If you consider the humanities (especially the musical arts) essential to the human experience, you’ll certainly appreciate the contributions that Kari Hasbrouck has made to the quality of that experience in Grays Harbor County.

Recognized widely for her inspiration, enthusiasm and many talents, the Hoquiam musician teaches voice and piano, serves as an adjunct professor at Grays Harbor College (GHC), and directs both the GHC Jazz Choir and the Grays Harbor Civic Choir.

Kari, 56, also serves as the music director at Saron Lutheran/First Presbyterian Church in Hoquiam.

Photo by Katie McGregor

“Kari has so much experience,” says Bill Dyer, GHC’s band and orchestra director, who has worked with her for 11 of the 30 years he has known her. “She’s a perfect fit for everything, and she does everything. She is very easy to work with, and students feel comfortable around her.” 

After graduating from Hoquiam High School in 1983, Kari attended Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, then transferred to Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, where she earned a bachelor’s degree of fine arts in music performance (vocal jazz). Then, in her mid-thirties, she earned her master’s degree in secondary education from Grand Canyon University.

Now and Then

Kari’s students love her. Amber Mullins, 21, a third-year music major, says Kari “is a super positive person and one of the most encouraging and understanding instructors I’ve ever had.”

“Kari is a very patient and understanding teacher,” says former student Rae Snow, 20. “She helped me to grow into my voice, teaching mental techniques and selecting songs that challenged me.

“I always knew she was very skilled as she accompanied me for every lesson, but it wasn’t until I saw her perform on one rare occasion that I realized how incredibly talented she was. She gives so much to her students,” Rae says.

Photo by Keith Krueger

It’s debated whether virtuosity comes from a natural born talent or hard work and experience. Arguably, artistic skill comes from both, if you mix in opportunity and passion. Kari has all that.

She began piano lessons in fourth grade, playing piano in the high school jazz band and violin in the orchestra. At Hoquiam High School the orchestra teacher, Chuck Elwell, helped the students put together a blue grass group, The Fiddling Grizzlies.

“We were the first high school group to ever perform at the Seattle Folk Life Festival,” Kari recalls.

She began accompanying the choir at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church (now Amazing Grace Lutheran Church) in Aberdeen, when she was in high school, as well as the Hoquiam High School Concert Choir for a couple of years, singing with both choirs whenever she got the chance.  Her first experience directing a choir was in an emergency substitute situation.

She was working as a paraeducator in the Hoquiam School District and had been accompanying the choirs at the high school and middle school for a couple of years when in the middle of the year, the district unexpectedly needed someone to step in and teach the choir classes.

“There was no one on the substitute teacher list who had any music experience. The principal asked if I would be willing to step in. I was finishing up my final course of my master’s program and was getting ready to do my student teaching. So, I said ‘yes.’  In the back of my mind, I was thinking, ‘What did I just get myself into?’

“I basically had a trial-by-fire experience being the teacher for two high school choirs, two middle school choirs and a beginning music class. I taught for the district for two and a half years. It was the toughest job I ever had, but I have a lot of good memories from that period in my life.”

Heart and Soul

Kari says that she invites choir members to express their opinions about the music. “I really enjoy the collaboration and the team atmosphere of the choirs I have directed. I think it’s important that singers have the freedom to talk with me and make suggestions about repertoire or challenges in the music.“Choir, for as long as I have been involved, has been like a second family and a place where people are comfortable expressing themselves through music,” she says. “Singing can feel very vulnerable because you are your instrument. Creating an environment where singers feel safe to express themselves and grow as musicians, whatever that looks like for them, is very important to me.”

And yet, she says, “I think the most challenging thing for me is that I am a total introvert. I’m not big on chit chat, but I’ll talk to you about music because that’s what I am passionate about. People sometimes underestimate me because I am a quiet person.” But introverts often have a way of both finding and expressing themselves creatively. For Kari that includes writing and arranging music.

“I started writing simple piano music at about age 10 and vocal music soon after. I attended a young songwriters workshop at Fort Worden State Park the summer I turned 12 and remember sleeping in rooms in the old Army barracks and making friends with other nerdy young kids who were there learning about songwriting.

“I wrote mostly vocal music with piano accompaniment all through high school and college. When Bill Dyer was directing the jazz choir, I arranged one of my solo pieces, ‘Dream,’ for the jazz choir. It has been performed several times in the past. In a nutshell, the song is about a world existing without war, without hunger and without hate.” In fact, her two most recent solo pieces, both originals, were featured in the GHC Community Ensemble Directors Concert on Nov. 13, 2020.

“One is a humorous blues piece about getting older. The other is a song I wrote for a special guy in my life,” she says, adding that the program is still on the Bishop Center for Performing Arts Facebook page. One of Kari’s most recent and rewarding projects was working with the 7th Street Kids production of “Frozen JR.” “I was hired to be the music director—something I had always wanted to try, but never thought Alex Eddy would give up the gig. But he and Julayne Fleury were busy with the opening of their own theater project, Plank Island Theatre Company. (Eddy was featured in the Fall 2021 issue of Coastal Currents and Fleury in the Spring 2021 issue.) “I was able to work with some wonderful young singers and be part of a new directing team. It was a great experience and I would definitely do it again if given the opportunity,” she says.

Photo by Katie McGregor

Fun and Future

Kari enjoys spending time with her family—especially her granddaughter Dakota, 6, who loves music as much as she did at that age. During the summer she likes to take road trips with her dog to visit family. Creating mosaics and playing pinochle are other ways she enjoys downtime.

She plans to continue teaching and directing, saying she hopes to explore more musical theater opportunities. “And someday I want to actually go to New York and see a Broadway show.”

“I would really like to do more singing, put together a jazz combo, do some arranging of jazz standards and originals and get out there and do some playing.” Though her GHC teaching schedule keeps her pretty busy, Kari does offer private lessons. She can be reached at momsong40@comcast.net