IN MEMORY Karen Deschere (1956 – 2019)
Karen Deschere came to the Wharton Institute for the Performing Arts as Executive Director in January of 2014. Karen arrived with a passion for arts education matched only by her wealth of experience in the field. She served for 8 years as president and chief executive officer of the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. Prior to Wisconsin Conservatory, Karen served as executive director for both the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and the Chicago Symphony Chorus, adjuncts of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Karen also served as the Managing Director of Education for the Grammy Foundation.
Karen brought not only her passion and experience to Wharton, she also brought her gentle and gracious way with people. Her demeanor prompted one staff person to write her this note of thanks. “Your calming and compassionate presence, your unquestionable expertise, your compelling vision, your thoughtful approach to management: all of these and more have made your tenure at NJYS one of the best and happiest times in my fifteen years here.”
During Karen’s leadership at Wharton, the organization has grown to serve over 1500 students, from preschoolers to seniors each year. Her initiatives include: expanding the Paterson Music Project to 4 schools; beginning the CAFÉ (Creative Aging for Everyone) outreach program for seniors; adding a Jazz Orchestra and Big Band to the New Jersey Youth Symphony; enhancing our Musical Theater Company and Instrumental Ensemble.
Karen’s work at Wharton has prompted the Board of Trustees to create the Karen Deschere Fund for Excellence. The Fund honors Karen’s life’s work championing musical excellence for the thousands of students she’s served throughout her distinguished career.
The Fund will be used to support merit-based scholarships to our programs, special musical tutoring, purchase and care of musical instruments and ongoing education for teaching artists. If you’d like to donate to the Karen Deschere Fund for Excellence, click here.
Karen often said that music can, and does, “change the world.”
Wharton Arts has received many kind words of tribute to Karen Deschere and invites you to read them here:
· Thanks for giving Karen such a wonderful organization with whom to work. We all will miss her.
· A few days ago, our Batterman Ensemble received news that they are a finalist in the Mingus Competition. An extra special aspect is that my son, who is 17 now, is the alto saxophonist in the group. I’m working on plans to bring them to NYC in February for the competition. This brought back so many memories of our time together.
· Because of you, students have had opportunities that have affected their lives forever. Remember Hannah Johnson (drummer in the Batterman group)? She just graduated from Indiana University’s jazz program – boy she can play- and she’s now on the faculty at WCM.
· I cannot thank you enough for the impact you had on me in those short couple of months. I know you have done the same for SO MANY PEOPLE and we are now out in the world spreading that spirit that you instilled in us. I think of you often and it always brings a smile to my face – and I will continue to do so for the rest of my life.
· I had the good fortune of hiring Karen to be the manager for the CSO Chorus in 1997 when I was artistic administrator for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. She was coming to us after directing the education program for the Grammys Foundation. Both Karen and I were singers so we had an instant connection and particular affinity for the chorus. It takes a leader who is fair, compassionate, tough, charming, organized and resilient to be successful in such a position and Karen was all of these and more. We could always count on her to make things better, and in doing so she made my job easier.
· I wanted to send you a note of THANKS for the years you led the Conservatory, giving of yourself to us individually and as a music community. You led by example — spending countless hours attending concerts, planning/organizing, talking up WCM in the community – always promoting the vision with intelligence and heart.
· I will always be grateful that Karen Deschere touched my life. Offering me the opportunity to be a part of your Conservatory world so many years ago has been such an important and gratifying part of my life. I thank YOU for opening doors to meet many incredible and passionate people. And you are certainly at the top of that list!
· I wish to recognise Karen’s work in all areas of arts and arts management for decades. Her low key, humble approach to non-profit work has always stressed others, not herself. Karen has always developed and maintained honest and caring relationships.
· In loving memory of a dear friend that her good work may continue.
· It is truly difficult for me to explain how much I appreciate you as a human being. Your commitment to serving the community, your sincere belief in the talents of others, and your very clear philosophy of fairness and justice for all are qualities that I greatly admire. Not to mention your fantastic sense of humor!
· I’ve been thinking about you so much. I continue to be amazed by your courage and positivity. We’ve had so many good times together, which began when we worked together at the Grammys (you were the best boss ever), and have continued through our ongoing friendship.
· Karen was a special human being! So enjoyed working with her during her years with the Grammy Foundation.
· Karen was a wonderful friend and colleague, and I was so grateful and happy that she found a rich, rewarding career and warm community at Wharton. I am happy to contribute to this fund in her memory.<
· On behalf of Music Celebrations International, we express our deep sympathy to Karen’s family, her colleagues at NJYS, and her friends. We loved working with her. Interesting that our philosophies of music changing the world are so aligned. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.
· Our thoughts are with Karen’s family and the Wharton Family.
· Some years ago at WCM, we were preparing for a We Six concert of pop tunes played in a jazz style. In a conversation in the lobby, I mentioned something about Elton John, and you named a particular song that we should do. Your suggestion resonated with me, as I had thought of the same one. So, I indeed came up with a jazz version of it, and we played it for that concert. We’ve been back in the studio lately, and this arrangement of mine, written with your inspiration, has finally been brought to fruition as a recorded piece.
· Surely you know (but this is just in case you do not) how very much we love you. You were my favorite boss, always ready to listen, and to laugh, sympathize, or provide advice (depending on what was needed—you always knew!). You were my favorite page turner, and I still miss your supportive presence to my left. You continue to be one of my favorite people—and especially while you lived here, a treasured member of our extended family and presence at Thanksgiving and Passover. I am so glad I was able to come to your 50+10 birthday party, and to meet so many other people who love you so much. I will so miss you —miss knowing you are in this world. Your valiant spirit, your humor, and all the kindness you have.
· Thank you for coming to First Church and for sharing your gifts and life.
· I had the great privilege of getting to know Karen when, as President/CEO of the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, she hired me on as the Communications Coordinator in 2010. She was a consummate activist for full inclusion in and access to music education and performance opportunities, and one of the best human beings I have ever had the pleasure to know.
· The Wharton Community is heartbroken over Karen’s passing, and sends our sincere condolences to you, Ken, Reggie and other family members.
· There are so many wonderful memories I have of your work with the CSC. Thank you, thank you, for all you did to keep the Chorus so well organized and running smoothly. I particularly remember the arrangements you made for our Symphony Singers Tours. They were so special! Such a joy to perform so creatively with such inspiring colleagues.
· There’s no question that without your support and vision for the jazz institute, Hannah would have not have been accepted into this very competitive program at Indiana University and had the success she has received. This is something you are directly responsible for and I hope it puts a smile on your face.
· To Karen’s Family – I knew John and Janet, and reading Karen’s obituary I can see that she was a “chip off the good blocks”. I’m sure she will be missed.
· We knew Karen in the 90’s when she briefly lived in Los Angeles and rented a condo from us. Ran into her again in NJ where our grand-daughter was a violinist in the NJ Youth orchestra a few years ago. Our daughter sent us the announcement of her passing. She was a lovely person and how sad that she passed away so young!
· What a gift of smarts, fortitude and humor you were to the Conservatory when you arrived, and to Milwaukee in general. I’m sure those New Yorkers and New Jerseyans quickly discovered their good fortune, too. Godspeed, Karen. You are not only loved ~ which is the big thing ~ but you rocked it with all your heart!
· With tears and love for my favorite boss
· You are such an incredible force and have been such a great role model for me as to what women in charge can be. I have thought of you so often as I navigate my way in leadership positions. Your dignity, grace under fire, and kindness are traits I have admired so much about you through the years. Know that you are loved and I pray for your comfort. I hope you know what you mean to me and so many whose lives you have touched in the arts and beyond.
· You have been so caring for so many and you have helped me in so many ways. Your vision has always inspired me to do more and be the best person I can be.
· It was a nice coincidence to see her again. She was a lovely person and how sad that she passed away so young!