Minnesota Varsity 2020: Send in your submissions now!
Where Are They Now? spotlights Minnesota Varsity Featured and Showcase Artists and Composers from 2011 to 2019.
Karen Baumgartner, originally from Roseville, was a Minnesota Varsity 2011 and 2012 Featured Artist. She recently got in touch with Classical MPR to share her latest news.
Karen Baumgartner, 2011 & 2012 Featured Artist, flute
Hometown: Roseville, Minn.
Attended: Indiana University, Bloomington, Ind. and University of Texas at Austin, Tex.
I am from Roseville, Minnesota and love showing off and spouting random facts about this lovely state. I am happy to have graduated twice with degrees in Flute Performance from Indiana University and The University of Texas at Austin and am even happier to be out in the real world using those skills to make a living. I am currently a professional freelance flutist who has performed in a number of things including Minnesota Opera productions and Minnesota State Dance Theater's annual Nutcracker production which have both taught me how to cope with the fact that I'll never get to see the stage while performing in a pit. In addition to performing I also get to teach flute as adjunct faculty at the University of Northwestern St Paul and the University of Minnesota Morris.
I can't believe Minnesota Varsity is already in its 10th season!! I remember when I initially heard about it and was excited to apply. Soon after I sent my application in I received an email saying I was the very first applicant. While filling out my application there was a box which we had to type in what our music goals were. In that box I typed "My goal is to be the best musician I can be and to someday be in a professional orchestra". A few simple innocent words that came laced with just about every emotion possible.
When I started playing flute I loved everything about it. As a homeschooler, playing was one of the opportunities I had to meet and interact with new people in band or orchestra and to connect with my flute teacher every week. During the day if I didn't feel like spending time doing homework I could at that moment go and practice for whatever length of time I felt like doing so. Through practicing and performing I could communicate in ways I never could with words and in a way that felt more natural than words. As someone who has always been goal oriented and competitive I thrived in the competition circuit and enjoyed the additional opportunities that came from those competitions.
In 8th grade I began playing in orchestra and while we were rehearsing I decided before we even got to the performance that I wanted to be a professional orchestral flutist. I even remember thinking "pursuing this is going to be a lot harder than you understand but this is what you are going to do". As I embarked on my six year journey off to college I began to seriously question my career choice over and over (and over and over..). Recitals and concerts became places where instead of listening and enjoying great artistry I would get anxiety while analyzing every phrase, dynamic, and any other element possible to compare whether or not I could do it as well. Even though those years were packed with incredible experiences and successes they weren't enough to keep my mind from focusing on the fact that every competition or placement that didn't go how I hoped was solid proof that there were other people out there who could do the flute thing better than I could. After six years of countless struggles, disappointments, and questions, pursuing a music career lost the luster it used to have and by the time I graduated, I had no idea what I should do.
At this point I knew that if the music thing was going to work out for me I would have to rediscover the joy I had in playing flute before I went off to college. I'm not gonna lie though, I couldn't comprehend that actually happening but merely decided I would choose to believe it was a possibility. I also was wrestling with why it mattered if I was a professional musician. Was it really important for me to beat out another amazing musician just so I could be the one sitting in whatever flute chair we were competing for? There are so many incredible flutists out there, what did I have to offer that someone else couldn't? Why was it important for me to prove that I could play better than someone else? How was being a professional flutist more important than going to a third world country and opening up an orphanage or helping the homeless? (Quite the dramatic contrast I know, but that is where my mind went). In the meantime, life went on. I was out of college and chose not to pursue competitions or auditions. During that time I was incredibly fortunate to have performing opportunities to keep me playing. At this point since I wasn't competing or comparing myself to others, I stopped trying to prove to the world that I was a worthy talented musician and instead started putting my heart into what I performed in order to create the best music I was capable of. Every performance became a place where I could communicate and make an impact instead of caring about whether or not people found me impressive. I started focusing on the power music has to create impact and change. It didn't matter if someone else could play a passage better than me but it mattered whether or not I chose to utilize my biggest area of gifting to bring healing and change to a hurting world. Maybe this wouldn't be as directly visible an impact as running an orphanage (which by the way, I have no idea how to do) but it was the way I personally could have the biggest impact on the world.
I realized that throughout my college years I stopped seeing value in the music I had to offer. Music had stopped being a way to express myself and connect with others but became a scale to see if I had value. If I did well I had value, if I did poorly I didn't have value. Of course I got burnt out with this mindset! I wasn't focused on if I had something meaningful to share with the world but was focused on whether or not I could be seen as a better player than someone else. Once I changed this mind set it became possible for the joy I had when I was younger to be present once again. Since rediscovering that joy, I have been able to gladly jump back into the audition circuit. Odds are I won't win my 1st, 2nd, or 10th audition after jumping back in (although that is what I'm working hard to do) but not winning an audition isn't a death sentence any more. It says nothing about whether or not my playing is important and worth pursuing. All it means is I have to pursue at least one more audition before I get to use the job I've dreamed of to impact the world.
I guess now it's been 10 years since I wrote about my goal of being a professional orchestral flutist on my Minnesota Varsity application. It would have been incredibly daunting to know at that point what pursuing that career would look like with all the ups and downs along the way but looking back I wouldn't change a thing. All those experiences have shaped me into the person I am today and because of them I can now see and appreciate the incredible depth in what I and other musicians have to offer. The journey still continues today but instead of trudging along until I get to my coveted destination I will focus on one step at a time and make the most out of whatever is around the next corner.