Barbara Rowan Whang, R.I.P.

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The distinguished pianist and Milhaud scholar Barbara Rowan has died, her son Paul announced on Facebook, late on March 25. She was well known for her work with her husband, Fritz Whang, and as a long-time teacher in the UNC Music Department. She and Charlottesville-based Content Sablinsky also gave numerous duo and two-piano recitals over the years. We join her many friends, admirers, and students around the world in extending sympathies to her family. The obit appears immediately below, followed by tributes including her son’s farewell note.

Barbara Rowan Whang

Born in San Francisco on September 7, 1932, to James Arthur Harris and Roma Pool Harris, she died peacefully in her sleep on March 25, 2017. She is survived by her husband, Francis; daughter, Sheila Rowan Hill; son, Paul Rowan; stepdaughter, Maia Whang Arteel; and eight grandchildren.

Barbara attended public schools in Oakland, California, and won a scholarship to Mills College to study composition with Darius Milhaud and piano with Egon Petri. She received both the BA and MM degrees from Mills.

Following a year in Paris as a Fulbright scholar for advanced study with Milhaud, she returned to her alma mater where she taught piano until 1964. She then moved to Chapel Hill and was a member of the UNC-Chapel Hill piano faculty for nearly four decades. A brilliant soloist, she also enjoyed chamber music, teaming up for a period with four-hand piano partner Content Sablinsky, a fellow Mills College graduate. In 1992, she and colleague (and later, husband) Francis Whang formed the Janus Duo dedicated to solo and duo piano music. In 2010, they moved to Croasdaile Village in Durham where they presented their last public concert there in 2011.

In the course of her musical life, Barbara performed, lectured, conducted master classes, and adjudicated in Belgium, England, Wales, Asia, and many parts of the United States.

A Celebration of Life will be held at 3 p.m. on June 25, 2017, at Croasdaile Village in Durham. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be made to the UNC Barbara Rowan Whang Music scholarship fund being set up in her honor. Tax deductible donations can be made by visiting http://music.unc.edu/support/donate/ and selecting the MUSIC AWARDS and HONORS FUND, memo designation in the honor/memory section for the Barbara Rowan Whang scholarship.

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From her son Paul: “Dear Mom, It’s really hard to say goodbye. The last few years, as your ability to speak faded, I’ve struggled to remember your voice. I’ve sat with you while trying to guess your responses to my one-sided conversation. I’ve reflexively asked you how you are doing, forgetting that you couldn’t tell me. I’ve discovered I’m terrible at monologues.

“Now, though, I hope you can rest. I hope, in your passing, you knew how much we love you, how much you have given us, and how grateful we are to still hear your voice in what you’ve left behind.

“Rest in Peace, Barbara Rowan Whang

“Love,Your son, Paul”

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From J. Don Coleman, founding conductor and long-time leader of the Hickory Choral Society:

“Although it has been 45+ years since she was my teacher I have often thought of her. She was one of the brightest individuals I have ever met. Always encouraging yet thought you could always do more.

“I remember one funny experience she had with Dr. [William S.] Newman which infuriated her.  As you know she studied with Darius Milhaud and actually lived in his Paris apartment one summer. Newman questioned the pronunciation of his name with her. She sent back a note which simply said:  Mi-O.

“Her memory loss for so long is sad.

“Take care, Don”

Barbara Rowan Whang, R.I.P.
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3 thoughts on “Barbara Rowan Whang, R.I.P.

  1. Bill Robinson

    My sympathies to the Whang family. Barbara was always so friendly and I was delighted to see her at many concerts over the years. She will be missed by the musical community.

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  2. David B Phillips

    I will always remember my 4 years at Chapel Hill (’79) and my studies with you. You were a brilliant musician and such a fine teacher. Two things stand out in my mind. I changed majors to a composition major. You told me you still expected the same amount of work from me. So I changed back to a piano performance major. Second thing that really stands out in my mind is this. I was working on a Mozart sonata for my senior recital and it seems that I just could not play the 16th note pickup to the second movement the way you wanted me to play it. After several lessons on those four notes you told me that you just could not understand why I could not play those four notes correctly. I think you were a little exasperated!! I will cherish that forever because it said to me that you cared. I am so happy that I have had the chance to see you over the past several years. I will miss you so much.

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  3. Dana Burnett

    So sad to hear this. Barbara Rowan was an inspiring and brilliant pianist. I owed her a lot due to her injuring her arm at UNC …. I ended up playing her recital with Brookes Smith, and a lot of work came my way in Chapel Hill, including her gracious offer to have me teach one semester for her. I will always remember her playing, energy, bright smile and mind. Condolences to the family with love.

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