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By Blog Master
Posted: 09/30/2021
Tags: bios



For 52 years Karolyn Berkman taught mathematics and instrumental music in the Los Angeles Unified School District. That is the short story. In addition to her Master’s degree in Music Performance she also has a Juris Doctor Degree from the Peoples College of Law. During her long work career she found time to volunteer – tutoring students in math, teaching violin and music theory in Juarez, Mexico, and volunteering in law firms. But through it all – music and percussion instruments are her true passion.


Karolyn is a percussionist. Percussion instruments include any instrument that makes a sound when it is hit, shaken, or scraped. It is not easy to be a percussionist because it takes a lot of practice to hit an instrument with the right amount of strength, in the right place, and at the right time. Karolyn studied piano as a student at UCLA. Her deep desire was to play in an orchestra. Since the piano is not regularly a part of an orchestral piece, her professor suggested she take a percussion class. Karolyn did and was hooked! Now she could play with any orchestra!


Through the years Karolyn has made her mark playing with and conducting a number of community orchestras. She is currently the Principal Percussionist and Piano Accompanist for the Caltech Symphony Orchestra, the Crown City Symphony, and the Celestial Opera Company, among others. She is also on the Board and a Drummer of the UCLA Alumni Band which plays for the UCLA Alumni outside the Rose Bowl before every football game.


In 2013 Karolyn helped form Symphony 47, the resident Community Orchestra of the Local 47 Musicians Union, which is founded on the principles of community, tolerance, diversity, and musical excellence. She is now the conductor of the orchestra which consists of 30-40 musicians who “get together to play great music” and volunteer to go into the public schools to bring the experience of music to students.  


Karolyn has collected a wide assortment of percussion instruments including 8 timpanis, 2 pianos, several keyboards, cymbals, drums, and more. At her home in Altadena she has screened in her porch to accommodate her instrument collection. She spends many hours every day practicing. “It’s such a pleasure to practice. I can practice all day. I’m either practicing or sleeping”, she explains.  


Because Karolyn spends so much time practicing she is often alone. Being a member of the Pasadena Village gave her the chance to get out and meet people. She joined one of our member-led support groups. “We support each other when we experience problems. It’s fabulous.” She is also an active member of the Altadena-Foothills neighborhood group which meets twice monthly. Both of these groups met via Zoom during the worst of the COVID pandemic, but now they actually get together outdoors.


Karolyn has survived three bouts of breast cancer, which were undetected during routine mammograms. Her treatment and recoveries were due to her early self-detection of the cancer. “I tell my story because I’m sure someone’s life can be saved by sharing what I know.” Today in her “spare time” she takes care of her disabled adult child, enjoys her four grandchildren, and tends her extensive vegetable garden.


Listening to Karolyn is a bit like listening to the percussive section of an orchestra. She speaks with authority, precision, great timing, and most of all enthusiasm. It is clear that, at nearly 85 years old, her love of music, of performing, of learning and practicing, has not diminished one bit. She is another example of someone who shares their life-long passion beyond the Village.


Karolyn and her piano partner, Agatha Hou, will be performing a piano duet program on Zoom on Tuesday, October 5th at 12:30 PM at the Tuesday Musicale Recital. Below is the Zoom link and passcode to view the performance:


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