A conversation with Karin Schaupp, award-winning classical guitarist and the actor who inspired David Williamson to write a play just for her

Karin Schaupp is an award-winning, highly and widely acclaimed classical guitar player. Winning hearts and awards, inspiring composers to write for her, collaborating with orchestras, ensembles, soloists, and expanding her musical horizons is par for the course for Karin who was trained by her mother since she was a small girl. Born in Germany, Karin moved to Queensland at just eight years old, and went on to study music at the University of Queensland, leaving with First Class Honours, a Masters degree and a University Gold Medal. And since then the performances, awards and achievements have kept coming. Karin has performed all over the world for millions taking to the stage and screen to dazzle audiences with her musicianship and touch.

And, if that wasn't enough, the award-winning artist also inspired Australia's most famous playwright David Williamson to write a play just for her. While Karin is known mainly as one of the world's best classical guitarists - the music press in Germany famously said of Karin, "… [her] playing is so perfect, so complete, that it seems like a miracle" - she also somehow managed to train at NIDA and the Australian Acting Academy, and took to the stage in Williamson's play Lotte's Gift some 135 times in 2009. 

And now, Karin has just released a new album called Songs of the Latin Skies alongside the ever-inspirational and beyond talented Katie Noonan. Limelight Magazine rightly said their collaboration is a "musical match made in heaven." Karin and Katie have collaborated many times before, their last release being the 2012 ARIA nominated album Songs of the Southern Skies, featuring a gorgeous version of Gotye's Heart's A Mess. And here, again, this next joint venture has proved to be just as exciting, and reiterates what a brilliant team the two make. Songs of the Latin Skies offers a fresh take on Latin jazz and classical pieces. Katie warmly said of Karin, “Once again it has been such a pleasure to make beautiful music with my friend Karin. The voice and the guitar have been at the core of Latin music for centuries and it has been great fun to re-arrange them for us." And The Australian had high praise for the album, “Katie Noonan has a voice like warm honey being decanted into melting snow. It is such a thing of beauty that finding a vessel to hold it can be difficult. Happily, in the music of acclaimed German-born classical guitarist Karin Schaupp, Noonan has found the perfect companion.”

Indeed. Karin kindly took the time to talk to Music Love about being taught by her mother, collaborating with Katie, and how very special it was to perform in Lotte's Gift, the story of her grandmother's life.

Work hard, follow your heart and be open to opportunities in unexpected places.
— Karin Schaupp, classical guitarist and actor

What does music mean to you?

Music means a great deal to me as it permeates so many parts of my life - it’s a wonderful way to communicate, to move people, and to offer an escape for the everyday. To me, it represents joy and freedom.

You were taught mainly by your mother – what was that dynamic like?

Challenging and wonderful. We were very close and I feel privileged to have learnt so much from her, but it wasn’t always easy for either of us and now as a mother myself, I admire her courage in taking on the dual role of mother and teacher!

What advice would you give aspiring classical musicians studying in Australia?

Work hard, follow your heart and be open to opportunities in unexpected places.

How do you avoid hand injuries in day-to-day life? Do you avoid knives or anything like that? Is it even something you think about?

I do think about it and I make some concessions without being super paranoid about it. As a classical guitarist, I play with nails in the right hand and maintaining them is an ongoing commitment.  I definitely avoid dangerous sports- for instance I wouldn’t go skiing, or rollerblading, but I do go bike riding with my kids. I avoid bowling (disastrous for nails!) and I wear gloves to do the washing up :-)

What is your favourite track from Songs of the Latin Skies?

Ooh that’s hard!  It’s kind of too new to have a favourite!  Can I choose two?  Wave and Oblivion.

[Katie and I] have such a special musical connection that it’s just pure joy to play together.
— Karin Schaupp, classical guitarist and actor

You have collaborated with Katie Noonan before, and the results are always magical. What was it like the very first time you two met and tried out your sounds together -  your guitar, her voice?

We were put together to do just two songs at a festival and it was instantly very special and I think we both recognised the potential of what we could do together. It took us a few years to get together properly in our crazy busy lives, but we haven’t looked back, and now we have such a special musical connection that it’s just pure joy to play together.


You were born in Germany and moved to Queensland Australia at just 8 years old. What do you remember most about that move?

I was overwhelmed by the incredible natural beauty of Queensland- the sunshine, the pristine beaches, the space and the friendliness of the people. It was also hard for me as I spoke no English so those first weeks at school were challenging. Music created a bridge for me as it transcended the fact that the language and the culture were unfamiliar.

Where and when was your most favourite performance to date?

Premiering Lotte’s Gift, a one woman play with music written for me by David Williamson which tells my grandmother’s life story. It was in a small theatre in Noosa in 2006 and my family and friends were there, including my grandmother. It was the first time I had stepped on stage combining acting and music and it was the most frightening, exhilarating and incredibly personal and emotional performing experience of my life. I remember it with searing clarity, and I know I always will.

What is your favourite place in Australia?

Lake McKenzie, Fraser Island

Who is your favourite non-musical Australian artist?

Oh gosh that’s such a hard question!! Cate Blanchett

Who are your favourite Australian women in music?

 Australia is not short on brilliant musical women and I feel privileged to have worked with many of these women over the years:

Apart from the incredible Katie Noonan of course,  composers Elena Kats-Chernin, Maria Grenfell and Mary Doumany, percussionist Claire Edwardes, recorder virtuoso Genevieve Lacey, pianist and writer Anna Goldsworthy and many others!

Katie Noonan and Karin Schaupp's album Song of the Latin Skies is out now. Tour dates below. Tickets via www.songsofthelatinskies.com