Eldest F-M symphony member dies at 100; viola made Mary King Osterfield 'feel like 21'MOORHEAD – For 46 years, Mary King Osterfield played viola with the local symphony, but it was her melodious voice, enthusiasm and wit that mesmerized colleagues, friends and students.
By: John Lamb, INFORUM
MOORHEAD – For 46 years, Mary King Osterfield played viola with the local symphony, but it was her melodious voice, enthusiasm and wit that mesmerized colleagues, friends and students.
The musician and teacher died Sunday at Sheyenne Crossings Care Center in West Fargo. She was 100 years old and had recollections to reflect her long and colorful life.
“When someone gets to be 99 or 100, you tend to fixate on that. Her life story was pretty amazing,” said Linda Boyd Coates, the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra executive director.
King Osterfield played with the FMSO through last season, at least 20 years older than the next oldest performer, making her the oldest active player in its history, Boyd Coates said.
“When I get that viola under my chin I feel like I’m 21,” King Osterfield said at her 100th birthday party in July, according to Carole Nelson, who shared a stand with her during FMSO performances.
She wanted to play at least one concert at 100 but fell before the autumn performance and steadily declined, suffering from kidney failure and congestive heart failure.
Mary King was born into a musical family in northern Ireland and by six was playing the piano. She later moved onto the violin and viola and attended London’s Royal Academy of Music. For 14 years she played with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, including the 1962 premiere of Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem.”
In the early 1960s she traveled to Canada and fell in love with North America. She eventually moved to Winnipeg, then migrated down to Grand Forks before settling in Moorhead in the late 1960s.
“I wasn’t going to let my furniture keep me from travelling,” she told Nelson.
Her sense of humor sometimes threatened to disrupt concerts. Nelson recalls the two playing in the opera “Die Fledermaus” when an actress dropped a champagne glass into the orchestra pit, which landed on King Osterfield’s lap.
“We’re giggling to ourselves, trying to contain ourselves until the end of that scene,” Nelson remembered. “Then she picks it up, leans over to me and says, ‘Oh, but if I had a wee spot of this to get the blood flowing through my veins.’”
For as much fun as she had, King Osterfield took music seriously.
“Anyone that had her as a string teacher will never forget her. She was just one of those incredibly positive, charming people that was just passionate about music and passing that along to students,” Coates said, adding that many of her former students played alongside her in the FMSO.
“She had such a natural enthusiasm for playing music beautifully,” Nelson, herself a longtime teacher, recalled. “She had a good way of communicating with people of any age.”
To mark the birthday, Coates said the city of Moorhead proclaimed a Mary King Osterfield day.
There will be a visitation from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at Korsmo Funeral Chapel in Moorhead. The funeral will be 2 p.m. Saturday at First Presbyterian Church in Fargo.
That night the string section of the FMSO will play a piece at the beginning of the planned Masterworks concert, paying tribute to King Osterfield’s legacy.
Coates said a seat where the musician would’ve sat will be left open to mark her absence in the weekend’s shows.
Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533