Karlins, 73, ‘beloved’ music composition prof

By Michelle Ma and Allan Madrid

The Daily Northwestern

M. William Karlins, professor emeritus of music, died unexpectedly Wednesday afternoon in his Northbrook, Ill., home. He was 73.

His wife, Mickey, discovered his body in an armchair and initially thought he was asleep. She said he had been composing music by his piano prior to his death.

The cause of death is unknown and an autopsy will be performed soon, Mickey Karlins said.

Although Karlins underwent minor heart surgery in 2002, his doctors confirmed his heart was healthy, Mickey Karlins said. Karlins went running at least five times a week and watched his diet, she said.

Karlins, a music composition professor, retired from Northwestern in 2001. He began teaching composition classes at the School of Music in 1967 and became a full professor in 1973.

Karlins was still advising two doctoral candidates with their dissertations at the time of his death.

“He was a great teacher and very supportive of young composers,” said Music graduate student Kingsley Tang, who was also an undergraduate in NU’s music composition program. “He had the ability to relate to people of younger generations.”

Prof. Bernard Dobroski, former Music dean and a close friend of Karlins, said the composition professor was one of the most popular instructors at the School of Music.

“He was beloved by students in a way that only professors are loved,” he said. “He was a man who nurtured your soul, a man who cared about his students.”

Apart from teaching, Karlins also composed musical works for a variety of ensembles and was a guest composer at several colleges, including Arizona State University, Illinois Wesleyan University and the Alberta College Conservatory of Music.

Karlins, known best for his saxophone compositions, was also a composer-in-residence at many saxophone organizations across Europe.

Soloists and orchestras around the world — including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra — have performed Karlins’ music.

“He was a very interesting composer,” Tang said. “His work was very colorful and kinetic.”

Students said they remember Karlins’ welcoming smile when he saw former students in music building hallways.

“He was really kind and encouraging,” said Music senior Ephraim Church, who took a composition class with Karlins during his freshman year. “He had a New York accent and always told us stories about being a student in New York. He was really down to earth.”

A life-long teacher, Karlins was devoted to his students even after they graduated, Dobroski said.

“He was in touch with a hundred-plus students,” he said. “There was no day in his life when he was not responding to present-day students and alumni.”

Karlins earned a doctorate from the University of Iowa in 1965. He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Manhattan School of Music.

Karlins is survived by his wife, 74; son Wayne, 52; daughter Laura Stevenson, 49; and two grandchildren.

Although memorial arrangements have not been confirmed, Dobroski said NU will probably host a commemorative concert sometime soon.

“Students and others will demand that there be a concert in one of our halls or Alice Millar (Chapel) so that people who cannot fly in during the next several days will have a chance to say thank you and say good-bye,” he said.

Reach Michelle Ma at [email protected] and Allan Madrid at [email protected]


Remembered as a beloved professor in the School of Music