By Jodi Rawson
She is a leader, visionary, artist, scientist, wife, mother and she is directing an upcoming opera. She loves Janice Joplin, and she hopes to be a space-traveling astrophysicist in her next life. Karin Wedemeyer’s passion for storytelling is only matched by her passion for music. Her hands wave like she is conducting an orchestra, and her words have musical fluctuations. We laughed aloud a lot, while nibbling trail mix in her office, in the old City Hall building, about 25 feet from the outdoor piano-her idea.
“That piano is so crazy,” Wedemeyer laughs, while burying her head in her hands. “It is almost biodegradable… there are keys missing, but people play that thing every day.” She is happy to announce that a newer outdoor piano will be donated this spring — a painted art piece with all the keys.
“It is so inviting… the school invites people to participate,” Wedemeyer said. “It engages the public continuously. I think for the vitality of downtown it has to have the elements to be participatory, so that it doesn’t shut down.”
“The appreciation for beauty is a really important part of a healthy society… the Panida is such a beautiful building — a true jewel that needs to be protected and kept vibrant,” said Wedemeyer, who has lived in Sandpoint since 2006. Her upcoming opera is in collaboration with and helping benefit the Panida.
“(Ruth Klinginsmith and I ) opened the music Conservatory of Sandpoint the day after the economy collapsed (in 2009), but it didn’t occur to us not to open the MCS. I owe this to my parents … they did not put limits on our minds ever. There was no one in my family who ever said ‘you can’t.’ I didn’t appreciate that until later. There is an incredible kind of psychological benefit to that. It just never occurred to me to not build this school, to not build this opera company. … Maybe it should have,” Wedemeyer said, laughing. “The line between courage and madness might be very fine.”
Fluent in German, English and French and comfortable reading and singing Latin, Greek, Italian and Spanish, Wedemeyer was born and raised in Bremen, Germany, to a pianist mother. Her maternal grandmother was a pianist, and her maternal grandfather was locally famous as a composer and baritone singer. “I was around classical music my entire life,” said Wedemeyer, “and Bremen, in many ways, is a cultural hub for classical music.”
Early in her musical career, Wedemeyer toured and sang in Italy, Germany and around the U.S.
“When I came to the United States in the early 80s I was extremely young (barely 20). I had an orange backpack and $200 to my pocket. I was an aspiring archaeologist, but I also studied voice (at UCLA). I did graduate work in archeology, but I was pretty bi-continental at that time because I followed the opportunities in singing, provided for me as a young dramatic voice,” Wedemeyer said. “So I ultimately decided I was going to follow my heart and be an opera singer. If I wanted to get a doctorate I could do it at a later time, but singing was sort of now. I lived in Venice, Calif., and it was a wonderful time. In fact I met my husband there.”
Eighteen years ago, the couple welcomed their son, Willem.
“The delivery was so excruciatingly difficult that my husband yelled at me, “Sing! Sing!” knowing that my abdominal muscles were so strong that it could give the final push, and it did,” Wedemeyer said. “So I sang the opening to Elsa’s Traum Wagner, and my son was born on an E flat.”
She gave birth to a healthy son but was unable to sing for almost five years afterward due to strained chords.
“Sometimes I think we don’t know why we do what we do, so sometimes I think that the great, higher purpose of my singing was to allow for my son to be born,” Wedemeyer said. “Who knows, right?”
With two young children and a new home in Sandpoint, Wedemeyer began to warm up her chords. Not only could she sing what she used to, but she had matured and improved.
“Because I took that long break I have many miles left on my chords,” she said. “So I will do the Bel Canto Opera and continue to sing.”
“The Journey of the Light” will be performed April 8 at the Panida and features classical and dramatic singers, master musicians and even dancer Autumn Whitley.
“It is about people coming together for higher purpose,” said Wedemeyer. “It is such a struggle nowadays for people to come together in a world of hyper-competition and hyper-individualism that we fail to recognize how powerful we can be when we are together.”
Catch “The Journey of the Light” on April 8 at 7 p.m. Tickets are available at Panida.org and the MCS office.
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