test.

"I'll not ever forget his last instruction before any performance," Lyons says. "Enjoy!"

[Editor's note: This story is corrected to provide additional background on Howard Karp's family and arrival in Madison.]

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