Our Grand Rapids Symphony family mourns with heavy hearts the loss of Mary Ann Keeler, lifelong advocate for the arts in the Western Michigan community and a treasured part of our Grand Rapids Symphony family. At the same time, we smile because it was her vision and passion that birthed the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus. Her guidance and support has left an indelible legacy in our grateful souls.
“How Lovely is Thy Dwelling Place” from A German Requiem, Op. 45, Johannes Brahms.
Rune Bergmann, conductor | Jeanine De Bique, soprano | Norman Garrett, baritone |
Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus, Pearl Shangkuan, director
A long-serving Board member from 1952-1970, she was a champion for the Grand Rapids Symphony. Mrs. Keeler donated countless hours of her time and talents, not only as a Board member, but also by serving on the BRAVO Awards Committee, supporting many major fundraising campaigns – including two orchestra tours to Carnegie Hall, underwriting the Principal Oboe chair, and, of course, as an inspiring patron of the Grand Rapids Symphony for several decades. Mrs. Keeler was also a recipient of a BRAVO! Award in 1993, the Symphony’s highest honor that recognizes leadership and advocacy for the orchestra.
Mary Ann’s vision resulted in the creation of the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus in 1962. Now in existence for over 50 years, with over 120 members, the Chorus has reached a high level of artistic excellence, performing regularly in the Symphony’s Classical Series, Holiday Pops concerts, and in the Grand Rapids Bach Festival. Fifty-six years after its founding, the Chorus also performed with the Symphony in 2018 on its tour to Carnegie Hall in New York City.
But there was much more to Mary Ann's lifelong, enthusiastic backing of the Grand Rapids Symphony and Chorus. To encounter her personally after a Symphony Chorus performance was a tonic for the collective Chorus spirit. She delighted again and again in hearing how the seeds she had planted had grown, blossomed, and flourished. Chorus member and former Chorus historian Richard Krueger remembers Mary Ann Keeler as a radiant presence in the Chorus family. “To have Mary Ann in our corner was to have more than a benefactor; it was to have a true fan, a friend, and a lifelong partner in our ongoing artistic quest”, said Krueger.
Mrs. Keeler also provided great encouragement and support to Chorus Directors, including Dr. Pearl Shangkuan, current Chorus Director since 2004. Privately, for a number of years up to the Chorus’ last classical performance on stage in November, 2019 prior to the pandemic, Mary Ann would have a gorgeous, huge bouquet of flowers delivered to Dr. Shangkuan’s home in appreciation of the Chorus' work following a performance along with a personal note of thanks. “These were gestures of great encouragement and affirmation that I'll forever cherish. Her advocacy and support for the arts in the Grand Rapids community is a most beautiful legacy of her life”, said Dr. Shangkuan. Dr. Shangkuan also thought of Mary Ann Keeler as the Chorus’ most enthusiastic cheerleader. “Every personal encounter I had with her would leave me energized and doubly grateful for the support of the community for our Grand Rapids Symphony”, said Dr. Shangkuan.
Krueger further reflected on the musical history of the Chorus and Mary Ann Keeler’s legacy. “Throughout its history, the Symphony Chorus has performed Requiem settings by Brahms, Britten, Duruflé, Fauré, Mozart, and Verdi. As we remember Mary Ann Keeler's life of dedication to supporting music and the arts and mourn her passing, it's lovely to think that the eternal rest and perpetual light we sang of in those masterworks are the gifts she now enjoys in full.”