Caren Simon Umbarger has played the violin since the age of five. She studied at Bennington College and earned a BA in violin performance from Hamline University. Caren has been a professional musician, conductor and string teacher for more than 35 years, and during that time she raised three children. She also taught at The International School of Minnesota and St. Paul Academy and Summit School. Her mentors include Dr. Jean Montes, Marina Liadova, Alexs Pate, Dr. Jonathan May, and Dr. Lucas Drew.
When Caren met her husband, Paul, she gained two step-sons and played electric violin in his eight piece show band, Blue Daddies. In 2005 they co-founded a non-profit, Artistic Youth Ensembles of Minnesota (AYEM), and Caren served as Artistic Director for 5 years. When the Umbargers moved to Florida in 2010, they formed The Island Duet and Caren served as Artistic Director of the Flagler Youth Orchestra in Palm Coast for 3 years. Her first novel, Coming To: A Midwestern Tale, won a 2011 Florida Book Award bronze medal for General Fiction.
Caren is the owner of a beautiful old violin made in Nuremberg in 1782 by Leopold Widhalm that wound up being the inspiration for this story. In 2011, moments before shipping it off to be sold, Caren reconsidered. Rather than part with her old friend, she was compelled, instead, to write a book about it. The result, six years in the making, is her second novel, The Passion of Marta. Widhalm’s violin graces both the front and back covers.
The author’s family heritage played a significant role in the confluence of ideas that brought forth Marta’s story. Caren’s maternal great-grandmother, Rosa Rohrbacher Schlesinger, was born in Jebenhausen, Germany, and emigrated to America at the age of 16. Her paternal grandfather, Dr. Frank Simon, was a renowned American band director and teacher, who enjoyed a long and celebrated career which included seven years as the principal cornet soloist and assistant conductor for John Phillip Sousa. Caren Umbarger is confident that Wilhelm’s lady’s violin holds more secrets and has further tales to tell.
Caren enjoys cooking, dancing, canoeing, bike rides, and long walks in nature. She and her husband live, work & play in St. Augustine Beach, Florida.
While Caren’s latest novel, The Passion of Marta, is historical fiction, it speaks to contemporary issues including immigration, assimilation, religious freedom, women’s roles, and also abuse. As has been true of all of her works, she writes in order to bring forth the voices of women, and to help them be fully heard and honestly understood.