An “I can” approach By Abigail Thorpe | Photo by Rachel Adair
Karin Wedemeyer was born and raised in Germany and lived and worked in California before moving to Sandpoint with her husband and family in 2006—a place that held the “joie de vivre” that she so loved. Her sense of pioneering and adventure manifested itself in the creation of the Music Conservatory of Sandpoint. Today, Karin still serves as director and founder of the conservatory, and if you’re lucky, you might just catch a glimpse of her pet parrot, Amadea, mimicking the most recent instrument to carry a tune or issuing a “Bravo” at the end of a performance.
Q. What do you love most about Sandpoint and the community here?
A. I think the joie de vivre—I found that here, and especially at the beginning I found it had a little bit of a bohemian touch—people from different areas with different perspectives. I hope we can hang on to the joie de vivre no matter what.
Q. What inspired you to start the music conservatory and what has been your ongoing vision/mission in regard to it?
A. Artistically I am an opera singer, academically I am a historian and archaeologist. I grew up in Germany, and arts and music education is an integral part of the German school system. I am a bit held hostage by my DNA, and it expressed itself in my becoming an opera singer and creating the school.
The work intensity and the sacrifices are noteworthy, yet there was the knowledge and understanding that if you have a larger dream it takes that level of commitment. To create excellence does not happen overnight—it takes perseverance, innovation and really endurance. I wanted to be sure that we laid a solid foundation, and that really takes time.
Q. Can you tell us the story behind the bell and what you have planned for its future?
A. We were able to purchase this building in 2019. It was our dream to restore this building and to find the [original] bell. It was [with the help of the museum]—I was on my way to Costco to buy toilet paper for the conservatory, and right after the [museum] article came out, two gentlemen came in and they knew where the bell was. It was in Spokane. We were able to negotiate with the owner to buy it, and on that day I didn’t buy toilet paper, I was able to buy a bell.
It was a deeply emotional experience when I rang it for the first time. The next task was to bring it up here. It’s living right now in front of the museum in Lakeview Park so people can take a look. The goal is to lift the bell back up. We have to rebuild the bell tower and reinforce the roof—the bell will go up in its bell tower and look pretty much how it used to, so we can actually play full melodies, and we can announce our concerts.
Q. What have been some memorable achievements of the conservatory over the years, and what are you most proud of?
A. I think the bell definitely is one of the miracles. Also purchasing the building in 2019 with the help of the foundation—having our building helps us define our future and helps me realize my academic background and bring this building to what it can be and should be. We installed the old fire doors, and we can open them and share music with the community just by opening our doors. We just opened our doors to Little Carnegie—which I call our “Stage of Dreams”—into a real performance space.
We started with eight students, and we are now teaching, including our group classes and orchestra, around 400 students. We have a wonderful faculty and staff, and we are very collaborative in our approach and philosophy. I see students and faculty thrive in that environment, and that gives me personally a tremendous sense of satisfaction and joy.
Q. How does the conservatory impact the local community?
A. As a conservatory we are accredited, we have a curriculum that is approved, and we can take a student from the beginning all the way to professional. Students can get grades in lieu of other extracurricular classes, and we have an honors program. We pay a lot of attention to excellence— what makes us unique is that we want to combine excellence with being inclusive and accessible, so that students, if they so desire, have access to the school and to excellence in teaching. For example, we’ve created the Music Matters! after-school program that we invite the community to participate in.
Q. Is there any particular person or experience who has influenced you most and helped shape how you approach work and life?
A. My parents in many ways. I grew up with a phrase: “You can.” It just never occurred to me that there was something I couldn’t do or pursue. There were no limitations to my pursuits and sense of adventure and pioneering. I want to share that with all of our students here, and even the staff and people I come in touch with—to eliminate “I can’t” out of your vocabulary. That was a true gift from my parents.
In building the school there is a fine line between courage and madness, and somewhere in between is where beautiful things can emerge, but it takes that courage and sense of “I can” that I think we need to really celebrate in life and explore. We are not consumers, we are poets and painters, we are musicians and mathematicians, and we have to honor and celebrate that spirit and wonder in us—and we can conquer all.