Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Beatrice Rippy 1930-2012

I first met Beatrice Rippy in 1969 at the Third Street Music Settlement in New York City.  I was 14 years old and she was my first voice teacher.  Together with her husband, the noted pianist Carroll Hollister, she gave me weekly lessons that would shape my musical life.  Miss Rippy not only gave me the best vocal instruction a young singer could wish for, she influenced my life as a young woman.  
She was a captivating performer, with a rich voice and a powerful stage presence.  See this article written in January 31, 1963 describing Miss Beatrice Rippy's peformance in a recital where she offers a "Musical Fusion of Negro and Jewish People."  She was a winner of the 1959 Concert Artist Guild Award and had a distinguished career as a concert artist.  She had the rare gift of being able to teach a young singer technique without taking away the "naturalness" of singing.  She took a special interest in me and I was invited to take extra lessons at her apartment on the upper west side.   I would come on Saturdays and spend an entire afternoon there vocalizing, singing through songs, and then coaching with Mr. Hollister. I would sometimes look after their two young children, Freddie and Elizabeth, in exchange for the many extra hours Miss Rippy and Mr. Hollister so generously spent with me.  
During those wonderful early years of my training, Beatrice Rippy taught me how to sing a beautiful even scale, how to commit to the drama in a song and how to bake bread!   I remember how shocked she was that I didn't know the first thing about kneading bread and how she took it upon herself to rectify it. What a time we had!  She also made me aware of how artists could play a vital role in examining and addressing social issues. Once, she brought me along to a political demonstration in Central Park with her friend and colleague, mezzo-soprano, Betty Allen.  At the rally, she introduced me to Ozzie Davis and Ruby Dee.  Studying voice with Miss Rippy was not only about singing, I also learned about life, life's struggles and political activism, and how music was tied to all of these.  
Composer, author, and music critic Tom Manoff, who was head of theory, composition, the teacher training program and community based efforts at the Third Music School Settlement when Rippy and Hollister taught there, remembers them both with great affection and had this to say:
"Carroll was a first-rate musician whose depth of musical understanding complimented Beatrice Rippy's radiant voice.  Together, they represented both decency and professionalism in a time when society expected musicians to take stands on issues of the day."  
I recently came across this beautiful recording of Robert Merrill and Carroll Hollister performing Handel's Ombra mai fu. It was a piece I had studied with Mr. Hollister and Miss Rippy.  I can remember everything they taught me to this day.  I include it here in honor of a rare and beautiful artist and human being.  
Handel: Ombra mai fu, Robert Merrill, baritone, Carroll Hollister, piano  
May you rest in peace, Miss Rippy. 

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