WMU Music Professor Emerita Phyllis Rappeport, 90, passes away

Contact: David Bernard

Phyllis Joan Rappeport was born on February 19, 1929, in the New York City borough of Queens where she grew up as a child. She passed away unexpectedly in her Kalamazoo, Michigan, home on January 9, 2020, at the age of 90. Her parents were Philip and Hilda (Schneider) Rappeport. Her mother was a career housewife whose idea was that little girls should play the piano. So the family obtained a piano and Phyllis played piano for the rest of her life. Her formal education included completing degrees from Queens College and the University of Illinois which led to study in Hamburg as a Fulbright Scholar. She also studied chamber music at Tanglewood and the Mannes College of Music in New York and served as a staff accompanist at the Aspen Music Festival. These experiences provided the inspiration for her favorite artistic outlet of all; that of a collaborating musician, both as an accompanist of individual soloists and as a pianist in chamber music settings. This joy was exceeded only by her love of teaching. She had students of all ages, but her passion was teaching young people at the high school and college level.

Before pursuing graduate studies, Rappeport served as assistant director of the Turnau Opera Players of New York. Prior to joining the Western Michigan University music faculty in 1966, she taught at Florida State University, Yale University, and Rollins College in Orlando. Her distinguished 30-year tenure at Western Michigan University included sabbatical leave teaching at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where she was a visiting Professor of Piano in 1975. During the 1984-85 academic year she taught at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She retired from Western Michigan University as Professor Emerita of Music in 1996.

During her three Kalamazoo decades Rappeport created a significant artistic footprint in the community. When the Fontana Music Festival (now Fontana Chamber Arts) was founded in 1980, Rappeport was counted among the original performing members. Over the years she was an active volunteer for many arts organizations including the Kalamazoo Area Music Teachers Association, the Stulberg International String Competition, and the Gilmore International Keyboard Festival. In retirement she helped choose performers for the BRAVO! concert series which showcased the best musical talent of local high school-aged students. Western Michigan University awarded her a prestigious Alumni Award for Teaching Excellence in 1980. In 1987, she was honored by the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo with the Community Medal of Arts Award, and in 1995 she received the Distinguished Service Award from the College of Fine Arts.

On a broader scale, Rappeport was involved with Colleagues International, formerly the Council of International Programs (CIP), which brought international professionals to the Kalamazoo area. Among her prized achievements was working with Kalamazoo violinist Barry Ross to organize a “Voices for Survival” peace concert in 1984 during a period of high tension between the U.S. and Soviet Union. That event brought together a 65-member orchestra, a 150-voice choir, and several soloists, and raised $12,000 for a national organization known as the Physicians for Social Responsibility. More recently, after Kalamazoo’s Sarkozy Bakery burned in 2012, she organized a benefit concert which raised $25,000 to help get the bakery back up and running. In addition to her impact on the community, she continually gave the gift of true and lasting friendship to many individuals and families.

WMU School of Music Director Bradley Wong writes: “Phyllis, of course, was a superb artist and master teacher. But her greatest contribution to our program was her passion for collaboration. Whether performing in a chamber music ensemble, coaching students in any of the performance areas, serving as liaison to some community activity, or participating in faculty governance, she was engaged and dynamic. Phyllis was the heart and soul of the School of Music, and this did not end when she retired from WMU.”

Phyllis is survived by nephews David Miller (Clara Gutsche) of Westmont, Quebec, Canada, and Yonatan (Shoshana) Rappeport of Mitzpe Ramon, Israel, and niece Deborah Miller of New York City, as well as sister-in-law Kate Judd (widow of her brother Robert Miller), cousin Ruth Berelson of Irvington, New York, and several great nieces and nephews.

A memorial service is being planned for Saturday, February 1, at 10 a.m. in the Dalton Center Recital Hall at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. In lieu of flowers, the family has suggested a memorial contribution to one of the groups Phyllis has generously supported over the years. These could include the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Kalamazoo, Fontana Chamber Arts, The Nature Conservancy, and Human Rights Watch.