Marilyn N. Gerle

The Baltimore Sun

Marilyn Neeley Gerle, a pianist who had been chairwoman of the piano division at Catholic University of America's school of music for more than three decades, died Wednesday of pneumonia at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring.

The former Catonsville and Washington resident who lived in Hyattsville was 69.

Marilyn Neeley, who played professionally under her maiden name, was born and raised in Los Angeles.

"Her mother was a piano teacher, and she'd sit under the piano listening while she gave lessons," said her son and only survivor, Andrew Gerle, a musical theater composer who lives in New York City.

"She was a child prodigy and 3 years old when she began playing the piano. She was 8 when she made her debut at New York's Town Hall in 1946, which was followed by appearances around the country and a profile in Life magazine," he said.

In 1960, she earned a bachelor's degree in music from the University of Southern California. She earned a master's degree several years later in theology, also from USC.

During the 1960s, she won the Geneva International prize for chamber music with cellist Joanna de Keyser. She was also the winner of the Leventritt and Van Cliburn international piano competitions.

Also during the 1960s, she taught music at an all-black secondary school in Camden, S.C.

"This was an experience that she treasured," her son said.

During the 1970s and 1980s, she taught at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Florida State University, Ohio State University and the Brevard Music Center in North Carolina.

In 1987, she began teaching at Catholic University of America in Washington. She was appointed dean of its piano division and served as acting dean of the school's Benjamin T. Rome School of Music from 2001 to 2002, when she returned to her former position.

In addition to her academic career, she was artist-in-residence at the Cairo Conservatory in the early 1980s, performed at the Moscow Conservatory and in recital in Seoul, South Korea.

"Sometime in the 1960s, she was named Woman of the Year by the Los Angeles Times after substituting for an ailing Glenn Gould on 24 hours' notice with Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic," her son said.

She recorded for the British Broadcasting Corp., Radio VARA-Holland and Radio Zurich.

She met her future husband, Robert Gerle, while both were on the faculty of Ohio State University; they were married in 1970. The couple had toured during the late 1960s and 1970s as a duo. They won an Emmy after videotaping the complete Beethoven violin and piano sonatas for public television.

In addition to teaching, Mr. Gerle, who was a concert violinist and author of several books on violin technique, established the orchestra program at UMBC in the 1970s. He died in 2005.

She also recorded compact discs of solo piano music of Brahms, Mozart, Debussy and Liszt. She was a member of the Music Teachers National Association.

"She had an extremely musical style and was technically very strong. She paid careful attention to a composer's intentions. She was able to get into a composer's mind, and she taught her students that," her son said.

James C. Litzelman, a pianist, is also a member of the music faculty at Catholic University.

"I was both her student and colleague at Catholic U," Mr. Litzelman said yesterday. "Marilyn had an incredible work ethic as a pianist, and she diligently prepared for every concert. She had an incredible discipline."

Mr. Litzelman recalled that her students were "practically her entire life."

"Just before she went to the hospital, I used to watch her come in from her car, and it took such a long time to get to her students. She was a real trouper. I remember her saying, 'I had to come in for my students,'" he said.

Graveside services will be held at 10:30 a.m. today at the George Washington Cemetery & Mausoleum, 9500 Riggs Road, Adelphi.

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