Luther College has named Karen Gesme Brunssen, class of 1975 of Chicago, the 2013 recipient of the Weston Noble Choral Award for distinguished achievement in the field of voice and opera. Brunssen was recognized for her work as an outstanding educator, scholar and performer.
Named for Weston Noble, Luther professor of music and conductor of the Nordic Choir from 1948-2004, the award honors music educators who continue the legacy of Noble, a teacher, clinician and director who influenced vocal music education in America and around the world.
It was no surprise Brunssen attended Luther College. Her father Dean Gesme, Sr., a graduate of Luther, made it an annual event to attend Luther's homecoming. Her high school choir director, Allen Koepke, was also a Luther grad. Both these individuals influenced Brunssen's decision to attend Luther, and Koepke especially opened Brunseen's eyes to the study of music. Brunssen's sister, son and husband also attended Luther.
A music major, Brunssen took part in Chapel and Nordic Choir under the direction of Bart Butler and David Greedy. While at Luther, she performed three Messiah solos, took organ and piano lessons, and graduated with a bachelor of music degree. Upon graduation she took a job as a high school choral director in a Chicago suburb at Andrew High School.
Once in Chicago, Brunssen started singing with Music of the Baroque, the Grant Park Chorus, and the Chicago Symphony Chorus. Gradually, due to understudy opportunities and offers to sing gigs, her solo career grew throughout the United States and Europe.
At 26, she started teaching voice lessons at Concordia University in River Forest, ILL. Eleven years later she was asked to join the voice faculty at the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University in Evanston, ILL., where she is now an associate professor of music and co-chair of music performance. For Brunssen, it has been a great combination of teaching, solo singing, choral singing since graduating from Luther.
Brunssen's work as a master teacher, guest clinician, panelist and adjudicator for music schools and organizations led her to an invitation to do a week-long teaching residency at Cambridge University in England. During her residency, she gave voice lessons, master classes and taught classes and workshops involving 19 of the colleges. Brunssen has also taught at the International Institute of Vocal Arts in Chiari, Italy, at Dorian Opera Theatre, and at the International Summer School Music Course at Shrewsbury, England. She is a former president of the Chicago Singing Teachers Guild and a former president of the Chicago Chapter National Association of Teachers of Singing, where she started the Annual Vocal Competition that has grown to involve more than 400 singers from the Chicago area.
Brunssen's article, "The Evolving Voice: Profound at Every Age," appeared in the ACDA's "Choral Journal" (February 2010) and was based on a 2008 ACDA Central Division interest session presentation titled "Ages of the Voice." The article begins with an experience Brunssen had while in nordic choir at Luther. It includes recorded examples of singing from the ages of three months to 103 years of age, highlighting the life cycle of individual voices, professional and amateur, through their years of singing.
Students of Brunssens have gone on to sing professionally in opera and instruct in college and university companies across the United States.