My musical expression has always been one of bold authenticity.
As stage artist, I’m willing to make myself vulnerable, improvise and show what’s possible. I’m a painter, a scene-maker. My audience sees a scene unfold through me, witnesses me open and reach into my heart and opens its own heart. With tools I’ve collected from vocal studies, the theater, countless stage outings and most keenly from life, I inform my every gesture, movement, glance and articulation with my humanity and with my love. I bring a broad palette of expression and color to my songs.
My art is an art of nuance. I use my body to channel air through space, my intelligence to communicate what someone has composed lyrically and musically, and my spirit to set it free. I like to chuckle, choke, whisper, sigh, growl, breathe and moan. I like to sit, stand, bend, twist, and face the audience with my back.
I’m a painter, a scene-maker. I want my audience to see a scene unfold through me. I use tools I’ve brought from vocal studies and theater, using a singing voice as well as a “Sprechstimme,” (speaking voice) to turn songs into “un drame condense,” a mini-drama. Going first by words and then by melody, and using a broad palette of expressions, I seek to bring color to my songs and thereby to illuminate my subject, the atmosphere, and the age.
I’m a choreographer. I use gesture to accentuate an idea, a line or a word. My sensuality is expressed gesturally. I’m a masquerader. I love to dress the part. I’m also an exhibitionist; the most essential Karen Kohler exists before a receptive and open audience.
I’m a preservationist. From the moment I came upon the songs of early 20th century Europe – inventive, fresh, daring, lyrical, ironic, dark, sexy – I was hooked. I became committed to the preservation of this music, to the authentic re-interpretation of these lyrics, in my own time.
Lastly, and firstly, I’m a passionate singer of the Zeitgeist. We are alive in an extraordinary time and our music is both messenger and bridge. Born in Germany and raised in the U.S., I have made my own journey across time and place, as have my songs.
Rarely does one find an artist who can act out her emotions while singing her beloved songs. It takes a very special talent to enable an audience to feel these emotions with every note and every movement — no matter what the language. Such a person is the dynamic Karen Kohler.
Karen Kohler has a way of speaking to you with her body, a drop of an eyelid, the movement of her arms, the sway of her long torso, a backward glance, the flick of a finger, her stance, her stroll across the stage. This young woman “sings” with her entire body. She becomes the temptress, gasps, utters guttural sounds, has a soprano voice that soars, bellows, whispers, sighs, and is totally brazen, when called for. She is mesmerizing.
Kohler is the physical embodiment of the charm, at once elegant and capricious, that imbues her repertoire… She is vocally and gesturally absolutely professional and unique… She stands in the tradition of the great goddesses of song and performance.
The Origin of Room, a genre
Cabaret has always been a very flexible term, historically and in my own career. Mysterious and changing with the times.
I began my professional career in cabaret and Kleinkunst in 1995 with Weimar-era songs and 1930s and 40s American Pop, featured in my first act, Das Kabarett. I found my voice in these songs, honed my craft with them, became an ensemble leader, scholar and historian and later mentor to others.
In 2008, I bent the edges of the artform as I’d been practicing it with Little Death, a show in two acts that combined music with theater and poetry, high heels with barefeet, band accompaniment interspersed with acapella sections, all on the same night. I stretched out in every way, weaving together the genres of classical, musical theater, pop, rock, blues and folk that yielded their riches. We called it cabaret because I was a cabaret artist performing. Content-wise and staging-wise, it was worldlier and wilder. The space was key, in this case a converted old zipper factory with seats pulled from old cars and trucks. Intimate.
Where all other variables have changed with my own musical times, my favorite kind of performance space has stayed the same.
I’ve sung in stately spaces, grand halls here and there built for the naked human voice. To stand on the stage at Carnegie Hall, with its hallowed walls sealing in the echoes of past performances, is an indescribable thrill! Lincoln Center, The Town Hall, Symphony Space – I’ve had my share of peak experiences there. The time I let loose my voice in the Taj Mahal between tourist groups counts too. How can I describe what it’s like to utter a sound in a majestic place like that and feel it vibrating into the architecture itself. Yet, I have felt small in those vast spaces.
My sweet spot is the art of the small. I move with the songs that speak to me as woman, artist, intimist, humanist, immigrant and voyager. No one musical category may ever quite suit me, but all my songs fit into that certain kind of space. Three walls are a given, the fourth is move-able.
And so I’m most enchanted with small venues, 100 people and fewer seated close to each other. Here’s where I like to come forward with my tool chest at my feet and communicate my musical poetry, my story songs, and the things that are impossible to amplify and therefore always missed in the big halls: that catalog of gestural subtleties that make the magic, that transport and transcend. A wink, an extended pinky of a gloved hand, an upturned lip en profil, the impromptu glance into the fifth row center seat. The almost-tear.
ROOM is that space, that vessel into which I can place the exquisite songs I’ve come to know and own in 2+ decades, on 4 continents and in the 7 languages I’ve endeavored to learn so I could serve them more authentically.
I’m a ROOM singer. I sing ROOM. I collaborate with ROOM artists. ROOM is my setting and my genre. I like it. It fits.
The day after the name came to me in the late winter of 2018, I was at a bar in Brooklyn talking to the bartender who at one point leaned in and whispered, “Norah Jones is playing in Red Hook tonight. It’s free. Unadvertised. Just her in a tiny little room.” I smiled and said to myself…fancy that.