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A legacy in legato: Interlochen’s newest piano instructor, Kara Huber, picks up where Michael Coonrod left off
Huber’s first day at work wasn’t her first time being in Frolich 1118. She’d already spent many hours there… as a student.
Since her junior and senior year of high school at Interlochen Arts Academy, Kara Huber’s love for the piano has led her to many impressive achievements. She’s performed across North America, Europe, and Australia; she’s made lauded solo appearances at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Piano Virtuoso Series at the Canadian Opera Company, and more.
But it’s Huber’s work at Interlochen that truly brings her career full circle.
She spends her days in an office that once belonged to Michael Coonrod, a piano instructor of near-legendary status at Interlochen—and Huber’s own mentor when she was an Arts Academy student.
Interlochen was the place that helped transform her from a little girl who played everything by ear to a world-class musician with a passion for contemporary music. Now, she carries on her teacher’s legacy even while forging a path that’s all her own.
From playing by ear to entering conservatories
Huber developed an interest in music from a young age, starting when her parents put her older brother in piano lessons.
“I wanted to do everything that my older brother did. He would be practicing his pieces at the piano and after he left, I would hop up on the bench and play everything by ear,” Huber remembers.
Huber’s gift soon became apparent to her parents, so they enrolled her in piano lessons as well. When asked if there was a particular moment that solidified her resolve to become a pianist, Huber says she can’t think of one. She always knew.
“Ever since I started when I was five years old, it was something I loved. It was something I was so passionate about. This was my career and I always knew it, from the very beginning.”
She attended Interlochen Arts Academy in her junior and senior years of high school.
“Coming to Interlochen was the perfect place for me because I got to be surrounded by students who are just as passionate as I was for their art,” she says. “It was a very motivating place for me to be. It also helped me push myself academically and get lots of performing experience that I wouldn't have otherwise gotten.”
When the time came to enter into a conservatory, Huber was accepted everywhere she applied. She chose Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music. Afterwards, she earned an artist’s diploma at the Glenn Gould School of the Royal Conservatory in Toronto, eventually returning to Cincinnati for her doctorate.
Along the way, Huber began to teach her own classes. She was on faculty at the University of Louisville School of Music for two years while maintaining a busy performance schedule.
A passion for contemporary music
Huber’s virtuosic talent made her a standout in the concert world. She further distinguished herself through her selection of music: a thoughtful balance of classical and contemporary pieces.
“I like the classics—Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, the juicy repertoire that we all know. But also I have a passion for doing contemporary music and working with living composers,” she says.
She especially enjoys introducing audiences to modern-day composers they might not be as familiar with, like Joan Towers or David Rakowski.
“I think that's a fun way to engage audiences in a different and more meaningful way,” she says.
Huber treasures the musical conversations that result from commissioning new works. Her recent project with Natalie Draper, for instance, required them to collaborate, with multiple revisions of the piece sent back and forth before it was finished.
“I cherish anytime I can commission a composer to write a new work, because they're working musicians as well. I want to promote them as much as possible,” says Huber. She even started her own charitable foundation, the Klocke Foundation, to support underrepresented contemporary composers.
Big shoes to fill
Huber doesn’t just balance the old and new in her music selections. As a teacher, she consciously carries on the work of those who came before her.
“I think it's a ‘pay it forward’ thing for me, because I was lucky enough to have so many wonderful piano teachers. I want to continue their legacy,” Huber says.
In her time at Interlochen Arts Academy, she studied under Coonrod, who taught piano at the school for nearly five decades. Over the summer of 2022, Coonrod and Huber worked together to teach the Piano Intensive. Coonrod’s retirement in the fall opened up his job—and his office—to his former student.
“Getting to carry on the traditions that he created after 46 years is really a special thing for me to do. It's very big shoes to fill for sure,” she says.
Huber remembers Coonrod’s warmth and words of encouragement, as well as his love for a particular writing instrument.
“He loved colored pencils, and I still have scores that have all the colored pencil markings in them,” Huber smiles.
Coonrod also passed on the practical piano advice that shapes Huber’s approach to teaching to this day.
“He really pushed finger legato—being sure that you're creating a very legato phrase with your fingers and not relying on just the pedal to do it for you. That revolutionized my playing, and I find myself really pushing my students here to do the same thing.”
Whether she’s introducing her students to the delights of contemporary music or encouraging them just as her own teacher once encouraged her, Huber brings an unmistakable spark to her classroom.
“It’s been a very special move to Interlochen for me,” says Huber. “It's always been my dream job.”