Secret Lives: Karen Newell 89AH 06AH

By Kimber Williams

Image of Karen Newell playing drumsDay Job: Academic coordinator for the Emory School of Medicine Physician Assistant Program

Secret Life: Drummer and drum/percussion teacher

Growing up in Golden, Colorado, Karen Newell started drumming with Magic Markers on the seat of a vinyl chair in her family’s playroom around age five—her favorite song was the theme from Hawaii Five-O. When she was a little older, she traded a huge hunk of clay with a neighbor for a pair of his older brother’s drumsticks, which she still owns. In fourth grade, Newell’s parents, thinking her interest was a passing fancy, allowed her to try out to play drums for the school band. She made it, ending up getting a snare drum and private lessons. By age thirteen, she had a drum set and was playing regularly in country-western nightclubs in and around Denver. Active in the school band throughout junior high and high school, she also played school dances with her garage band. On a music scholarship at Colorado State University, Newell earned her degree with a double major in biology and zoology and a double minor in anatomy and music, while playing in every band in the university’s music program. During physician assistant (PA) school at Emory, she joined the “Band of Braves” and played for all of the home games for the Atlanta Braves. She went to Yale for a postgraduate PA surgical residency program, playing in both the Yale Marching Band and the Norwalk Symphony. Since returning to Emory in 1995 as a faculty member in the PA program, she has given private drum and percussion lessons, taught high school drum lines, played all over Atlanta, and organized annual recitals for her music students. In May, Newell held the twentieth annual recital for her music students at Emory, with proceeds benefitting the PA program’s South Georgia Migrant Farm Worker Health Project.

Her Words: “I find it fascinating that throughout history, in every country around the world, the drum can be found in some form, kind of like a heartbeat. For me, drumming is in my soul. It is a very personal and spiritual thing. Music has always been a way for me to let my spirit speak and to release and share my creative energies. I am especially known for creating my own unique instruments from items found at Home Depot. You can often find me there late at night, gathering inspiration.”

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