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Renowned cellist comes home

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Homegrown classically trained cellist Karen Patterson will return to the area on Sunday, May 21, for a performance at High Street United Methodist Church in Springfield. Patterson will give the final concert of the church’s Sanctuary Concert series.

Patterson said she’s gearing her performance for the local community with a repertoire that includes Bach suites and African American spirituals, such as the classic standard “Motherless Child.”

“Knowing that I’m from the region, I had to think about that,” she said. “We’re not just going to do just some concert. Whenever you perform, you’re coming to the table with something on your plate that will  hopefully be something that your audience will be able to eat, that they will learn something from, and maybe take it out there into their worlds,” Patterson added.

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Patterson plans through her music selections to showcase “the progression of African American music and culture.”

Cellist Karen Patterson will perform at the United Methodist Church in Springfield on Sunday, May 21, at 3 p.m. The performance is free and open to the public. (Submitted photo)

“We’ll talk about improvisation in how I am able to walk some of these baselines. Where they come from,” she said.

Patterson recently completed an artist residency at the prestigious Hermitage Artist Retreat, where she is working on a book and a play about her life.

“So many people throughout my life have been saying the same thing: ‘You experienced this, you experienced that. You need to put that out to the world, so they know and maybe can be inspired in certain ways,’” Patterson said.

The retreat space, located in the Florida Keys, is a creative, multi-disciplined space for musicians, playwrights, writers, dancers and visual artists from all over the world. Patterson is scheduled to perform at a sold-out concert at Hermitage right before heading to Ohio for Sunday’s concert.

This is Patterson’s second go-round with Hermitage, an invitation-only artist retreat. Her first residency was in 2005.

“How I even came here [to Florida] in the first place was at Ringling College of Art and Design, and our dear friend John Sims. He had me come down, or rather whatever he had to do, to get the [local] orchestra to bring me down to perform,” Patterson said.

John Sims was an Antioch College graduate, artist and mathematician who taught at Ringling College of Art & Design. Sims, who is credited with founding the Yellow Springs-based African American Cultural Week, which evolved into African American Cross-Cultural Works, or AACW, died at the age of 54 last December.

Patterson comes from a military family that moved to Yellow Springs when she was in high school in the late 1960s. Also armed with musical talent and coupled with an appreciation for culture, the Patterson family made considerable contributions to Yellow Springs over the decades. Her mother, the late educator and community activist, Faith Patterson, along with a group of dedicated residents, through AACW, ensured that the village had its fill of music from talented musicians through the annual Blues, Jazz, and Gospel Festival, which ran for nearly 20 years and held its final event in Yellow Springs in 2016.

Karen Patterson holds a bachelor’s degree from Ohio University, and a master’s degree in cello performance from Antioch University. She has studied all over the world, including with German musician Gerhard Hamann. According to the press release from High Street Methodist Church, Patterson has “performed in master classes with renowned artists such as Mistislav Rostropovich and Janos Starker.” Her repertoire celebrates diversity and community and includes classical and jazz music — which she studied and performed with Keter Betts, the bassist for legendary jazz vocalist Ella Fitzgerald. Patterson also studied with retired Yellow Springs educator Shirley Mullins.

Patterson has performed at venues all over the world, including the Lagos Jazz Series Festival in Nigeria, the AACW Blues and Jazz Festival in Yellow Springs and the Global Forum in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. She has also performed in Budapest, Hungary, and London, England.

Patterson, a 1973 graduate of Yellow Springs High School, began playing the cello when she was 8 years old.

“I don’t think there’s any grand love story about the cello and me. In fact, I do know that a lot of times they need cellos in their orchestra,” Patterson said with a laugh. “And so, [my parents]  took me to all kinds of concerts where I met all kinds of cellists.”

Patterson said she wanted to play other instruments.

“It’s big, you know, for a kid. I was an 8-year-old kid. I got sized up for the cello, Daddy came home with it, and off we went — lessons on all of it. And I never looked back,” she said.

Patterson loves both classical and jazz.

“I love Beethoven, I love jazz, the more instrumental things. When I say that, I mean things that are going to happen that probably wouldn’t [ordinarily] happen but will, because of the level of musicianship. You have to be on your Ps and Qs. That’s love music, that’s challenging,” she said.

According to Patterson, she is in the process of returning to professional form. Also, an educator, Patterson was set to open a music school in Lagos, Nigeria, when she got the call to return to Yellow Springs to care for her ailing mother, which she said was an honor to do.

“I had a school that was big, a school of music that was in the works when I left to come home to take care of my mom. We had the teachers, we had the backing, everything,” Patterson said.

Caregiving for what Patterson thought would be a couple of months expanded into several months, until her mother died in 2016.

“And then, life kicks in. The real story kicks in. You may have all the plans under planet Earth, right? But anyhow, that was the reality,” she said.

After her mother’s death, and although it took several months of preparation, Patterson intended to return to Lagos to set up the school when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“Well, it is funny. When that pandemic hit, my bags were packed, I was ready to go out to the plane, that kind of thing. I was going to go back to Africa when the plug was pulled. … When you’re out from under that radar for that length of time, it takes a little doing to come on back, which I’m finally, finally doing,” Patterson said.

High Street United Methodist Church is located at 230 E. High St. in Springfield. Patterson’s concert Sunday, May 21, begins at 3 pm. Admission is free, though donations are accepted. For more information, call 937-322-2527 or go to

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