Evanston RoundTable, Feb. 9, 2017
“I have no words of wisdom, except to stay active and positive,” Gloria Boyell said about recently reaching her 90th birthday, a milestone remarkable for the continuing passion and energy she devotes to music-making.
A professionally trained pianist and violinist, Ms. Boyell plays in the Evanston Symphony Orchestra and the pit orchestra of the Savoyaires, the Gilbert & Sullivan company she helps run at Chute School, which is now in its 53rd year. She is also the company’s resident contractor and rehearsal pianist. In addition, she has taught piano privately for 30 years.
Pressed on how she manages to remain so vibrant and engaged, she says, “Keep moving. If something hurts, move it.” She swims every day in the summer and cross-country skis in the winter, walks an hour a day, and travels at least twice a year. Just as important, she speaks regularly with friends and her two children and two grandchildren. Her 23-year-old grandson phones every week.
Ms. Boyell grew up in Milwaukee, the daughter of a doctor. Her mother was a trained pianist. She received a bachelor’s and master’s degree in piano performance at Northwestern University. Her sister, Fritzie Eisenberg, who passed away in 2007, was an esteemed violinist who late in life played with the Evanston Symphony. As a young woman Fritzie played in orchestras led by the great cellist Pablo Casals in France and Leopold Stokowski in New York. She also had her own all-female string quartet, which played at the Kennedy White House.
Ms. Boyell recalls visiting Fritzie in France during her sister’s residency with Casals and hiding in a church balcony while the cellist and legendary pianist Rudolf Serkin recorded together.
Shortly after returning to the States, Ms. Boyell got married and lived in Rogers Park, eventually moving to southeast Evanston, where she lived from 1956 to 1972 and raised two children.
She joined the Evanston Symphony in 1974 and the Savoyaires in 1976, both under the baton of Chicago Symphony Orchestra principal cellist Frank Miller. “He was such a sweet man, very kind,” she recalls. “He used to tell us great stories about the CSO.”
Within a few years she had become the Savoyaires’ chief contractor, responsible for recruiting the musicians, and later served as the rehearsal pianist, as well as pit violinist, board president, and treasurer.
“I’ve been very privileged to work closely with Gloria in the Savoyaires for many years,” said Savoyaires’ board member and frequent soloist Kingsley Day. “She is a treasure. I can’t say enough about her terrific musicianship, her expert piano playing, and her boundless good nature and good sense. And fortunately for all of us, she’s like the energizer bunny—she just keeps going and going. If only we could all age like she does!”
Another friend, Rhea Davis, has played cello with Ms. Boyell for many years – currently in the Evanston Symphony, but also chamber music going back decades. “Going to Gloria’s house to play quartets was the best. Playing with Gloria required me to play the very best that I could. It has always been a privilege to make music with her.”
Fellow string player Penelope Sachs said Ms. Boyell’s birthday was celebrated at a November rehearsal for the annual ESO Holiday concert, “so there were a ton of people for the occasion. [Principal trumpet player] Don Cagen serenaded her with a rendition of Happy Birthday and the rest of us joined in. People from the Gospel choir asked to be introduced so they could say happy birthday. And we got through a lot of cake. Gloria never stopped smiling. She is very popular in the orchestra.”
The festivities were a surprise to Ms. Boyell. “I was embarrassed by all the fuss, but thrilled they wanted to honor and play for me.”
Appropriate that her fellow musicians should make such a joyful noise for her.