Monthly Archives: September 2012


The enjoyment I get from producing sound, using vowels and consonants, is the motivation behind my diction. To have outstanding articulation and pronunciation, one has feel how words glow, and how to extinguish them by dipping them in light and shadow, how they like to be nuzzled or bitten, accentuated or concealed. One has to understand how to give everything verbal life, color and strength, and then how to let these things die. Diction is all about beginnings and endings of words. Truly majestic tones are born healthy, live strong, and have dignified deaths.


For me, singing and acting are minimally about technique and tone and fundamentally about words and feeling. Before I take on a new work, I have to accept what the text and the tune propose, and to accept the proposal, I must have an unconditionally strong feeling for it. Words are the means through which that feeling is expressed.

Every word has its own life. Every word has its unique form, line, color, sound, body and soul.

I frequently sing in languages foreign to my listeners, so I must use my body, face, mouth, and gesture to contour the mass of meaningless utterances and make something useful and real for the listener. Of course, knowing French may be helpful to one’s experience of “Je ne t’aime pas” but if I as singer am doing my part, it’s utterly unnecessary that you know French. Doing my part requires believing in words, committing to them, opening them up at the core and revealing their emotional essence, the kind that knows no language and binds every man together. The truth can always be conveyed without words.

There are songs I don’t sing because I haven’t yet experienced their meaning, or because I cannot bring anything new to them.

There are songs that are mysterious to me and to which I am powerfully drawn. Songs that beckon me to follow them into new territory and discoveries about myself. Songs that invite me to learn yet another language in which to communicate. Committing to words has required me to become multi-lingual. So far the songs that have found me have come in German, English, Spanish, French, Flemish, Portuguese, Yiddish and Latin.

I sing songs whose words mesh with my experiences and understanding of life, of love, and I believe it’s vitally important to continually broaden these in order to accommodate ever more text and more songs.

As Artist

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.

Homage to Yvette

I am 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 am a choreographer. I use gesture to accentuate an idea, a line or a word. My sensuality is expressed gesturally. I am a masquerader. I love to dress the part. I am also an exhibitionist; the most essential Karen Kohler exists before a receptive and open audience.

I am a thief. I don’t borrow something; I steal it and put my own signature on it. There will only ever be one Lotte Lenya, Marlene Dietrich, Fred Astaire. Imitation may be the highest form of flattery, but I leave it to the men, the male impersonators, to transform themselves into these ladies. I am an evoker, I honor those who have come before by giving myself fully to what I appropriate. The mentors and muses whom I’ve heard and watched, from whom I’ve stolen and whose humanity and style have influenced my own are, most notably: Lenya, Dietrich, Astaire, Yvette Guilbert, Bessie Smith, Anita O’Day, Elis Regina, Ella Fitzgerald and Connee Boswell.

I am 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. Toward that end, I am a passionate singer.

I am a bridge. Born in Germany, raised in the U.S. and now a dual citizen, I know that I am uniquely suited to this art form. I have made my own journey across time and place, as have my songs.

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