Thelma C. Viol, taught at Peabody

November 25, 1994|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Sun Staff Writer

Thelma C. Viol, who taught voice and was later chairwoman of the voice department of the preparatory division of the Peabody Institute, died Nov. 18 of congestive heart failure at the Glen Meadows Retirement Community in Glen Arm. The former Towson resident was 84.

Miss Viol, who joined the Peabody Preparatory faculty in 1948, coached hundreds of students, including Baltimore-born Metropolitan Opera star James Morris, in a career that lasted more than 40 years. She was appointed chairwoman of the voice department in the 1970s and retired in 1980.

She also sang or directed choirs for such area churches as Christ Lutheran, Second Presbyterian and Grace United Methodist, from which she retired in 1975. She also appeared with the Baltimore and Peabody symphony orchestras.

"She was one of the sweetest people I ever knew," said Mr. Morris in an interview from his New Jersey home.

"She was my second voice teacher, and she was instrumental in laying the groundwork for my career. She had one of the most beautiful alto voices I've ever heard -- it was seamless from top to bottom," Mr. Morris said.

Miss Viol was remembered by Peabody colleague Lynn Hebden as "a remarkable woman who was a fine voice teacher."

Ms. Hebden noted that Miss Viol had a severe limp, a disability that resulted from illness early in her life. That was the reason Miss Viol never tried for a more prominent singing career, Ms. Hebden said, adding: "[But] she certainly had the instrument for it."

Helen Strine, who teaches voice at the Mount Vernon Place school, called Miss Viol "a lovely lady who was totally involved in the music of Baltimore, and she was a tremendous source of knowledge about what was going on in the Baltimore music community."

Born and reared on Bond Street, Miss Viol was a graduate of Eastern High School and began studying at the Peabody Institute in 1928. She had a speech disability -- stammering -- which she eventually overcame while studying at the school, where she earned her bachelor's degree in 1933.

She was awarded the school's John Charles Thomas prize, named for the famous 1920s and 1930s National Broadcasting Co. and Metropolitan Opera star who was a graduate of the Peabody Institute.

A memorial service is planned for 2 p.m. tomorrow at Grace United Methodist Church, Charles Street and Northern Parkway, Baltimore.

She is survived by a nephew, William K. Baker of Paoli, Pa.; and a friend, Virginia Carol O'Brien of Towson.

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