Karen Guggenheim passed away on April 20 at her home in Sebastopol, Calif. She is survived by her daughter, Kalina Machlis.
Karen started playing gajda at the very first Balkan Music & Dance Workshop with Mark Levy in 1974. In 1983 she went to Bulgaria to continue her studies with the gajda masters Kostadin Varimezov and Encho Pashov. She taught beginning gajda at numerous Balkan Music & Dance Workshops in the 1980s and ‘90s, as well as at other West Coast music camps. She also performed with the Balkan band Medna Usta.
“This [at right] is a picture of me at 8 years old, singing Две си моме, море, живовале [Dve si mome, more, živovale] with Karen Gwen Guggenheim at a gathering in Santa Cruz,” wrote Eva Salina on Facebook. “I am at a loss for words to adequately express how her generosity, warmth, and friendship altered the course of my life and that of my family, almost 30 years ago. By bringing us into the fold of Balkan music and dance enthusiasts in Santa Cruz, and by sharing so much of her world with me, I found love and community that set me on the road I’m still following and making.
“It is hard for me to imagine I won’t see her again in this lifetime. I know she struggled with chronic health issues for almost two decades, and I hope she is at peace, and free from pain. Perhaps her beloved friend and mentor Vassil will be there to welcome her to the realm beyond, serenading her on gajda as only he can. Rest in peace, Dear Karen. You will be truly missed.”