John C. Mer­rill

Bal­ti­more Sym­phony Or­ches­tra vi­o­lin­ist who ad­vo­cated bet­ter con­tracts for his fel­low mu­si­cians

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - OBITUARIES - By Jac­ques Kelly

John Cut­ler Mer­rill, a re­tired Bal­ti­more Sym­phony Or­ches­tra vi­olin player who ad­vo­cated bet­ter con­tracts for his fel­low mu­si­cians, died of pan­cre­atic can­cer March 31 at Gilchrist Hospice Care. The Roland Park res­i­dent was 75.

Born in Rochester, N.Y., he was the son of Dwight Plumer Mer­rill, a physi­cist who worked at Po­laroid and the Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, and his wife, El­iz­a­beth, a pi­ano player. He was raised in New­ton, Mass., and earned a Bach­e­lor of Mu­sic de­gree at In­di­ana Uni­ver­sity, where he was a vi­olin stu­dent of Josef Gin­gold. He re­ceived a mas­ter’s de­gree at the Uni­ver­sity of Hawaii.

Af­ter play­ing in the Honolulu Sym­phony and the Dal­las Sym­phony, Mr. Mer­rill joined the Bal­ti­more Sym­phony Or­ches­tra in 1971 when the ensem­ble was led by Sergiu Comis­siona. He ad­vanced to a po­si­tion in the first vi­olin sec­tion. While play­ing, he met his fu­ture wife, Ju­lia Barker, a vi­o­list, They mar­ried in 1981.

“It was won­der­ful to watch them fall in love and get mar­ried,” said Jane Marvine, a BSO English horn player. “John loved mu­sic. Every night he was thrilled to be play­ing and was never out of touch with the power of the mu­sic we were mak­ing to­gether.”

Mr. Mer­rill be­came a leader in the or­ches­tra’s union, called the Play­ers’ Com­mit­tee, and ne­go­ti­ated con­tacts with man­age­ment. Over the years he and his group helped to win con­trac­tual im­prove­ments.

Brian Prechtl, a BSO per­cus­sion­ist and co-chair of the Play­ers’ Com­mit­tee, said, “John was a piv­otal mem­ber of the com­mit­tee and helped to es­tab­lish the or­ches­tra as a world-class in­sti­tu­tion.”

“[John] was a de­voted mem­ber of our or­ches­tra for over 40 years,” said BSO pres­i­dent Peter Kjome. “John’s com­pas­sion and spirit of gen­eros­ity will be greatly missed.”

Fam­ily mem­bers said his per­sonal fa­vorites were Mozart and Mahler, and he owned and played an 18th-cen­tury vi­olin made by Ni­colò Gagliano. His teacher found the in­stru­ment at a Bos­ton vi­olin shop and rec­om­mended he buy it be­fore head­ing to col­lege.

Lau­rie Sokoloff, a re­tired BSO pic­colo player, said, “He was reluc­tant to take on the role on the Play­ers’ Com­mit­tee ne­go­ti­a­tions, but he did. It’s a com­pli­cated job, and he ac­knowl­edged that it was in­tim­i­dat­ing. But he chal­lenged him­self and rose to what it took. He had well-formed opin­ions, but he never dis­agreed with you per­son­ally.”

She de­scribed him. “If John were un­de­cided on an is­sue, he’d go and take a walk. Then he would come back and say some­thing per­cep­tive,” she said. “John was a rare per­son. He made you feel good, he made you feel clean. He was so hon­est. He had so much in­tegrity.”

Ms. Marvine, his BSO col­league, said, “John was a real men­sch. He saw the big pic­ture and was an ad­vo­cate for the mu­si­cians in a con­struc­tive and holis­tic way.”

In recog­ni­tion of Mr. Mer­rill’s work with the BSO Play­ers’ Com­mit­tee, the Mary­land Se­nate, which is con­sid­er­ing a fund­ing bill for the or­ches­tra, ad­journed Mon­day night in his honor. The leg­is­la­tion is named for him.

In ad­di­tion to play­ing first vi­olin for 42 years in the BSO, Mr. Mer­rill taught at the Bal­ti­more School for the Arts.

Mr. Mer­rill was a string mu­sic con­sul­tant to the Bal­ti­more County Pub­lic Schools and cre­ated an in­stru­men­tal mu­sic pro­gram at the Friends School. He also taught at the Es­sex cam­pus of the Com­mu­nity Col­lege of Bal­ti­more County, Pe­abody Prep and the Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land, Bal­ti­more County. He also had pri­vate stu­dents.

“John was a con­sum­mate teacher,” said Judy Pit­tenger, a Bal­ti­more res­i­dent whose chil­dren stud­ied with him. “”He was ex­cep­tion­ally gifted at shar­ing his ex­pe­ri­ence. He was pa­tient and car­ing and helped his stu­dents learn self-dis­ci­pline and char­ac­ter val­ues.”

“My dad brought a quiet, hum­ble sense of joy and kind­ness to ev­ery­one he met and ev­ery­thing he did,” said his son, John David Mer­rill of Bal­ti­more. “He de­voted him­self to his fam­ily, to his mu­sic, to the or­ches­tra, to his stu­dents. “He was a close fol­lower of the news and cur­rent af­fairs. He cared deeply for the world. In his fi­nal days when asked what gave him the strength to keep fight­ing his can­cer, he said, ‘Love makes all things bear­able.’ ”

Mr. Mer­rill lived on St. John’s Road and was a pop­u­lar fig­ure in his neigh­bor­hood.

“The real gift John had was for friend­ship,” said a neigh­bor, Mai­die Po­dles. “There was never a bet­ter friend. He could meet you on any plane — in­tel­lec­tual or mu­si­cal. I re­call the day I looked at a house here — it was a lit­tle above our bud­get — but John and Ju­lia and two friends were play­ing in a string quar­tet on their porch and I knew this is where I wanted to be. Our fam­i­lies are now in their third gen­er­a­tion of friend­ships.”

A Quaker, he was an ac­tive mem­ber of Stony Run Friends Meet­ing and was its fi­nance com­mit­tee clerk.

Af­ter re­tir­ing from the BSO in 2013, he de­voted him­self to sail­ing. He en­joyed cruis­ing the Ch­e­sa­peake and play­ing his vi­olin and read­ing the news on the open water, his son said.

A me­mo­rial ser­vice will be held at 2 p.m. May 18 at the Stony Run Friends Meet­ing, 5112 N. Charles Street.

In ad­di­tion to his son and wife of 38 years, sur­vivors in­clude a daugh­ter, Ada M. Ter­rill of Bal­ti­more, and three grand­chil­dren.

John C. Mer­rill was a Quaker and an ac­tive mem­ber of Stony Run Friends Meet­ing.

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