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Professor Marilyn Mason Retires After 66 Years


Marilyn Mason, professor of organ, University organist and co-chair of the Department of Organ at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance, has retired after 66 years of service, marking a U-M milestone as the longest-serving faculty member in the University's history.

In honor of her extraordinary tenure at U-M, Dr. Mason was honored with a festive dinner at the Michigan League on September 29, in which many of her former students spoke, sharing favorite memories of their dynamic professor, who all referred to as "Madame" throughout her career.

Also paying tribute at the dinner were Dean Christopher Kendall and Lester Monts, senior vice provost for academic affairs, senior counselor to the president for arts, diversity and undergraduate affairs, and professor of musicology. The dinner program was emceed by Dean David Munson of the School of Engineering, a longtime friend of Dr. Mason's who sings in the choir of the First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor, where she is the organist.

The dinner was followed by a concert at Hill Auditorium, which was dedicated to Dr. Mason and featured performances by four of her former students. The concert was part of the three-day 53rd Conference on Organ Music, an annual event that Mason launched in 1960 and which has become one of the most important organ events in the field. She continues in her role as director of the conference. 

Marilyn Mason is among the most important influences on the American organ scene in the second half of the 20th century. She made a lasting impact in her distinguished career as concert organist, teacher, lecturer, adjudicator, consultant, and recording artist. A champion for the creation of contemporary music, she commissioned nearly 75 organ works in her lifetime. Her name commands immediate recognition among organists today, confirming her effect more than 70 years after she made her debut. 

Mason's affiliation with Michigan began in 1944 when she commenced her undergraduate studies with Palmer Christian, later completing her MM degree in 1947, during which time she was invited to join the faculty as instructor in music. Except for a summer spent in France, where she studied with Nadia Boulanger (analysis) and Maurice Duruflé (organ performance), and time studying for the doctor of sacred music degree at the Union Theological Seminary in New York, she has spent her entire teaching career at U-M in Ann Arbor.

Dr. Mason has been consistently recognized by the School's faculty. As an undergraduate, she was awarded the Stanley Medal, the highest award given to any music major. Later, in her teaching career, her colleagues presented her with the Distinguished Faculty Award, while the School's Alumni Association awarded her its first Citation of Merit (now known as the Hall of Fame award). In addition to launching and directing the Organ Conference, Mason also led more than 50 "Music Tours of Historic Organs" abroad to see and hear historic instruments.  

Dr. Mason has performed on every continent, save Antarctica. She was the first American woman to play in Westminster Abbey, the first woman organist to play in Latin America, and the first American to play in Egypt. She has served as judge at nearly every major organ competition in the world.

In 1985, the Marilyn Mason Organ was installed in a specifically designed recital hall in the Earl V. Moore Building, the main home of SMTD's music studies. For many years, Dr. Mason has provided generous endowed scholarships to organ students and has established the Marilyn Mason Professorship in Organ, to be created through a gift from her estate. 



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Photography Credits:

U-M Photo Services

Joe Welsh

Peter Smith

David Smith

Glen Behring

Tom Bower