WBUR

Late ‘Giving’ Teacher, BSO Violinist Honored

Two representatives of the New England Conservatory, Yuki Beppu, left, and on piano, George Li, played in honor of Marylou Speaker Churchill on Sunday. (Kaitlyn Laabs for WBUR)

This story by Kaitlyn Laabs originally aired for broadcast on April 5, 2010.


BOSTON — Former violin teacher Marylou Speaker Churchill may no longer command the halls of New England Conservatory, but her students say they can still hear her laughter echoing in the corridors and her words rattling in their minds.

“Anyone who’s been a Marylou student will have her voice inside their ears for the rest of the their lives,” former student Adam Feinstein said. “What she says, it gets into your bloodstream. It gets inside of you.”

Marylou Speaker Churchill (Courtesy New England Conservatory)

Churchill taught at NEC for 28 years and was a mainstay as a second violin in the Boston Symphony Orchestra for 30 years. She lost her seven-year battle with cancer in November.

Feinstein was one of hundreds of students who returned to NEC to honor Churchill through song on Sunday.

“She showed me how to get out of my own way and allow myself to be taken away by the music,” Feinstein said.

After studying under Churchill from the ages of 13 to 18, Feinstein went on to earn a film degree at Yale University. But Churchill’s lessons are still with him — even in a different career path.

“When you study with somebody like Marylou, you get a certain wellspring of courage that doesn’t leave you,” he said. “And at times when you’re scared you can look back to that and still find it there.”

During the peak of her career, Mark Churchill, Marylou’s husband, remembers that she would teach for eight to 10 hours each Saturday and then play a symphony with the BSO.

“For Marylou teaching was renewal,” he said. “The more she taught, the more enlivened she became. It was almost like food for her. She was never tired out by teaching.”

Churchill continued to maintain a meticulous studio of 25-30 students after she was diagnosed with cancer. When she became too ill to leave her home, she held lessons in her bedroom. She taught propped up in an armchair until one month before her death.

“She was at her best when she was teaching and she was at her best until the very end,” Mark said.

“For Marylou teaching was renewal. The more she taught, the more enlivened she became.”

– Mark Churchill

Churchill’s protégé, Yo-Yo Ma, was also on hand Sunday. He first met Churchill when she welcomed him into the BSO more than 25 years ago. The two string players developed a strong bond during their more than two decades of playing together, and Churchill also taught his daughter, Emily, through her teenage years.

“Somehow she was able to get through to her by just being there,” Ma said. “She was rock solid for her all through her years of study. Emily is so grateful for that time.”

Ma said his daughter would come home with tiny hearts dotted across her sheet music — another reminder from Churchill to love each note played.

“Never was there one second of the 25 years I’ve known her when she wasn’t absolutely present,” Ma said. “There was always a sense of love, of giving, a sense of always working for someone else’s betterment.”

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