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The Legacy of Marjorie Spevak

By March 25, 2022 No Comments

Marjorie Spevak was just four years old in 1925, the year Gertrude Shloss, her mother, joined Elizabeth Cowles and Elsa Neumann in founding Des Moines’s own Civic Music Association. Over the following decades, Marjorie saw both of her parents nurture CMA from its beginnings as a fledgling music series into one that welcomed world-renowned artists like Sergei Rachmaninoff and Izthak Perlman. These early years were formative. Marjorie often reflected on her childhood of hosting legendary artists and countless performances once she matured into an ardent supporter of the arts in her own right.

Marjorie was passionate about music, education, and our community. She spent her entire life supporting CMA, serving on the CMA Board for a total of 35 years. She was also an advocate for music education. Elected to the Des Moines Public Schools Board from 1963-1979, Marjorie fought fiercely for the art and music curriculum in our community’s public school system.

Laura Sands, who served on DMPS Boards in more recent years, recalls that Marjorie was always advocating for public education. “She was a wonderful woman with strong interests, and she was so generous with all of her resources, including her time.” Even when Marjorie was no longer on the board, she would attend meetings and provide valuable insight.

Marjorie’s Childhood Music Experiences

Music played a prominent role in Marjorie Spevak’s life. During her days at Greenwood Elementary School (the 1930s), the New York Philharmonic Orchestra would broadcast a monthly children’s concert, and her father suggested to the principal that the children gather in the auditorium to listen to this concert. When he was informed that Greenwood school had no radio, her father rallied other Greenwood parents in raising enough money to provide this enriching musical education for students.

Marjorie’s young life was filled with music–and with musicians. In those days, CMA’s guest artists would stay in family homes while in Des Moines. The Schloss family hosted many musicians over the years, including violinist Isaac Stern. In an interview with Eric Prosperl, Marjorie shared the following story:

“As a young man, Isaac Stern stayed with us. He started a bath one night. Then, while the bathtub filled, he walked around the house playing his fiddle. He played and played, and after some time, the bathtub overflowed and water started to seep through the ceiling. We gave him quite a bit of ribbing about that when he visited us a few years later for another performance.”

Marjorie’s Devotion to Music Education

Perhaps because of her own experiences, Marjorie’s dedication to music education never waned. In her own words, “Music and art are so important in the education of our youth. Anything that we can do in a community way to stimulate and augment music interest in our youth is also good for our community.”

CMA Studio exists today in part because of Marjorie’s dedication to music education. We regularly partner with area schools for programs with guest artists. And our scholarship programs, including the Marjorie Spevak Music Scholarship, are in place to encourage young musicians to continue their music education and expand their musical horizons.

The Gift to Sing, a commission to honor Marjorie Spevak’s legacy

Area students performing at the Marjorie Spevak All-City Middle School Music Festival.

Marjorie championed music and the arts for children and this motivated her to fund the All-City Middle School Music Festival. Renamed the Marjorie Spevak All-City Middle School Music Festival in 2019, more than 8,000 students have participated in this festival since its inception in 2000.

This year, the Marjorie Spevak All-City Middle School Music Festival will feature an entirely new piece, The Gift to Sing. Commissioned by CMA in Marjorie’s honor, the piece will debut on April 5, 2022 at Drake University’s Knapp Center.

CMA was special to Marjorie. And Marjorie was special to CMA. Marjorie believed in the power and importance of music and music education.

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