“In the hands of a few gifted people, the autoharp can swell into the sound of a whole orchestra. Karen Mueller is one of those few.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
Karen Mueller is one of the top autoharp and mountain dulcimer players performing today. Her exciting and innovative performing style, featuring Appalachian, Celtic and contemporary music, has been applauded by critics and audiences from LA to Boston. Bluegrass Unlimited magazine has said "Karen Mueller's touch, timing and taste make her a true virtuoso. Her talent and clarity...deserve a wide audience."
Karen won the 1986 International Autoharp Championship and was a National Dulcimer finalist in 1985, both at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas. In 2006 she was inducted into the Autoharp Hall of Fame. A native of Winfield, she first attended the festival while in high school and was inspired to learn to play the autoharp and dulcimer by the performers she saw there.
Karen is a 2012-13 recipient of a prestigious McKnight Artist Fellowship for Performing Musicians. She is an accomplished multi-instrumentalist; besides autoharp and dulcimer, she plays guitar, mandolin, Irish bouzouki and ukulele. In 2000, the Minnesota Bluegrass and Old-Time Music Association awarded Karen its “Recognition of Excellence.” She has also been an official showcase artist at the North American Folk Alliance Conference. While touring extensively as a soloist, Karen also performs in numerous ensembles, including with Katie McMahon, original lead singer of Riverdance.
Based in Minneapolis, Karen is in demand as a performer, studio musician, school residency artist and instructor. She gives private lessons in the Twin Cities to around 50 students of all ages and levels at West Bank School of Music and Homestead Pickin’ Parlor. Karen also enjoys performing for seniors and leading them in group singing and dulcimer building and playing. In 2011, Karen and residency partner Southwest Senior Center/Volunteers of America received the Minneapolis Arts Commission's "Special Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Arts in Community" for their dulcimer building and performance project.
Karen has released six solo recordings and authored three music books, including Celtic Autoharp published by Mel Bay Publications. Her recorded music has appeared in ongoing editions of the Silver Burdette Making Music series of elementary music education. She has also contributed selections to numerous anthology recordings, including two volumes of Masters of the Mountain Dulcimer, Autoharp Legacy, and the Minnesota Fiddle Tunes Project.
Some Past Solo Performances
Sore Fingers Week, England
Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago
Augusta Heritage Center at Davis and Elkins College, West Virginia
Seattle Autoharp Week (co-founder/director)
California Traditional Music Society Festival, Los Angeles
Old Songs Festival, New York
Walnut Valley Festival, Winfield, KS
The Swannanoa Gathering, North Carolina
Ozark Folk Center, Mountain View, Arkansas
Swallow Hill Music Society, Denver
Minnesota Bluegrass & Old Time Music Association Festivals
Featured soloist with Vox Corda Orchestra, Minneapolis
Mountain Laurel Autoharp Gathering, Pennsylvania
Dulcimer festivals nationwide: Oregon, New Mexico, Arizona, Florida, New York, Louisiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas, Colorado, and more
Karen Mueller bridges many mountain dulcimer traditions to formulate her own dynamic style. She started playing the dulcimer in 1979 by learning the innovative tunes on the Pacific Rim Dulcimer Project record, featuring Neal Hellman, Force & d'Ossche, and Bonnie Carol. From there she began adding traditional Appalachian and Celtic music to her repertoire, and developed her own arrangements of these styles as well as pop, jazz, and original material. Her techniques range from rhythmic flatpicking and strumming to sensitive fingerpicking. Karen grew up in Winfield, KS, home of the Walnut Valley Festival, and was introduced to the dulcimer and autoharp there. She has been a finalist in the National Mountain Dulcimer competition, and first-place winner in autoharp, both at Winfield in the mid-1980s.
Today she is a full-time performer and instructor, and has travelled throughout the US and England teaching at major workshops and festivals. Karen has released six solo recordings and several instruction books, including "Favorite Dulcimer Arrangements," and is featured on two volumes of the "Masters of the Mountain Dulcimer" CD series. She is an active teacher of private lessons, school classes and residencies, and also performs with Irish singer Katie McMahon, the original lead singer from Riverdance. In demand as a multi-instrumentalist, she plays and teaches guitar, mandolin, ukulele and Irish bouzouki in addition to dulcimer and autoharp. A skilled and experienced instructor, Karen is able to work effectively with all levels of students, from new players to advanced. She has also performed the challenging Blackberry Winter dulcimer concerto twice with Minnesota orchestras.