Whitworth Communications

For Immediate Release

March 3, 2003

Beloved Whitworth Piano Teacher to Receive National Award

When longtime Spokane piano instructor and performer Margaret (Margie May) Saunders Ott learned recently that a young Russian girl working in the kitchen at the Rockwood Retirement Community where Ott lives was a budding pianist with no access to a piano or teacher, Ott arranged to work with the girl on a piano at the retirement center.

This story is simply the most recent chapter in Ott's half-century epic of devotion to music and students that has earned her the 2003 Music Teacher of the Year Award from the Music Teachers National Association. The award, which will be presented March 19 at the association's national conference in Salt Lake City, recognizes Ott for "exemplifying excellence in music teaching."

"It's an incredible honor and I'm so thrilled that they're doing it for her now," says Marge Halvorson, a voice instructor at Whitworth College, where Ott taught from 1960 to 1982 and where her late husband, Franklin, served on the board of trustees for 27 years. "Margie May is a brilliant teacher and has been so important to Whitworth and to the community for many years."

Bonnie Robinson, a classically trained concert pianist who was befriended by Ott soon after arriving in Spokane in 1993 with her husband, Whitworth President Bill Robinson, says that "All of the pianists in this city consider Margie May our matron saint. She is one of the finest pianists and piano teachers Spokane has ever known. She is simply the best, and a beautiful person, inside and out."

Ott was born and raised in Spokane and graduated in the 1930s from Lewis and Clark High School at age 15. She graduated from Mill's College in 1940 and was one of the first women to receive a master's degree from the Juilliard School of Music in 1943. After receiving advanced training in piano in New York, she returned to her hometown in 1947 to perform as the featured soloist with the Spokane Symphony. In 1995, she made one of her last public performances as soloist with the Spokane String Quartet.

Ott also served on the boards of the Greater Spokane Music Festival, the Washington State Music Teachers Association, the Spokane Music Teachers Association, the Spokane Junior League and the Spokane Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. In 1982, she was honored as the YWCA's Woman in the Arts. And, along the way, she taught and mentored hundreds of students at Whitworth and from the community who have attended the top music schools in the country and have gone on to successful professional careers.

"I've had a lot of gifted students who have been successful, and I've had some kids who weren't so gifted who also are doing very well," Ott says. "The fascination is to ask yourself what you can do to make their lives more interesting and help them improve themselves through music."

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private, liberal arts college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The college enrolls 2,200 students in more than 50 undergraduate and graduate programs.


Marge Halvorson, voice instructor, (509) 777-4581 or mhalvorson@whitworth.edu.

Greg Orwig, director of communications, (509) 777-4580 or gorwig@whitworth.edu.

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