Music professor retires after record-breaking 67 years


The longest-serving faculty member in the University of Michigan’s history, Marilyn Mason, professor of organ, university organist, and former chair of the Department of Organ at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, has retired.

Also a U-M alumna, earning both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music at U-M, Mason joined the faculty while still a student in 1947.

Marilyn Mason

Except for a summer spent studying organ with renowned international artists Maurice Duruflé and Nadia Boulanger in France, and time studying for the Doctor of Sacred Music degree at the Union Theological Seminary in New York, Mason spent her entire teaching career at U-M.

“Marilyn Mason has elevated our organ department to international pre-eminence, bringing the best students to Michigan and placing graduates in the top academic and church music positions nationally,” said James Kibbie, professor and chair of the organ department.

Mason has made a lasting impact in her distinguished career as concert organist, teacher, lecturer, adjudicator, consultant and recording artist, and by the nearly 75 organ works she has commissioned. Her name commands immediate recognition among organists today.

Mason joined the U-M faculty while still a student in 1947, near the time this photo was taken. (Photo courtesy of the School of Music, Theatre & Dance)

In her teaching career, Mason’s colleagues presented her with the Distinguished Faculty Award, while the Michigan Music Alumni Association awarded her its first Citation of Merit (now known as the Hall of Fame award).

During her time at Michigan, she launched the annual Fall Conference on Organ Music, celebrating its 54th year in 2014, and led more than 50 “Music Tours of Historic Organs” abroad to see and hear historic instruments. 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.

“In her 67 years of total dedication to her beloved University of Michigan, I imagine Marilyn has taught well over 1,000 organ majors,” said Mary Ida Yost, a former student who is now professor emerita of music at Eastern Michigan University. “Those students have, in turn, produced additional organ majors and church musicians … and so the legend will continue for time immemorial.”

As an organist, Mason has performed on every continent except 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 and became a major force in contemporary organ music by commissioning works from many celebrated composers.

“For seven decades, Marilyn Mason has distinguished our school with her exceptional artistry and pedagogy,” said SMTD Dean Christopher Kendall. “Her dedication is unparalleled, and continues into perpetuity through generous endowed scholarships and the establishment of the Marilyn Mason Professorship in Organ, which will be created through a gift from her estate.

“Her impact on the School of Music, Theatre & Dance will be felt for years to come.”


  1. Judy Dooley
    on May 19, 2014 at 10:23 am

    Marilyn has also served as organist at the First Congregational Church in Ann Arbor for many years. I was privileged to have her play at my wedding in 1987.

  2. Nancy Keith
    on May 19, 2014 at 9:50 pm

    I wonder where we could send words of congratulations, best wishes, and appreciation? What an incredible woman, and what a joy to have had her touch our lives.

  3. Gary Horton
    on May 19, 2014 at 10:32 pm

    In 1992, following my retirement from the health field, I auditioned and interviewed with Dr. Mason at the School of Music. Her response: “I can help you. Now let’s go have lunch!.” The next 6 years were the best time of my life and musical career for which I am very grateful.

  4. Paul Stapel
    on May 20, 2014 at 12:12 am

    Although I don’t fit int he great organists acategory, I am proud that I have been on a first name basis with Marilyn for quite a few years –especially since my local (Binghamton New York) connection with M Searle Wright. Marilyn and he celebrated his 75th birthday after a recital she played in Bethlehem PA some years ago –. it was a delight for him and those of us who made the trip for him !
    I can also remember attending her first performance in Hometown Muskegon, Michigan on a Reformed Church’s new Casavant in the 1960’s — she got carried away and we heard a major Bach work in that AGO workshop!!

  5. Madolyn Fallis
    on May 20, 2014 at 10:06 am

    Thank you, Marilyn, for opening my eyes and ears to the amazing organs in Europe. Besides guiding the best tour ever, you also demonstrated great warmth, humor and true compassion. I treasure those moments. Madolyn Fallis, San Antonio, Texas (your traveling hair-dresser)

  6. Larry Robinson
    on May 20, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    Marilyn, you have been the single most important influence in my musical life, and I love you for it!

  7. Brady Johnson
    on May 20, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    The only words that I can say is that I will be forever indebted to Dr. Mason and all that she taught me and for showing me how a great artist performs. Thank you and congratulations, Dr. Mason!

  8. Donnie de Gain
    on May 20, 2014 at 7:05 pm

    The first time I heard Marilyn perform many years ago was at my church. Kirk in the Hills. It forever changed my love and appreciation for the organ. Thank you Madame!

  9. David Hufford
    on May 20, 2014 at 11:23 pm

    Thank you, Marilyn, for ALL that you did to make it even possible for me to complete my organ performance degrees as your student at Michigan. It could not have happened without you. You always demonstrated your thorough musicianship, good taste, expertise, faith in me as your student, and faith in God. While our teacher/student relationship may properly include the word “former”, I know that all you have imparted will remain with me always. Congratulations on your countless achievements, your unsurpassed dedication and years of service, your great personal generosity, and the tremendous legacy you have created through the thousands of organists who benefit each day from your work. Much love to you always, as ever.

  10. Evelyn Lim
    on May 23, 2014 at 5:23 am

    What a wonderful lady! Her boundless energy and warmth is infectious to all her students, as well as friends and colleagues, no doubt. I feel so privileged to have studied with her and been around her for some years. Her influence has extended even to the sunny shores of Singapore.

  11. Mark Kasmin
    on May 27, 2014 at 5:25 pm

    What a magnificent lady, musician and human being. I have heard Marilyn countless times in recital. Her boundless energy transcends the musical score into a work of art. Although I never studied with her… organ professor did and he thought the world of her. Congratulations Marilyn as you rest upon your well deserved laurels!!

  12. Joerg Abbing
    on May 28, 2014 at 5:34 pm

    Wonderful artist, wonderful lady. I salute this artistic achievement. Congratulations, chère Madame, je vous adore.

  13. Linda Patterson
    on May 28, 2014 at 8:24 pm

    Thank you for being the organist that I wanted to grow up to be—you have been my role model since I was a teenager, and your influence on my life will never be forgotten! I am so glad that I got to study with you, even for a short time, and to watch you play the historic French organs. Blessings on your well-deserved retirement!

  14. Joan Berndt (née Gassaway)
    on June 6, 2014 at 6:26 pm

    As a fellow Martha Cookie, sister in SAI, friend and supporter during my Master of Music degree summers (my accompanist was one of her DMA organ candidates), it has been such a privilege and honor to have known her. I have heard her play in many churches in the s.e. Mi area over the past 50 years. She designed the organ and played the dedication recital for the organ at my Lutheran church in Bloomfield Hills (one of so many similar events in her career). Many of her students were my good friends in both my undergraduate and graduate years. I wish her a happy retirement and God’s blessings in all her future years.

  15. Kenneth Beckham
    on January 21, 2017 at 8:41 pm

    I remember you as a next door neighbor in Alva. My brother Dwight, and I are still active in music. Dwight gave up the Trumpet a few years back. I was a public school orchestra teacher for 31 years. I was the founding director of a chamber orchestra, which has grown into a community Symphony. Your name popped in my head, so I imediately looked for you on the Internet.

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