David Karp retires from SMU after 50 years
Photo: Courtesy Karp Family 
David Karp with finalists of the 2016 David Karp Piano Festival.

By Deb Silverthorn

Dr. David Karp is readying to retire from Southern Methodist University on a high note — on all the right notes — after 50 years of teaching courses in performance, chamber music, improvisation, piano and sight-reading.

“Being a faculty member at the Meadows School of the Arts at SMU has been a wonderful experience,” said Karp. “SMU’s size has afforded me the opportunity to get to know the students and my colleagues. Over the years the celebrations, shared holidays and special times have been a significant part of my life.”

Karp is a pianist, composer, educator, lecturer and author who was honored at the university’s May 10 graduation as the 2024 Meadows School of the Arts’ Professor of the Year.

On Feb. 16, to a standing-room-only audience at SMU’s Caruth Auditorium, Karp performed George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” as a soloist. The event celebrated the 100 years since the premiere of that Gershwin piece and Karp’s 50 years at the university.

Karp was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Ruth and Morris and the brother of Arthur, all of blessed memory. He was born to perform. His grandparents were Gussie Karp, an actress, and Abraham Karp, a comedian, who together traveled the world with their craft. Their influence extended to New York’s 2nd Avenue Yiddish Theatre and delis where they’d take their grandson to meet their theatre cronies.

There was always Jewish music in the home. There was no room for a piano in their first apartment, so Karp began his career playing the accordion, clarinet and xylophone. “The first time I played the accordion, I loved it,” he said. “I remember squeezing the bellows and learning the keyboard.”

As a graduate student, Karp played at Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel, where on any given night the audience could include Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio, Lucille Ball and other celebrities of the era. He attended a ticker tape parade for Van Cliburn decades before serving as a judge for the National Cliburn Amateur Piano Competitions.

Karp graduated from Samuel J. Tilden High School in Brooklyn and received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Manhattan School of Music. While a graduate student at the Manhattan School of Music, he was asked to substitute at Tilden for a music teacher on medical leave. During that time, he first encountered Renee Bloom, whom he would later date and marry. Karp did doctoral work at Teachers College, Columbia University and ultimately completed his doctoral degree at the University of Colorado.

The Karps were married in 1962. Three years later they moved to Denver, Colorado, where he accepted a teaching position at the University of Denver. During his tenure in Denver, he was also the music director of Temple Emanuel.

SMU began recruiting Karp in 1970; five years later they decided to make the move to Dallas, where he would later serve on the University Senate and many campus-wide committees.

With his wife, who spent nearly 40 years working at Temple Emanu-El, Karp built a family that includes Hal and his son Eli; Jon (Lori) and their children Shira, Max and Brady; and Mandy (David) Golman and their children Macy, Jed and Grey.

The couple co-wrote a seven-book series “Jewish Festival and Folk Songs” which explores Hebrew melodies. It is written for early elementary to advanced pianists with arrangements, teacher accompaniments, traditional lyrics and a pronunciation guide.

At Temple Emanu-El, where the family has long been a fixture, Karp and Temple’s Music Director Simon Sargon, of blessed memory, were friends and colleagues who often performed together at both Temple and SMU.

“Simon was a brilliant composer whose works were created from his heart and soul,” said Karp. “We were colleagues and good friends.”

Karp has performed and lectured from Alaska to New Hampshire as well as in Italy, Serbia and in Taiwan. He is a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers and has composed hundreds of pieces, including an homage to the Holocaust for flute, cello, piano and voice titled “Homesick.” Karp’s piano music has been published by Alfred Publishing Co.; Carl Fischer, Inc.; FJH Music; Hal Leonard; Lee Roberts Music Publications; Willis Music; and Shawnee Press.

In 1993, the David Karp Piano Festival was established as an annual event at Kilgore College, with students judged on performances of compositions by the event’s namesake.

For 20 years he’s served as a judge, and for the last 10 as chair, of the International Guild of Piano Teachers Composition Contest. In March 2017, Karp conducted a master class for the Ohio State Music Teachers, where he was honored, with a proclamation, by Sidney, Ohio, Mayor Michael Barhorst for countless achievements and contributions to the piano teaching profession.

For years, the Karp family has made Maine their summer backdrop. There, Karp enjoys family time as well as the quiet mornings when he is alone with a good cup of coffee and his creative spirit.

That spirit has left his mark on thousands of students including Jane Chu, former chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts; Carleen Graff, who was a professor of music at Plymouth State University; Kenneth Martin, assistant editor of “Wine Spectator”; and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Karp says, “SMU has been a wonderful place and I’ve been very privileged.”

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