On Tuesday, my aunt Carolyn died. She always had so much to do and say, always completing projects. Her professional and artistic friends reach around the world. She was one of the most intelligent people I have ever met. The world is a better place because she was in it and is feeling the loss now that she has left.
Pianist Carolyn Bridger, who was the principal keyboardist with the Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra and a former faculty member at the Florida State College of Music, died in an auto accident near Traverse City, Mich., on Tuesday morning. She was 71.
“Carolyn was beloved by her colleagues and many, many students,” TSO executive director Amanda Stringer said in an email. “A fantastic pianist, she played in the TSO over 30 years and performed throughout the country in many different capacities. We extend our deepest sympathies to her family and all others who loved and knew her.”
Bridger, who created the collaborative piano (or accompanying) program at FSU, was a founding member of the TSO in the early ’80s with conductor Nicholas Harsanyi.
“As a player, she was solid as a rock,” Stringer said. “We will miss her presence on stage.”
The Traverse City Record-Eagle is reporting Bridger was in Michigan, where she owns a home in Interlochen, to attend a funeral. She and other family members were returning from the airport in Traverse City when a Brimley, Mich., man crossed the central median and struck their car around 1:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Bridger was pronounced dead on the scene. The driver and two other passengers in Bridger’s car were taken to a local hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
The Record-Eagle is reporting the man who caused the wreck was arrested on charges of “driving while license suspended causing death” and two other license-related charges. A Traverse City Sheriff’s Office deputy said that all drivers and passengers were wearing their seat belts at the time of impact. Deputies are still investigating the exact cause of the fatal crash on the icy roadway.
The sudden death was a major loss for Tallahassee‘s classical-music community. It left friends and colleagues reeling.
“She was tireless, she never ran out of energy,” said violinist Karen Clarke, a former concert master for the TSO and a professor emerita from the FSU College of Music. “She contributed so much to Tallahassee.”
In the early ’90s, Bridger played a supporting role in founding The Artist Series along with her husband, Waldie Anderson, who died in 2011. The Artist Series made its debut in 1995 with performances by the Eroica Trio and Rockapella.
In 1994, Anderson and Bridger rallied a group of non-professional musicians to form the Big Bend Community Orchestra.
“She was such an inspiration to so many students and she and Waldie were indefatigable music ambassadors,” former TSO executive director Lois Griffin said in an email.
The upbeat, quick-to-smile Bridger was as busy as ever this fall on stages around Tallahassee. In October, she performed as the accompanist with cello player Evgeni Raychev at a recital hall at FSU and, in September, she was featured in the Tallahassee Ballet’s annual “An Evening of Music and Dance” in Opperman Music Hall.
She was booked to accompany on piano for the Tallahassee Music Guild’s annual “Sing-Along Messiah” concert on Dec. 2 at Faith Presbyterian Church. Her Florida State College of Music colleague, pianist Timothy Hoekman, has been tapped as her replacement.
“Carolyn’s musical fingerprint is on almost everything in Tallahassee,” Florida State Opera conductor Douglas Fisher said in an email. “She played countless performances of recitals, chamber music, symphony engagements, public service events and more.”
When it came to range, the versatile Bridger could play everything from Baroque chamber music to cutting-edge material at the Festival of New Music. Her focus was as an accompanist, which meant she could fit in with nearly any kind of music or performer.
“How many famous accompanists are there out there?” former Florida State College of Music associate dean and oboist George Riordan said. “By nature, she was always in the background and making things happen. She ran the accompanying program (at FSU) and taught students how to play with singers, soloists, any type of musician. Her absolute devotion to her students was endless, not only when they students but also after they went out into the world.”
Bridger joined the FSU faculty in 1976 and retired in 2010. During her tenure, she became the resident director of the FSU Study-Abroad Summer Program in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Bridger played concerts all around the world, ranging from Malaysia to the Dalmatian Islands to Carnegie Hall in Manhattan.
A graduate of Oberlin College & Conservatory, Indiana University and the University of Iowa, Bridger also studied at the Mozarteum Akademie in Salzburg, Austria. She won the the prestigious Schubert Prize for Accompanying in Austria. The pianist also had close ties with Interlochen Arts Camp, which is located just a few miles south of Traverse City.