Artist: Karen Olson

Karen OlsonFrom her years of performing in orchestras and chamber music ensembles, as well as in the New York Pops playing hundreds of shows with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli, Sammy Davis Jr. and Tony Bennett, to her work with new age sound healing, jazz, and world music, the career and viola artistry of Karen Olson represents a veritable rainbow of musical experience. Education has played a significant role in her life, having earned a master’s degree from The Juilliard School, an additional master’s Degree from Yale and a doctorate from New York University. Further training in a number of holistic modalities such as Reiki and Theta Healing adds to the spectrum of resources she draws from in the many facets of her creative life. A truly remarkable person, Karen Olson is a renaissance woman with a mission to use music and sound not only for entertainment, but for its spiritually uplifting and healing qualities as well.


The viola is an interesting choice of instruments, and one not as commonly seen outside of classical music settings. Karen’s interest goes back to her middle school years when as a member of the school orchestra, she fell in love with it’s deep rich sounds, as well as its role as a supportive instrument, rather than a solo instrument. However, over time, Karen has expanded its usage and charted new sonic territory for the viola. Since 2006 she has released five diverse albums, both solo and ensemble recordings with influences of Afro-Cuban, jazz-fusion, gypsy music, ambient/ new age, classical, pop, avant garde, world music, and Phillip Glass-style minimalism. Her latest contemporary Karen Olson - Elemental Journeyclassical/new age fusion recording entitled Elemental Journey, which features solo improvisational performances as well as duets with world-renowned cellist Michael Fitzpatrick, has been described as: “a sound journey guiding your heart, connecting you to your passions and strengths.” One thing I found quite interesting is that with many of the classically trained musicians I’ve met, the word “improvisation” is often not in their vocabulary. Yet this Julliard graduate finds great freedom in letting her creative instincts and emotions inspire the music in the moment. One would be hard pressed to find a violist with such an expansive musical range. Having accomplished this much would be more than enough for many, yet, in some ways, for Karen, it is just a starting point, with new visions on her horizon. In an exclusive interview I spoke with Karen about her music, inspiration, and goals:


MD: What has been the particular lure and enchantment of the viola for you?

KO: “I love the deep, warm, soothing quality of the viola.  I feel that the range is similar to the range of the human voice and this adds to the healing qualities.  I also relate to the traditional role of the viola in the string family.  It plays inner lines that fill in the harmonies and subtly change color as the temperament of the chord changes.  I don’t need the virtuosic solo “personalities” of the violin and cello. It is liberating to not feel a need to fit into any “boxes” but to know that the viola is free to express and discover new roles, to live beyond unnecessary stereotypes… to express in the “spaces between. I want to express more than the notes and mostly, I love to improvise.  I can be frustrated sometimes because, from a marketing perspective, my music doesn’t seem to fit neatly into a particular genre.  I ask listeners to think out of boxes and explore musical styles.”


MD: How have life’s lessons brought you to the place where you are now?

KO: “I seem to have a belief that I needed to learn many huge life lessons through struggles rather to have lessons given me without understandings them fully and thoroughly.  I don’t give up when given a challenge, no matter how big so when I come out on the other side, something has changed, primarily me with the lessons that have been uncovered and learned.  My life lessons have given me a strong connection to God and surrender to guidance, a sense of Oneness and being connected to others.”


MD: I know that, like the broad range of your music, you have a diversity of creative influences personally. Can you elaborate on some of those?

KO: “In addition to nature, which is very inspirational to me, influences include deep heart centered ballads, Impressionistic painters such as Monet and Romantic composers such as Brahms, of course the Divine influence of Bach, Miles Davis’ use of space, programmatic composers such as Prokoffief, Kabalevsky, Berlioz, kirtan and world music, David Darling and Music for People, Kato Havis’ message of letting music freely express who you are and your unique voice beyond the critique of others. It feels very powerful to have feelings inside of me come out through my music especially if it can be shared and be appreciated by someone else as a Universal heart connection. It isn’t about words, categories or explanations.”


MD: Can you share a bit about the spirituality that is so much a part of your music and healing work?

KO: “My spiritual influences include a strong Christian base for many generations along with a sense of being open to world religions along with it since an early age.  As an early teenager I was reading Alan Watts, thinking of the profound simplicity of Zen Buddhism.  I also connected to Japanese spirituality through being a Reiki Master and visiting the mountain where the initial attunement occurred.  I believe that God is the same Spirit, Creator of All that Is, Source of everything no matter what language or religious “packaging” there might be.”


MD: Along these lines, how do you integrate your spiritual resources into your music?

KO: “I use sound like a painter uses color. The rich tone-color and vibrations of the viola mimic the human voice. Music can assist in releasing fears and manifesting dreams. The notes create vibrational patterns in the subconscious mind KarenOlson2-aand body, which, in turn, foster a responsive environment for clearing negative thoughts and realigning one’s intentions and life purpose. More recently, Theta Healing has given me a very deep connection and tools to tap into Creators energy, guidance and my intuitive gifts that help me improvise. It is my desire that the music will offer comfort as well as inspiration and the ability to claim passionate personal empowerment. The transformative power of the music travels to places that words can’t touch.”


MD: Interesting – I particularly like that last thought. Looking ahead Karen, what are your plans or visions for the future?

KO: “I want to see myself on stage surrounded by like-minded sensitive musicians enjoying music with diverse and engaged audiences.  Also, I am writing a book, which incorporates ideas about sound/vibrational healing. I want to give workshops and train other musicians to develop these ideas in their playing as well as helping anyone use the power of music to become more empowered, reaching their highest potential in their body, mind and spirit.”




Having learned about Karen, first from her impressive bio, various musical recordings and videos, and now  this interview,  I must say how deeply impressed I am, not only with her myriad musical abilities, but with her heartfelt devotion to using music for the highest good. And I am certainly not alone in this perception, as countless testimonials of clients and concert attendees have attested to. Summing up what she feels is her purpose in life, Karen shares these closing words of gratitude: “I feel blessed to be living my dream: to perform music that comes from a spiritual place within me, and which invites and guides the listener’s personal journey, growth and healing.”