Celebrating the Life of Karen Bates-Smith
Saturday, October 22, 2016 • 10 a.m.• Newberg Friends Church
Karen Bates was born February 4, 1952 to Glenn and Betty Bates in The Dalles, Oregon. She grew up in The Dalles, McMinnville, and Newberg, graduating from Newberg High School in 1970.
Karen demonstrated varied talents at Newberg High School. She competed in gymnastics and scored points for her team on the balance beam. She sang in a high school choral group called “Shades of Blue” that performed in local concerts. She also sang in choirs for high school commencements and a local production of The Messiah. She practiced calligraphy and drawing with charcoal.
While still in high school, Karen moved deeper into music. She created an arrangement of “Sunrise, Sunset” for the high school choir and conducted the choir’s rendition of the popular song in 1969.
In 1977 Karen married Philip Smith, changing her name to Karen Bates-Smith. In 1981 she gave birth to a son, Tim. In 1989, we adopted a son, James. After college, Karen attended Fuller Theological Seminary, completing a Ph.D. in Psychology in 1983. She made a career as an Oregon licensed psychologist for more than thirty years. But her musical muse would not leave her alone. In the early 80s she bought a cello and started lessons. Pretty soon, she bought a much more expensive cello, and her husband knew the music thing was serious.
In the 1980s, when I was pastor of Maplewood Friends Church, Karen aided worship greatly by playing piano, collaborating with Meredith Fieldhouse, who led singing.
We moved to Newberg in 1989. It wasn’t long before Karen joined the Chehelem Symphony, directed by Dennis Hagen. For years she played cello alongside Theo Powers. Besides two or three concerts a year with the Chehelem Symphony, Karen gave solo performances in concerts at the Portland Community Music Center. For a couple years, Theo joined her, giving the Smith and Powers sons a chance to squirm in their seats while their mothers performed. Karen Bates-Smith, Karen Scott, and Pat Surguy formed a trio (cello, piano, violin) called Clavis Trio. They gave recitals at Friendsview Manor and Newberg Friends Church.
By the late 90s, performance wasn’t enough. Karen returned to school, pursuing an undergraduate music degree at Marylhurst University, with an emphasis in composition. At first, she focused on choral music, including “Sing to Yahweh,” which was performed in worship by the Newberg Friends Choir in June 1998. She also wrote pieces for piano and cello, such as “Sonata #1” which was performed by Theo Powers and Jane Smith in 1998. In her senior recital, in 2002, various musicians performed “Love’s Whimsey” (soprano and piano), “Rondo for Alto Flute” (a memorial to victims of 9-11), Rhyme Quintet in E-Flat” (by the Con Grazia Wind Quintet), “String Trio #1 in C Major” (violin, viola, and cello). Karen also wrote music for at events at Warner Pacific College, such as “Brass Ring” for a concert called the Brass Bash.
After finishing at Marylhurst in 2003—her second undergraduate degree—Karen gradually played cello less and concentrated more on composing. Eventually she left the Chehelem Symphony. But she continued to practice cello to keep up her skills. With her friend, Darlene Babin, she practiced a variety of cello and piano pieces, many of them her own compositions. She contributed new work for recitals at Marylhurst, including “Brown and Furry” and “The Telephone is Under the Stairs” (soprano and piano).
By this point you get the idea: Karen wrote for voices and for a great variety of instrumental combinations: string trios, woodwind quintets, brass groups, orchestras, and so on.
That is not the end of the story. In a sense, it’s only half. In 2014, after her first go-round with cancer, Karen retired as a psychologist. Then she went out and bought a camera. She bought another camera. And lenses. And lighting equipment. Her husband knew this photography thing was serious.
Karen opened a business, Take Wing Photography. With our daughter-in-law Jennie’s help, she transformed our living room into a portrait studio. She also took her camera to Coffee Cottage and to people’s houses. She came back with some penetratingly realistic photos of people. I defy anyone to find a better picture of Ed Higgins than the one Karen captured.
In my opinion, though, Karen’s art photography surpassed her portraits. In some cases she manipulated the camera to achieve pure abstraction. In other pictures, she used extreme close-up shots to bring the viewer intimately into nature. She made pictures that reveal beauties we too often pass by without noticing.
Sadly, Karen’s photography career lasted less than two years. Cancer came back. Debilitating pain forced her to stop. October 9, 2016, she died. I don’t know if we will make photos after the resurrection. Scripture strongly hints we will make music. In Tolkien’s delightful story, “Leaf by Niggle,” the artwork we make here prepares us for greater art making in the next life. It will be pure delight to see what Karen’s work here might lead to there.
Phil Smth’s “Last Walk” essays are gathered on his Story and Meaning blog, along with many other essays.