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Barbara McGill was always either laughing or singing, her son said.
Barbara McGill was always either laughing or singing, her son said. (Handout / HANDOUT)

Barbara McGill, a longtime music educator who taught piano and guitar, directed several church choirs and sang with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, died Dec. 7 of complications from a chronic disease. She was 77.

Born in East Baltimore, she was the daughter of Morris Carroll, a printer, and Dorothy Carroll, a homemaker.

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Educated in the city schools, Mrs. McGill attended Goucher College, where she studied music and earned tuition by playing the organ and directing choirs in the Goucher chapel. She also served as a choir director at local churches.

Mrs. McGill and other college students took part in demonstrations against the whites-only policy at the Northwood Theater in Northeast Baltimore. The movie theater was integrated, after years of protest, in 1963.

That same year, Mrs. McGill received a degree in music from Goucher. She spent the following year in South Korea as a teacher of the children of Presbyterian missionaries.

After returning to the United States, she embarked on a busy career in music. She taught in several Baltimore County elementary schools and directed choirs at Faith Presbyterian Church on Loch Raven Boulevard, Towson Presbyterian Church, Timonium United Methodist Church and the Deer Creek Harmony Presbyterian Church in Harford County.

Mrs. McGill gave private lessons in piano and guitar. She sang at numerous weddings and funerals. She played in a Harford County recorder group and performed in the musical productions of community theaters in Baltimore and Harford counties.

She served as director of Christian education at Chesapeake Center camps in the 1980s. She also led a special program at Villa Cresta Elementary School designed to teach boys and girls to work together to complete complex science and mechanical projects.

Mrs. McGill had a large personality and a laugh that could be heard “several rooms away,” said her husband of 23 years, Paul Samuel. (Mrs. McGill maintained her last name from a previous marriage.)

“You knew she was in the room because she was either laughing or singing,” said her son, Scott McGill of Fallston.

Both her husband and son noted that, despite a busy career in music, Mrs. McGill was in constant pain from scleroderma, a connective tissue disease.

“She’d say to me, ‘Everything hurts,’ ” said Mr. Samuel. “But this was a woman who always made people feel good, always had a smile on her face, and never had a harsh word for anyone, certain politicians excluded.”

In 1998, after 35 years as a music teacher, Mrs. McGill retired from the Baltimore County schools and started Making Music with Miss Barbara, a music education program for toddlers. The classes were held at community colleges. At times, Mrs. McGill would have her young students and their parents visit nursing homes and assisted-living facilities to perform music recitals for the elderly residents.

Brian Simpson, a Johns Hopkins magazine editor whose son studied piano with Mrs. McGill for several years, recalled how a recital seemed to awaken musical memories in some of the seniors. “Once,” Mr. Simpson wrote in a tribute to Mrs. McGill in Global Health NOW, a Johns Hopkins newsletter, “as a child banged out ‘Home on the Range,’ the seniors in the audience, some of whom were extremely old and not very engaged in the program, spontaneously began singing. My daughter and I teared up when we realized the music brought back words not sung in many decades.”

Mrs. McGill loved to sing throughout her life and was a member of both the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Chorus and, later, Concert Artists of Baltimore. She sang in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s holiday performances of Handel’s “Messiah” for 36 years, and had rehearsed in November for this year’s concert. “She had intended to sing the Handel work this year, but her illness overtook her,” Mr. Samuel said.

Mrs. McGill died at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson on the day of this year’s Handel concert.

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In addition to her husband and son, Mrs. McGill is survived by a daughter, Kathleen McGill of Arlington, Massachusetts, and three grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at Faith Presbyterian Church, 5400 Loch Raven Boulevard, on Sunday, Dec. 29, at 5 pm.

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