Today it’s time to get to know the American artist and composer Karen Biehl a bit better!
Where are you from? And where do you live?
I’m originally from Dallas, Texas but have lived in New York City (on Broadway in fact) for the last 30 years.
How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
I’ve been playing the piano for 46 years. I also was an opera singer and play the violin as well.
Tell us about how you started playing music.
In addition to being a brilliant Chemistry professor, my father was also an accomplished pianist. He was always playing the piano filling the house with the sounds of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Schubert, etc. When I was 8, I started taking piano lessons. At that same time, I started playing the violin in our school orchestra and continued playing in orchestras throughout college. At age 17, I began singing and my musical focus shifted to pursuing opera performance for the next 17 years.
How long have you been making piano music?
I started composing in 1999 but my first compositions were actually written for voice, piano and other instruments. I later set many of these compositions to solo piano, because I find it easier to record just one instrument, in particular piano.
Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
It happened suddenly in 1999 after a trip to Australia. When I got home, I sat at my piano and just started playing all kinds of pieces. I ended up purchasing a synthesizer so I could simulate other instruments and make recordings of what was in my head. These early recordings were for my ears only (and a few others).
What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
Chopin, Debussy, Schubert and Brahms, to name a few. There are too many current neoclassical composers for me to mention just a few.
Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano?
The only thing I play currently is my own music as I am composing and recording it. There was a time though when I would play Debussy’s First Arabesque over and over.
What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
When I studied opera, I found it to be more about what you couldn’t do rather than what you could. It was so focused on criticism and generally not a very nourishing environment, at least not for me. Making music should instead be about creating something that is inspiring and not discouraging to others. In my vocal compositions, over the high notes I have at times written “if this not is not a power note for you, feel free to replace with one that shows off your voice at its best.” Some of my piano pieces have been performed by students at my fiance’s school. I have always wanted them to feel free to make the piece easier for them to play and not worry about playing every single note. I don’t want music to be a source of stress and anxiety, but rather a healing experience.
How do you record your music?
I record all my music myself in my studio apartment in Manhattan, using Pro Tools and a Neumann mic.
What’s your take on sampled instruments?
Some of them are actually pretty good and they can be a great way to compose music easily and quickly on your own. I’m not crazy about the sound of many string samples though, so I recently recorded myself on violin for one of my pieces. It was a lot of work and may not have been perfect, but it was real.
Anything else you want to share?
Yes. Never let anything stop you from going for your dreams. The great thing about composing is that since you are the creator nobody else can tell you it is wrong. Don’t listen to the naysayers and just keep doing what you love.
The last question is asked by my 5 year old son:
Where do all your songs come from?
I feel like my songs already exist in another reality and I’m just a translator. It’s like I have a radio antenna that tunes into melodies that already exist. In fact, there have been times I have been convinced my piece had already been composed by somebody else and I had to have others listen to it to confirm that it had not yet been written.
Thank you for this Karen!