In 1994 I was invited to give a lecture at Pomona College on some aspects of Cuban music. As it often happens in these kinds of events, there were some problems with the audiovisual equipment, with the arrangements of seats, etc. Fortunately, there was a person there who ran around quickly, got all the equipment to work, rearranged the seating, made sure my microphone was clipped in the best place and got me water. At the end of my lecture that same person was busy re-organizing the room, helping the tech people with the equipment, picking up. I thought it was really nice of Pomona College to assign a person, probably a staffer, to basically attend to my needs so I walked up to her, after all the questions were answered and the session was finished, to thank her. I found out that her name was Katherine Hagedorn and that she was a faculty member in the Music Department at Pomona College. That first encounter captures for me something I will remember about Katherine: a most helpful, caring, and generous person, who always thought of others before she thought of herself. As a child, I was told that “quién no vive para servir, no sirve para vivir,” which is difficult to render into English, but could be translated as “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” That is the life that Katherine lived.
In the years that followed, Katherine and I became very close professionally. We read and critiqued each other’s work, met frequently to discuss the scholarly and popular literature on Cuban music, salsa and jazz, attended a wide variety of music and dance events, worked jointly on a variety of projects, and wrote supporting letters of evaluation for each other. She showed me new and different ways to listen to and appreciate music. I watched in amazement as she mastered the batá drums under the tutelage of Francisco Aguabella. Personally, I became aware of Katherine’s profound spirituality.
In December of last year (2012) Katherine and I traveled to Cuba for a week to continue our respective research agendas. We spent many hours together. Presumably, we were going to make progress on a joint manuscript on contemporary Cuban music we’ve been working on for a year or so. We did make some progress but not much because being in Katherine’s company a great deal of the time was spent laughing and telling stories. That trip to Cuba captures for me another thing I will remember about Katherine: her sense of humor, her uncanny ability to mimic other people in a funny yet totally sympathetic way, her smile, and her laughter.
Katherine was kind, generous, funny, simpática, and very spiritual.
Katherine was one of the most soulful persons I have ever met.