“[We are] incredibly saddened to learn of the passing of Ann Spurbeck. She retired last season after more than 50 years as a Memphis Symphony Orchestra (MSO) violinist,” the orchestra posted on their Facebook page.
“Ms. Spurbeck was the last member of the orchestra who played on the legendary Elvis and Stax sessions and through her life's work, embodied our organization's desire to connect with our diverse community through exceptional music,” they continued. “She has touched the hearts and lives of many in our community. Memphis is a better place because of Ann’s time here.”
Last weekend, the MSO dedicated their concerts to her, performing works by Schubert, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky. At each of the two performances, a rose was placed on an empty chair in her honor.
Born in 1938 into a musical family in Miami, where her mother was a piano teacher and church organist, Spurbeck began learning music from a young age. She later attended the University of Florida to complete a bachelor’s degree in violin performance and graduated from Indiana University with a master’s degree in music education.
From early on, Spurbeck supported the Suzuki method of music teaching and traveled often to low-income neighborhoods and rural communities to teach violin to young people. She later served as a music teacher at the University of Memphis.
Spurbeck (née Turner) first joined the MSO in 1968 when she and her husband, Peter Spurbeck, who passed away in 2012, moved to Memphis from Illinois.
In addition to playing in the MSO, Spurbeck featured in Elvis Presley’s comeback records and Isaac Hayes’ 1971 Oscar-winning “Theme From Shaft,” among others.
“I was fortunate enough to be able to sit with her from Sunday night through Monday morning, when she gently passed,” said her son, Sam Spurbeck, 54, a violinist of Michigan’s Lansing Symphony Orchestra. “Music was the vehicle she used to reach out and touch so many lives.”
“Every day she showed up for work with a smile and played every rehearsal and concert with joy and passion," said MSO personnel manager Erin Kaste, 49, who was Spurbeck’s stand partner for almost 25 years.
“She was a mentor to countless numbers of professional musicians in this community,” Kaste added. “She taught people how to succeed in an orchestra in a subtle, kind way.”
Spurbeck is survived by her son and sister. Our condolences to Ms. Spurbeck’s family, friends, students, and colleagues.
A tribute by the MSO to the violinist following her retirement can be watched below.