Long before Grand Singers knew they would be needing a new piano accompanist, Marilyn Sassman had begun her journey toward The Grand. She and Larry Wilson were both widows in 2016 when they reconnected at a high school reunion in the little town of Waukee, Iowa, the hometown of their childhood. They had been classmates all through grade school and high school.
That year, 2016, they began their journey toward us by camping for a month in Larry’s 5th Wheel in Arizona’s Usary State Park. Marilyn calls it their “first trial” together! The next year, 2017, they rented a home in Sun City Grand for three months. In 2018 they rented for five months, and in 2019 (August) they bought a home and moved here permanently.
Marilyn holds Bachelors and Masters degrees in Music Education. She has taught and performed “all her life,” including 20 years in Des Moines public schools and 11 years in the Orlando area. She coached and accompanied the choirs and sang regularly in her church choir and at regional conventions. In retirement Marilyn continued to assist the director at the middle school where she had taught, coaching vocal students, accompanying the choir and recording songs for rehearsals.
She was involved with a community choir in the Branson, MO area for 12 years. “In addition to singing,” she explained, “I served on the board, including a three-year term as president. I also selected the music for the choir for several years, accompanied sectionals, and was the accompanist for performances twice.”
Among the “bucket list” items fulfilled in her life, she counts:
May, 2010 - Traveled with a choir from Springfield, MO to present Handel’s “Messiah” at the State Theatre in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia. “We also presented some American songs, and were accompanied by the Moscow Symphony. It was really a peak experience being inside the Kremlin walls,” she exclaims. “We also gave a concert in St. Petersburg.”
February 17, 2014 - Sang in a special concert at Carnegie Hall, honoring the 75th Anniversary of Shawnee Press. She adds “My choir had Mark Hayes, Tim Seelig, and Joseph Martin as guest conductors!”
The first Grand Singers concert Marilyn attended was December 2019. Then came the Covid cancellations. Then came the announcement by the wonderful Sherry Bennett that she would be retiring as accompanist. As if it was preordained, the purpose of Marilyn’s journey of discovery, begun in 2016, had brought her to the right place at the right time for Grand Singers.
Director Pamela Weir says: "When our previous Grand Singers accompanist, Sherry Bennett, had to step down for health reasons, I was very worried how we would find someone that would fit with our 'family-feel' culture and have the kind of talent that is necessary to play for this large group. When I first met Marilyn and we talked for about an hour, I knew she was the one! Marilyn is truly a gem, and we are so fortunate to have her. Not only is she an accomplished accompanist, a wonderful sectional rehearsal leader, and a backup director, but she has become a member of our Grand Singers family and my friend!"
Marilyn reveals: “The day I directed in Pamela's absence was really special, although scary. I was and am so impressed with the whole organization of the Singers and the talent of so many, that while I knew I had the chops to direct, it had been a l-o-n-g time since I had! At the end of the rehearsal, I really did tear up at how responsive the singers were to me, how adaptive and helpful everyone was, what a beautiful sound they created, and it was just amazing!
The magic of the bench: “Having directed choirs of many levels for many years,” she adds, “I know how important the accompanist is - I know what directors are needing to have happen, and it is my goal to always be prepared to do that. To have the accompaniment enhance the singers is the magic of the bench! Our combination is unbeatable!”