Marilyn N. Tolk age 86, of Brentwood, TN passed away on August 29, 2022. She was preceded in death by her parents Jacob and Muriel Neubauer; cousin, Pat Stanford; and aunt, Ann Matkin.
Marilyn is survived by her loving husband of 60 years, Norman Tolk; children, Jeffrey (Astrid Tuminez) Tolk, Bentley (Jennifer) Tolk, David (Lisa) Tolk, Rebecca (Dan) Clark, Amy (Kirk) Richards, seventeen grandchildren, three great grandchildren and numerous friends and loved ones.
Marilyn Tolk was a virtuoso pianist and was one of Nashville’s leading keyboard teachers. In addition to teaching, she was a composer, arranger, organist and performer---often in a comedic style. Most recently, she successfully combined music with storytelling, which became an inspirational vehicle for sharing her love of music and of life.
Marilyn was born in Cardston, Alberta, Canada. Her early piano studies were carried out both in Cardston and in Calgary, Alberta. At age twenty-one, she moved to New York City and studied piano at the Juilliard School of Music with Irwin Freundlich and Adele Marcus. She received a Performance Degree in piano at the Juilliard School of Music in 1960 and a Bachelor of Music Education Degree at Teachers College, Columbia University in 1963. Prior to coming to the United States, Marilyn Tolk earned the degree of Associate in piano performance from the Royal Conservatory of Music, Toronto, Canada, and also earned Associate and Licentiate Degrees from the Western Board of Music in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
At age 14, she began her career as an accompanist for church meetings, community events and choirs, and never stopped. Following her formal education, she learned Braille and taught piano and music education at the New York Institute for the Blind in the Bronx, New York City from 1964-65. In 1968, she and her family moved to Mendham, a small town in northern New Jersey, and then in 1984 to the Nashville area, where in each case she continued her enthusiastic involvement in the community as a teacher and performer. In Nashville, she taught piano for three years at the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University, working there from 1987-1990. Recently, her talent was recognized by her colleagues by being voted the 2011 Tennessee Music Teacher of the year.
Marilyn’s teaching philosophy involved three major interrelated focus areas: (1) teach the importance of discipline, hard work, and slow practice; (2) emphasize through many studio recitals that performance must be carried out with style, flair and grace; and 3) teach that the love of music must be central to music expression. All of Marilyn’s students have clearly been enriched by their piano experience. Many of her students have won a variety of piano competition awards, including a TN State Piano Competition several years ago. Many also have gone on to major or minor in music at a variety of college level institutions, including, for example, Harvard College, Columbia University, Juilliard School of Music and more locally at Lipscomb University, Belmont University and Vanderbilt University.
Marilyn served as a judge in many piano competitions in Tennessee, including Federation auditions held in Clarksville, NAMTA auditions held in Murfreesboro, and NAMTA auditions held in Nashville. In addition, she twice served as a judge for Winterfest held at the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University. She served as President of NPAC (Nashville Piano Achievement Competition) from 2001-2010. Marilyn, along with Ingrid Kessler, organized the first Nashville PIANORAMA in 1989 held at Alumni Auditorium on the Lipscomb campus. This multi-piano student concert continues to be scheduled on a biannual basis.
She played the organ weekly at her church. She was also the principal keyboardist for annual performances of Handel’s Messiah presented by the Nashville Community Choir, directed by her husband, a Professor of Physics at Vanderbilt University. The performances included a chamber orchestra, soloists and a large choir.
Marilyn traveled extensively with her husband to universities and scientific meetings in various cities, including Florence, Italy; Erice, Sicily; Interlaken, Switzerland; and St. Petersburg, Russia, where she performed as a solo pianist as well as in small chamber music groups.
An important aspect of Marilyn’s life was her love of storytelling. She combined this art with piano teaching and projecting visual images through short stories that help build excitement and joy in performance. She attended storytelling workshops annually in North Carolina with her husband and performed for groups around the city. She also enjoyed improvisation and frequently performed “on the spot” improvisation at music parties, held often at the Tolk home.
Marilyn clearly demonstrated that music, performance and teaching have been central to her life from the very beginning. Having five children (seventeen grandchildren) and a supportive husband, she served to magnify her love for music and teaching as she worked with all of her own children as well as with an innumerable number of students in Canada, New York City, New Jersey and Nashville where she lived and taught over the years. Through her unselfish love of people and her very special musical talent, she has positively impacted the lives of an incredible number of people all who love her.
There will be a visitation on Monday, September 12, 2022, from 5:00pm – 8: 00pm, and a Celebration of Life on Tuesday, September 13, starting at 10:00am, all held at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 1100 Gray Fox Ln, Franklin, TN 37069.
Youtube video links:
Marilyn Tolk, “Coming Around the Mountain” in Many Styles:
Marilyn Tolk & Katelyn Kelly, "In the Bleak Midwinter"
Marilyn Tolk improvising on "The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning"
“Be Still My Soul” performed by Marilyn Tolk on piano