A! Magazine for the Arts

Mary Landrum (photo courtesy of First Presbyterian Church)

Mary Landrum (photo courtesy of First Presbyterian Church)

Passionate about the Arts: Mary Landrum

June 28, 2011

An accomplished pianist and organist, Mary Landrum has been surrounded by music all of her life - whether performing it herself or listening to others.

Today her favorite music can be heard wafting down the halls of NHC Healthcare in Bristol, Va. Her son Robert set up a Bose CD player in her room so she could enjoy a mix from her personal music collection.

"I have an acre from which I pluck selections," she says, noting that her musical tastes include "too many composers, too many styles to enumerate." When pressed to choose, she said she especially enjoyed playing and listening to the organ works of Dieterich Buxtehude, J.S. Bach, and Maurice Duruflé.

Billie Whisnant and Mrs. Landrum are long-term members of the Virginia Daughters of the American Revolution. Whisnant says, "Mary has made many a wedding a work of musical art by playing extraordinary organ pieces like Widor's Toccata from Symphony number 5 as she did at my daughter's wedding."

Mrs. Landrum's own mother was a musical inspiration: a cellist, a pianist and a composer. She was very active in the National Federation of Music Clubs, and Mrs. Landrum followed suit. In addition, Mrs. Landrum says, "I was very fortunate in studying with outstanding artists and scholars. I also enjoyed teaching music with first rate faculties. [Locally we are] blessed by a rich exposure to a wide variety of music superbly performed."

Tom Rogers was an organ student of Mrs. Landrum's for nearly 10 years, while he attended Tennessee High School and Milligan College. Today he serves on the board of directors for the Paramount Center Foundation and, until recently, was executive vice-president of regulatory affairs for King Pharmaceuticals.

Rogers says, "Her room at NHC is like a library. She's surrounded by her books and music, and she's always eager to share her knowledge of music, architecture, culture and history. On a recent visit, after we chatted about church and family, she said, 'Okay, Tom, I have a book I want to show you.' It was a Presbyterian psalter published in 1855 that belonged to Joseph Anderson, who planned and founded the original town of Bristol. Then she started telling me about shape notes. Here she was - giving me a lesson!

"She knows everyone everywhere," Rogers added. Several years ago Rogers met Gerre Hancock, world-renowned organist and conductor of the boys choir at New York City's St. Thomas Episcopal Church, when Hancock concertized with another acclaimed organist, Stephen Hamilton, at Virginia Intermont College in Bristol. Afterwards, when Rogers visited Hancock's church in New York City, he asked, "How's Mary? She's one of our favorite people."

"Mary is a very special lady, probably one of the most intelligent people I've ever known. She has a wonderful sense of humor and always a story to tell," noting that Mrs. Landrum was known for witty and informative presentations that she gave to many civic organizations, most notably "Good Night, Sweet Effie," an extensive slide collection of monument and tombstone epitaphs; and "Beautiful Bristol," featuring unique architectural details found throughout the Twin Cities.

Dr. W. Patrick Flannagan, director of King College's Performing and Visual Arts Department as well as the choral ensemble Voices of the Mountains, had an office beside Mrs. Landrum's at King College. He says, "Mary and I worked together for about 25 years until she retired. I was the youngest member of the music faculty and we had a wonderful camaraderie among us: Evelyn Thomas provided the spirit; Betty Kuhnert brought caution and technique; I was the one with new ideas to toss around; and I always turned to Mary for wisdom and advice about things. What I will always remember about Mary are two things: wherever I traveled in the world, Mary knew someone that I would meet on the trip; and she always had wonderful, humorous stories to tell. Sometimes her stories were therapy on one of those days when I felt like cashing in. Mary always dignified the room she was in and the people she was with. She was a mentor in so many ways: among other things, she taught me perseverance, high musical standards, and gentle patience with non-musicians."

Mrs. Landrum has been generous with her musical instruments as well. When she moved to NHC Healthcare, she gave her harpsichord to Flannagan's daughter Meg, a Presbyterian minister, but Mrs. Landrum's church, First Presbyterian in Bristol, is the caretaker of the instrument.

She also gave her century-old Kronich & Bach grand piano to young pianist Nate Mitchell. In an interview with A! Magazine in November 2010, Mitchell said, "I was shocked to say the least. Mrs. Landrum has always been someone whom I admired as a person and as a musician....There is simply no way to explain my gratitude to her and this gift she has given me. Not only is this a very personal gift from her, but a grand piano is something I was going to need eventually and something which is certainly not cheap. To simply come into the ownership of one at my age is nothing short of miraculous to say the least." (To read the rest of the story, click here.)

In addition, Mrs. Landrum donated her museum-quality collection of old songbooks, psalters, and hymnals - some more than 200 years old - to King College.

Recognition: In 1999 the Tennessee House of Representatives passed a resolution to honor her on the occasion of her retirement from King College, noting that Mrs. Landrum "exemplifies the spirit and dedication that is characteristic of a great Tennessean."

A native of Pennsylvania, Mrs. Landrum has made Bristol her home for nearly 50 years. She graduated with honors from Vassar College and earned a master's degree from the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester, New York. While at Eastman, she studied under famous musicians, including renowned organist Harold Gleason and French composer Darius Milahud.

Mrs. Landrum was a distinguished faculty member and organist of Austin College in Texas before her tenure on the faculty at Sullins College in Bristol from 1965-1976. Then she took her talents to King College, where she taught music theory, church music history, music appreciation, organ, piano, and harpsichord, in addition to serving as the college organist. She also was the organist for Reynolds Memorial United Methodist Church in Bristol, before serving as organist and choir director at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Bristol.

Active throughout her career as a recitalist and clinician, Mrs. Landrum served for two years as the director of the prestigious annual Sewanee (Tenn.) Province Church Music Conference held at the University of the South; and she traveled to Holland and Germany to study and perform on various pipe organs of that region.

She has been an active member and officer in a number of organizations, including the Bristol Music Club; the National Federation of Music Clubs; the Northeast Tennessee/Southwest Virginia Chapter of the American Guild of Organists; the Historical Society of Washington County, Va.; and Daughters of the American Revolution, for which she played organ or piano at state and national conferences.

Click here to read about Mary Beth Rainero.