June 7, 1931 - October 15, 2016
Peter Pindar Stearns died peacefully on October 15, 2016 in Morrisville, Vermont with his beloved wife, Marcia and caregivers by his side. A memorial service was held at St. John-in-the-Mountains Church in Stowe on Friday, October 21, celebrating his life, his family and his music.
Stearns was born in New York City on 7 June 1931 of musician parents, whose New England roots can be traced back to 1630. His father, Theodore Pease Stearns, was a composer and a well-known conductor of opera and operettas in the early decades of the 20th Century. The elder Stearns' opera, Snowbird, produced in Dresden in 1924, was the first American opera to be premiered in Europe. In addition he held regular positions as a music critic and commentator in Chicago and New York, and was appointed to music faculty at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) where he moved the family in 1932. Stearns' mother, known professionally as Marguerite Lamar, was a lyric soprano of note. She was a protégée of Mary Garden and sang with the Chicago Lyric Opera Company in addition to recital work, specializing in the French chanson. She continued to sing throughout her life and served as a story analyst for MGM Studios.
Peter grew up and attended public and private schools in the environs of Los Angeles. Of particular influence were his years at the Barton School, an organic farm in Topanga Canyon, where his life-long love of gardening, nature and animals was born. He began the formal study of music theory and composition privately with Leonard Stein at the age of fifteen, although he had already begun to compose on his own three years earlier. Returning to New York at the age of eighteen he enrolled in the Mannes Music School where he earned the Artist's Diploma in 1952. There he studied with, among others, Bohuslav Martinu in composition, Felix Salzer in theory and Schenkerian analysis, and Julia Fox in organ. In later years he was an organ student of Jesse Walker.
Upon graduation from Mannes, Stearns returned to Los Angeles to work in the film industry, and studied there with Miklos Rozsa. By 1954 he was back in New York and part of the creative life of that city. His compositions began to appear on programs in the various concert halls of New York and elsewhere. His output of over three hundred musical compositions in all media includes seven symphonies, six string quartets, numerous other orchestral and chamber works as well as a substantial amount of organ and choral pieces.
In 1957 he was appointed to the faculty of Mannes where he remained for the next thirty-two years. He also taught briefly at Yale University and at the Wykeham Rise School in Connecticut. During his years at Mannes, Stearns developed the composition curriculum, serving for fifteen years as head of the Composition Department. In addition to composition classes and private lessons, he taught orchestration, theory and ear training as well as graduate seminars in music history. His interest in the development of young musicians led him for a time to the directorship of the Preparatory Division of Mannes. He was a member of The American Composers Alliance since 1963 and served two terms on its Admissions Committee.
Stearns had active auxiliary careers in several related areas. As an organist and choral director he served numerous churches. He worked for Carl Fischer, Inc. as an editorial assistant and was Director of Publications for Coburn Press Music Publishers for eight years. He also worked as an organ builder under Charles B. Fisk and Robert Noehren. Passionate hobbies included woodworking, cooking, loving cats, and black & white photography (he maintained a darkroom for forty years). Peter’s love of genealogy led him to publish two books on his family history and connected him with many long-lost cousins, half-siblings and other family, all of whom are grateful for being “discovered” by him.
Peter had an active spiritual life, both in the Episcopal Church as well as in Quaker and other contemplative traditions. He taught his children to make their own choices about spirituality and to be independent thinkers and passionately pursue their paths. Very active in twelve step recovery programs, service to others became a primary focus of the last twenty years of Peter’s life.
Peter is predeceased by his sister Gloria Pease Stearns and brother Charles Theodore Stearns. He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Marcia Bush Stearns, a composer, singer and music publisher; daughters Gloria Stearns-Bruner, a violinist/music therapist and Ethelyn Friend, a theater artist/voice teacher; his son Thomas MacKenna Lamar Stearns, an organic seed farmer; and by seven grandchildren: Siena, Silas, Michael, Gabriel, Ruby, Katrine and Cora.
Donations in Peter’s name can be made to the North Country Animal League http://www.ncal.com/home where he and Marcia, as well as other family members, have found many companions over the years. Remembrances can be posted by visiting faithfh.net.
To send a flower arrangement or to plant trees in memory of Peter Stearns, please click here to visit our Sympathy Store.