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Karin Nelson was born in Skellefteå in the far north of Sweden. She studied music and education at the Piteå School of Music and later church music at the Gothenburg School of Music, where she also received her Soloist Diploma. This was followed by organ and harpsichord studies at the Sweelinck Conservatory in Amsterdam. Already at the beginning of her career, she taught at several universities in Sweden and was, for several years, organist for the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra.

Nelson is professor in organ and church music at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo and in organ at the Academy of Music and Drama, University of Gothenburg. She has a Ph.D. in musicology, the title of her dissertation being “Improvisation and Pedagogy through Heinrich Scheidemann’s Magnificat Settings,” focusing on the role of music notation in North Germany during the 17th century when organists were known for their ability to improvise. In addition to concert activities in Sweden and abroad, Nelson has made numerous CD recordings, several with musicians from different genres where improvisation is included as a natural element.