Karen A. Shaffer wrote the definitive biography Maud Powell, Pioneer American Violinist (Iowa State University Press, Ames: 1988) which received international critical acclaim. Her life has never been the same since.
She fell in love with books at an early age and claimed that she was going to write a book some day. At the same time, she was drawn to music and tried playing various musical instruments. She loved the violin best of all. Recognizing her limitations as a musician, she wisely decided to go to law school but perversely kept on playing the violin. Happily, her violin teacher Neva Greenwood got her interested in Maud Powell. By then, Karen’s legal training had finely honed her writing skills and she gave up practicing the violin (to the relief of anyone within earshot). She embarked on a fascinating journey of discovery with Neva Greenwood as she began to delve deeply into the life of Maud Powell and to write her biography. Maud Powell opened a world of joy to her which she has been sharing with the rest of the world ever since in the hope that young people might re-discover their musical heritage through Maud Powell and be inspired to follow her example.
As founder and president of The Maud Powell Society for Music and Education (1986), she has restored the important musical legacy of Maud Powell (1867-1920) through re-issuance of Powell’s Victor recordings on compact disc, publication of a children’s book, exhibits at the Peru (Illinois) Library, the Indianapolis Children’s Museum and Boston’s Symphony Hall, Maud Powell commemorative concerts, presentations in schools and colleges, and through co-founding the annual Maud Powell Arts Celebration in Peru, Illinois.
When Powell’s birth city chose to commemorate Maud Powell, Ms. Shaffer served as an advisor to the Peru (Illinois) Statue Committee and spoke at the dedication of the Maud Powell statue in July 1995. Ms. Shaffer also spoke at the ceremony inducting Maud Powell into the Fox Valley Arts Hall of Fame in April 2002 in Aurora, Illinois, where Powell grew up. Ms. Shaffer rescued the long-lost Nicholas R. Brewer oil portrait of Maud Powell, which the Society donated to the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. in 2002, giving Powell enduring national recognition. With the 2001-04 release of Maud Powell, The Complete Recordings, 1904-1917 in four volumes by Naxos, the world’s leading classical music label, Powell is once again internationally renowned for her artistic achievements.
Ms. Shaffer compiled an edition of Maud Powell’s transcriptions and music dedicated to her and wrote an historical introduction with an extensive commentary on the music. It was published in four volumes as Maud Powell Favorites in 2009 by The Maud Powell Society for Music and Education. Her inspiring presentations on Maud Powell are richly illustrated with images and music and well received by audiences in schools, libraries, and universities.
In 1995, Ms. Shaffer co-founded Signature, Women in Music with Maud Powell Society board member Pamela Blevins. The magazine is now being published online. Shaffer and Blevins are preparing new books in their Women in Music series for young readers so that other women musicians, like Maud Powell, can serve as inspirational role models. They have created Music and Your Child programs designed to encourage and guide parents to make music an integral part of their children's education. Ms. Shaffer developed the Maud Powell Society’s web site www.maudpowell.org and is continuing to expand its content.
An authority on the classical violin tradition in America during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Ms. Shaffer writes and lectures on Maud Powell and the development of the violin tradition in America within a broader cultural and historical context. Her articles have appeared in numerous music journals.