King Charles’ III Birthday Honours List of June 2023 confers a Queen’s Service Medal (QSM) on Karen Knudson recognising her service to the community and for her dedication to choral music in Dunedin for over thirty years. She is pictured above conducting Knox Church Choir together with Otago Girls High School choristers: St Kilda Brass Band is accompanying in the background.
Karen is a graduate of University of Otago, with a MusB(Hons) in piano performance and composition, and an MA in musical analysis.
She was a piano and organ teacher and accompanist prior to her appointment as Musical Director at Dunedin’s Knox Church in 1997. As Musical Director she has conducted the church and children’s choir; and encouraged participation and musical development in soloists and instrumentalists.
Karen has conducted the Knox Church Choir in several performances of large works from the choral repertoire, sung at services or recitals including Handel’s “Messiah”, Brahms’ and Faure’s “Requiem”, Bach Cantata BWV 140 “Wachet Auf/Sleepers Wake” and Cantata BWV 137 “Lobe den Herren”/Praise the Lord, John Stainer’s “Crucifixion” and Vivaldi’s “Gloria”. She led a performance of Karl Jenkins’ “The Armed Man”, resulting in the Knox Church choir being invited to take part in the International Peace choir concert held in Berlin in 2018. Members of the Knox Church choir travelled to Europe to participate in this event. She also actively encourages performances of NZ choral music, and has written many choral works for the choirs she conducts, as well as for brass band and orchestra.
She was Choral Director of the Otago Boys High School Choir from 1998- 2015, and Otago Girls High School Choir from 2001- 2015.
Karen organized several trips nationally and overseas and led the school choir’s participation in the New Zealand Choral Federation’s “The Big Sing” Competition each year. Under her direction, they regularly advanced to the national finals (1998-2014).
Under her mentoring many of these students have gone on to study performing arts and music. She has been involved in community music making, and teaching students of all ages.
In 2015 Karen was invited to participate in the 32nd Shanghai Spring International Music festival, where she conducted a youth choir from Otago Girls and Boys High Schools at the opening ceremony of this prestigious Festival. They performed mainly New Zealand works under her direction at several other venues over the 16 days in Shanghai and Beijing.
She has been Musical Director of the Dunedin RSA choir for nine years, and has played double bass for the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra since 2005.
Karen loves working with choirs and “can’t imagine life without it.”
“I feel the award also acknowledges the people who have been involved, across a huge range of ages and their enthusiasm and commitment to choral music. One cannot be a choral conductor without a group to work with, and building community is intrinsic to what we do with choral music. So, this award also acknowledges all my colleagues, who work tirelessly to create not only beautiful music, but also make connections between people that support and enhance life.”
This sense of community and purpose was put to the test during the Covid years. Choirs practiced wearing masks to protect the most vulnerable, and kept social distance. This meant sometimes members found it difficult to hear one another. Singing was very challenging under these conditions. The stoicism of the groups to keep working during this period was inspiring.
In the words of Frank Tichelli relating to the choral piece, Earth Song: “But music and singing have been my refuge, and music and singing shall be my light. A light of song, shining strong”. Earth Song was one of her choices for the OBHS and OGHS combined schools choir’s performance at The Big Sing in 2014. This performance can be found on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aWfUt3TSWhk.
Karen at the console of Knox Church organ
“Knox Church, Dunedin has been central to my work, through the support for presenting choral music, and community outreach projects over decades. In addition to service music, the Knox Church choir has been allowed to widen “the brief” to include larger choral works, sung at services and at community events. The church has been very generous with the use of the building for this. Knox continues to change people’s lives through music, for the better, by providing opportunities to experience music and community.”
The choir continues to welcome new members, with a variety of ages, and supports them in their musical journey.
Her QSM citation reads:
“For services to choral music
Ms Karen Knudson has made a significant contribution to choral music in Dunedin for more than 30 years.
Ms Knudson was a piano and organ teacher prior to her appointment as Musical Director at Dunedin’s Knox Church in 1997. As Director, she has conducted the church and children’s choirs, encouraging participation and musical development in soloists and instrumentalists. Under her tutelage, many of her younger students have studied music at university level. She has conducted the Knox Church Choir in several performances including Handel’s ‘Messiah’ and Brahms’ ‘German Requiem’. She led a performance of Karl Jenkins’ ‘The Armed Man’, resulting in the choir being invited to take part in the International Peace Choir Concert held in Berlin in 2019. She was Choir Musical Director of the Otago Girls and Boys High School Choirs for more than ten years. She organised several trips nationally and overseas and led the choirs’ participation in the New Zealand Choral Federation’s The Big Sing Competition each year. Under her direction, the choirs regularly advanced to the national finals. In 2015, the choirs were invited to participate in the 32nd Shanghai Spring International Music Festival. Ms Knudson has been the Musical Director of the Dunedin RSA Choir for nine years and has played double bass for the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra since 2005.”