Michigan Opera Theater Co-Founder Karen VanderKloot DiChiera Dies Aged 80

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Karen VanderKloot DiChiera, who co-founded the Michigan Opera Theater in the early 1970s with her former husband and directed its educational programming for decades, has died after years of complications with Alzheimer’s disease. She was 80 years old.

DiChiera played a central role in building the MOT, founding his Department of Education and Community Programs in 1977, which introduced opera, improvisation and composition to schools and community centers across the country. ‘State. She has also worked with other opera companies across the country to create their own educational programming, such as Opera Pacific and Dayton Opera.

“Ms. DiChiera’s leadership and commitment to the Michigan Opera Theater has been unwavering from the early days of our organization,” said Wayne S. Brown, President and CEO of MOT in a statement Tuesday. has helped shape not only the opera company as an institution, but also the lives of thousands of young aspiring musicians and performers through her work as an artistic educator and founder of the MOT’s community programs department. “

DiChiera studied composition in the early 1960s with Ross Lee Finney at the University of Michigan and with David DiChiera, her former husband, who at the time was professor of music and composition at Oakland University. She graduated from Oakland University before helping to lay the groundwork that led to the founding of MOT in 1971, according to a June blog post from MOT.

DiChiera has also composed several children’s operas and reviews with his librettist partner Joan Hill. She has held composer-in-residence positions with Birmingham Public Schools and Ludington Middle School in Detroit.

After the MOT moved to the Detroit Opera House in 1996, DiChiera a year later created “Learning at the Opera House,” a series of programs that have taught the arts to over 1,700 young people and adults. .

DiChiera, who was injured in a car crash at age 22 that left her with lifelong pain, was also a dedicated disability rights activist. In 1979, she formed the Detroit Committee on Disabilities, which led to the installation of ramps, guardrails and accessible toilets at Music Hall, as well as the American Sign Language interpretation of the main performances and MOT communities, according to the opera theater.

“Karen was not only the pioneer of an important and deeply impactful educational program, but she also established an ethic of inclusion to guide this work,” said Andrea Scobie, Director of Education for MOT. “Karen recognized that all learners, children and adults alike, should be able to access and explore the arts in a personal and meaningful way.”

DiChiera is survived by her two daughters and three grandchildren. A public memorial will be organized in his honor at a later date. Donations on behalf of DiChiera can be made at the Michigan Opera Theater Department of Education and Community Programs.

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