Karen Balke

Karen Balke, violin

It was fifth grade at Morgan Elementary School in Beloit, Wisconsin, and all the kids were invited down to the gym for the presentation of instruments. What would they like to play? First came the woodwinds demonstration, then brass. Ho hum. Then percussion. Sigh. And then. The strings!! “I was smitten. I had a total conviction that I was meant to play violin,” Karen says. She had been playing piano for a few years before that, but thinking about playing with a group and potentially leading her section had her sold.

Karen played violin through middle school and into high school, with the usual concerts and competitions. Then, as unfortunately in so many schools, funding was cut and the orchestra gone. “But the local college had an orchestra and I was able to sneak into it and play. It was cool to see older kids seriously playing; they were great role models.”

On to the University of Wisconsin, Madison, for a BA degree in Music History and Theory, while of course playing violin as well. “I got to write Bach fugues—which of course didn’t sound quite like Bach.” Karen then moved to Chicago, working and also playing in the Chicago Civic Orchestra, which was often a feeder into the Chicago Symphony. The violin section was coached by Symphony players, which was terrific. “And we got free tickets!” Karen then got an invitation to visit friends in the Bay Area, and loved it here. “The only way I could bear to get on the plane and return to Chicago was to decide that I would move here.” And so she did.

Karen worked at UC Berkeley and UC Press, eventually making her way to San Francisco where she now works in administration in the humongously tall Sales Force building. “The views are stunning! I’m so high up that it’s almost disorientating. The ships are just specks on the Bay.”

Of course her violin came to California with her, and Karen played in nearby Holy Names orchestra for many years, as well as with Chamber Musicians of Northern California and in various small chamber groups. She heard nice buzz about Prometheus and decided to give us a try. “And I’m very happy. I feel like I have found my orchestral home.” We’re already cross-stitching a pillow for Karen: Home Sweet Home.

~Joyce Vollmer

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