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.
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.
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.”