Ross Karre Named Percussion Professor at Oberlin Conservatory

Appointment begins in fall 2022, charts new course for department led for 50 years by Michael Rosen.

January 21, 2022

Erich Burnett

Ross Karre performing.
Photo credit: courtesy Ross Karre

Ross Karre, a percussionist, educator, and artistic director of the International Contemporary Ensemble, has been named Associate Professor of Percussion at Oberlin Conservatory. He will begin his new role in the fall 2022 semester.

The appointment follows the retirement of Professor of Percussion Michael Rosen, a 2019 inductee into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame, who concluded his 50-year Oberlin teaching career in May 2021.

“We are so pleased to welcome Ross Karre to the conservatory faculty,” says Richard Hawkins, a professor of clarinet and chair of Oberlin’s Division of Winds, Brass, and Percussion. “His wide range of experience, his emphasis on developing students who are critical thinkers with an interdisciplinary skill set, and his dedication to inclusion at every level reflect values we exalt as an institution. He will be a wonderful addition to the percussion studio and a welcome influence across numerous areas of study in the conservatory as well as the college.”

Karre was an undergraduate percussion student in Rosen’s studio when he also fell under the spell of cinema studies in Oberlin’s College of Arts and Sciences. After earning his conservatory degree in 2005, he went on to graduate studies at the University of California, San Diego, where he completed a master’s degree and doctorate in percussion under the tutelage of Steven Schick, followed by a second master’s degree in visual arts with a focus on film and video.

Since 2011, Karre has enjoyed an affiliation with the International Contemporary Ensemble, the New York-based contemporary music collective founded by Oberlin flutist Claire Chase ’01 and populated throughout its existence by a host of Oberlin alumni, including co-founding member and Oberlin violin professor David Bowlin ’00. Karre served as a percussionist and director of the ensemble’s archives and media, eventually rising to the roles of production director and later artistic director.

In his 11-year tenure with the ensemble, Karre performed in more than 500 concerts that included hundreds of world premieres, a major point of emphasis for the group. As artistic director, he also played a leading role in efforts toward diversity, equity, and inclusion—from programming, to commissioning new works, to creating new collaborative education spaces for emerging artists.

Though he will relocate to Oberlin, Karre will maintain “emeritus” status with the ensemble and plans to take part in performances occasionally.

Also since 2011, Karre has operated a media production collective called rKAD, which has partnered with a long list of artists and institutions. Since 2018, he has taught at the Mannes School of Music at the New School College of Performing Arts, focusing on music technology, media, chamber music, and entrepreneurship.

“I owe my commitment to sonic curiosity and also my interpretive approach to Michael Rosen’s incredible pedagogy,” says Karre. “We share a common investment in the context in which sound is made, in which musical expressions are developed, and how percussive sound shapes and is shaped by the individual musician on their creative journey. I learned from Michael Rosen that percussion is integrated with the musical decision-making that happens in the rest of the orchestra or chamber ensemble.

“Working for a decade with the fantastic and inventive musicians of the International Contemporary Ensemble has helped me to refine the way percussion can converse with winds, strings, piano, and electronics. Oberlin Conservatory is an environment of shared sonic languages under constant evolution. I’m delighted to be coming back!

“Oberlin percussion alumni also tend to be creative producers. They tend to be arts leaders and interdisciplinary collaborators,” says Karre, noting the industry’s increasing reliance on technological and production literacy in recent years—and the increasing tendency for percussionists to step into the breach. “I want to help this studio develop that kind of agency: creative agency, technological agency, and administrative agency. Because percussionists have to do that, no matter what the setting. They have to be a complete person.”

Over the past decade, Karre has intersected with Oberlin numerous times, including International Contemporary Ensemble performances on campus in 2012 and at the Cleveland Museum of Art in 2016. In recent years, he also guest-taught the students of Rosen, conducting professor and Contemporary Music Ensemble director Timothy Weiss, and cinema studies professor Rian Brown-Orso—all of them key influences in Karre’s own career trajectory.

“I feel a great deal of pride and responsibility to honor the platform that Michael Rosen built for percussion—and not just Oberlin, but the field of classical and contemporary percussion.”

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