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Remembering Jane Marshall

Jane Marshall, 1924-2019

I don’t remember the first time we met -- but it was long ago, in the mid-1960s, I think. What I do remember is that from the very beginning she felt like a sister to me. We were just the same age, of similar backgrounds and experiences, and with the same passion for music and delight in sharing it. There were many visits to Dallas in the succeeding decades, where we shared our adventures in teaching and composing and just plain life. What fun she was to be with! Her smile lit up her whole face, and there was a belly laugh that filled the room. She loved word-play, and rejoiced in a sly pun or an errant bit of poetry. There was one extended visit when a northern snow-storm closed the New York airports at the end of a meeting, and none of us northerners could get home. So there were three wonderful days of Scrabble and cocoa and popcorn -- a bit of wine and cheese -- and Elby’s excellent cooking -- and talk, talk, talk. Once, after she’d picked me up at the airport, we drove around for a half-hour as she repeatedly missed the exit sign because we were so deep in conversation.

And her music. What a melodic gift she had, plus that love for words and that intuitive ability to bring them together. I consider Sometimes a light surprises to be a work of genius. I wish I had written that setting of William Cowper’s great poem. Those sly alternations of 3 and 4 beat measures, the jazzy syncopations and the abbreviated coda -- it’s a masterwork. I got her permission to try an SATB setting for the Melodious Accord Hymnal, but that still doesn’t do it justice. It needs a good jazz combo! I remember teaching it to the congregation at my church, and they loved it. . . More memories: my first book, Creative Hymn Singing, is dedicated to her. I had complained that I just couldn’t determine who I was writing it for. She said “Write it for me”, and the block disappeared and the words flowed out as I explained my thinking to Jane -- who knew it all already.

The hymns What gift can we bring and Eternal Light, shine in my heart are models of hymnody at its best: she wrote both words and music. Her friendship and collaboration with John Thornburg brought forth a flood of creativity. Those two minds goaded and spurred each other -- sometimes it was hard to determine who had written which lines or notes. And that’s not even mentioning the anthems.

She was a superb teacher. Under her guidance the Perkins Church Music Summer School developed a three-year program that addressed church musicians’ difficulties as well as their successes. With unfailing courtesy, musicianship and wisdom she would listen to the students’ presentations, helping them to listen as carefully, and to feel encouraged on their journey. Laughter was much more frequent than tears, and the daily singing woke every echo in the room.

Dear Jane! The world is diminished without your shining face and singing spirit. Rest now in peace. Your music lives on in our hearts.

-- Alice Parker

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