Longtime organist and choirmaster Edith Ho dies at 88
But the obstacles remained.
“I came in and played my audition in 90-degree weather,” she said, “and the president, Harris Collingwood, gave me the job, overriding his advisory committee’s recommendation.”
Ms Ho, who led the Advent Church choir to ever higher heights during her three decades in office, died on July 30 in hospice care in Worcester after a period of failing health. She was 88 years old and had lived in Newton for many years.
“As a conductor, Edith’s lack of showmanship and ego reflected a willingness to let the notes speak for themselves,” wrote Mark Dwyer, organist and conductor at the Advent church, in a tribute.
He first learned about his work while attending church in the early 1980s, and Ms. Ho hired him in 1989 as an associate organist and choirmaster.
“She expected tedious preparation and performances, and pulled the best out of those of us under her responsibility,” Dwyer wrote. “And with age, she grew and became even better at her job. In the end, many of us did more than we thought we could, not just because we respected her, but because we loved her.
Katelyn Emerson, former associate organist and conductor at the church, wrote in an online tribute that with Ms. Ho’s death, “ripples are being felt in the world of sacred music and beyond, for its impact on church music in general, and church music at Boston Advent Church in particular, cannot be overstated.
Even after her retirement, Ms. Ho attended Advent Church, where she was a faithful presence “in the back row, listening to each piece of music with special attention and even, at times, critical reflection,” Emerson added. .
Ms. Ho was “legendary for her exacting standards long before I arrived in 2001,” wrote Ross Wood, who was associate organist and choirmaster at Ms. Ho’s church for the last few years before her retirement, in tribute.
“It was impossible not to admire the determined passion, dedication and tenacity that Edith lavished on her musical creation,” he said.
She had been equally tenacious in pursuing a career far from where she had started her life.
Born in Guangzhou, China on August 16, 1932, Edith Ho was one of three children and grew up in Hong Kong and Singapore.
According to Ms. Ho’s friends, her father, Wai Yue Ho, and her mother, Laing Shiu Ho, were staunch Seventh-day Adventists.
Having spent her youth during the rise of Communism and the Chinese Revolution, “Edith rarely spoke of her childhood years,” Dwyer wrote.
As a teenager, she emigrated to the United States, raising funds for the crossing of the ocean by giving piano recitals.
Ms. Ho received a bachelor’s degree in piano from Columbia Union College in Takoma Park, Md., Then attended the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, where she earned another bachelor’s degree, this time in organ, and a master’s degree. Until 1969, she also did doctoral studies at Peabody.
In 1994, the Theological Seminary at Nashotah House in Nashotah, Wisconsin, awarded Ms. Ho an honorary degree.
While at Peabody, she was a star pupil of famous organist Arthur Howes and also sang in his church choir.
She then studied in Germany with organists Heinz Wunderlich and Helmut Walcha, and gave concerts across Europe, including a recital at Notre-Dame de Paris “where you performed for 4,000 people,” the Peabody said. Johns Hopkins University Institute when he presented him with a Distinguished Alumni Award in 2007.
In the United States, Ms. Ho held teaching and organist positions before joining the Advent Church in 1977.
Leading a choir of 18 skilled musicians at the church, Ms. Ho was renowned for her thoroughness.
“Rehearsal time is limited, so I expect my singers to know cold music by the time they go to rehearsals,” she told The Globe in 1994. “I’m famous in town. to demand that my singers be fabulous sight readers; there is no time to have fun. To be useful to the choir, a singer must be at the highest musical level.
The choir members knew that “if you’re supposed to be here at 10 a.m. on Sunday singing, that means you’re not going out late on Saturday,” said Dwyer, who took over as organist and conductor, in an interview. .
But, as Ms. Ho said with a smile in 1994, “singers will sometimes be singers.”
During her tenure from 1977 to 2007, when heart disease prompted her to retire at age 75, the choir produced 13 recordings, many of which feature music by Renaissance composers whose works no. is not often heard. Radio stations such as WGBH-FM in Boston and the BBC in England presented the music she conducted.
“It was a very rewarding experience to sing with her because you felt you were contributing something important,” said Karl Schoellkopf, a longtime friend who was Ms. Ho’s proxy and who sang in her. summer choir as unpaid. volunteer. “Because music was important to Edith, it was automatically important to you if you decided to sing. “
For 18 years, Ms. Ho was married to Paul Van Ocken, a former Catholic priest from Belgium. He died in 1990.
“The two met on a train in Europe while Edith was consulting each other,” Schoellkopf said.
Van Ocken entered Tongerlo Abbey in Belgium at age 19 and left monastic life to come to the United States, where he was a printer in Baltimore and radiation therapist at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“They had a very happy marriage,” said Schoellkopf.
Ms. Ho leaves behind a sister, Dr. Charlotte Zane of Riverside, California.
A commemorative Requiem Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. on September 11 in the Advent Church.
Frequently attending concerts in Greater Boston, Ms. Ho had a membership with the Boston Symphony Orchestra for nearly 40 years, and she “still sent checks to charities, arts organizations and others in the world. need, ”Dwyer wrote in his tribute.
However, Ms. Ho focused much of her attention on the Advent Church.
“She has always cared not only for the well-being of the musicians in her charge, but also of parishioners and friends,” Dwyer wrote. “Never flaunting the fact, she regularly visited parishioners in the hospital. “
Ms. Ho was also concerned about their spiritual well-being, which she nurtured through music and conducting.
“If you ask me about the special quality of our choir,” she said in 1994, “I would say it comes from singing this music not primarily in concerts but in the context of the liturgy where the music takes place. really life, where the words really mean something.
Bryan Marquard can be reached at [email protected]