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Mary Elizabeth Birch

Mary Elizabeth (Beth) Birch, age 89, died peacefully October 28. She was born May 23, 1931, in Racine, Wisconsin, to Gilbert and Kathryn Hansen. Mary Beth was Valedictorian of the Northwestern University class of 1953. She was a pianist and harpsichordist, who taught piano privately and at Kalamazoo College for forty years, as well as serving as staff accompanist at the College. She was a co-founder of the Kalamazoo Chamber Music Society. She was harpsichordist for the Kalamazoo Bach Festival for many years, and also specialized in performing on the fortepiano, historical predecessor of the modern piano. Over a span of fifteen years, she produced and performed in a series of concerts entitled “The Fortepiano in Ensemble.” Mary Beth was awarded the Kalamazoo Medal of Arts in 2003. She is preceded in death by her husband Jae Birch and her sister Joan Sajdik. She is survived by her sister Barbara Tracy, her sons Drachen Birch (Xen Gryphon) and Steven Birch (Shawnda), and daughter Laura Van Tuyl, seven grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, and long-time companion, Larry Smith. Memorial gifts may be directed to the Kalamazoo Bach Festival or to the Kalamazoo College Department of Music. While visiting Mary's webpage at www.avinkcremation.com please sign the guestbook by lighting a candle, and/or sharing a memory with the family.

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My fondest memories of Mary Beth were at the keyboard. Coming to Kalamazoo College from a small town, I realized quickly that I had so much to learn about my instrument. She shared her talents and knowledge with me with great patience. A highlight that stands out were the times spent as her page turner at Bach Festival performances. Each time she asked me I heartily said yes. The trust she placed in me for that task meant so much. Her teaching also made such an impression that I continued on with lessons after graduation. She encouraged me greatly as I began my own piano studio. How wonderful to hear her play as we mourn her passing. She will be greatly missed.

Debbie (Nute) Long - K’89 Nov 10 2020 10:22 PM

My sincere condolences to Drachen and the rest of the Birch family.

Mark Fry, KCHS 1974 Nov 9 2020 12:54 AM

My earliest memory is that of lying in a baby chair under my mothers massive Steinway Grand. The piano dominated our Kalamazoo living room, supported by three stout legs fashioned like Roman columns. I picture the scene in my minds eye as clearly today as I experienced it through my infant eyes. Next to the piano, musicians feet tapped, and bodies swayed in their folding chairs as the music swirled around me, resonating in my bones. I can still smell resin from the horsehair bows drawing across the strings of the cello, violin, and viola. To my right, my mothers bare foot bobbed up and down on the piano sustain pedal while the thunk of dampers alternately muted and released the strings above me. Beyond the chair legs and tapping feet, my father sat quietly in the adjoining room with a paint palette and brush, capturing the whole scene on canvas. That rare atmosphere of art and music shaped my earliest view of the world around me. As I grew older, the desire for artistic freedom and expression came as naturally as eating and breathing. This was one of the many gifts my mother passed on to me. I love you, Mom.

Steve Birch Nov 7 2020 11:20 PM

Oh, my bad. It says do at the end. My apologies.

Xen Gryphon Nov 6 2020 5:16 PM

For those that may not know, Mary Beth is the one playing the piece of music that accompanied this compilation.

Xen Gryphon Nov 6 2020 5:13 PM

I remember when I first met Mary Beth Birch in the Fine Arts Building at Kalamazoo College. Her hair style, at that time, reminded me of Veronica Lake! Through the decades I came to admire her more and more, as a personal colleague and fellow musician. As a member of the Emeriti Group, I looked forward to seeing and hearing her each and every week. I miss her greatly, but I will cherish her in my memory for time to come. The music world has been blessed that she was among us, and I do not cry that she physically is no longer with us, but my memory of her will always be. Romeo Eldridge Phillips

Romeo Eldridge Phillips Nov 6 2020 1:13 PM

A lovely tribute to Beth. She was a regular at the Thursday morning meetings of the emeriti and will be sorely missed if we ever get back to having the meetings. May she rest in peace. Joe Fugate

joe Fugate Nov 5 2020 9:48 PM

What a beautiful tribute to a wonderful woman, a celebration of a life well lived. Condolences to Larry and the family. Richard Cook

Richard Cook Nov 4 2020 7:19 PM

1 file added to the album Mary Beth Birch Video

Steve Birch Nov 4 2020 10:29 AM

Friends and Family uploaded 1 to the gallery.

Friends and Family Nov 30 -0001 12:00 AM