By Polly McMurtry
Kathleen Lyon Perantoni was a violinist with the Philharmonic starting around the time of its inception more than 60 years ago. She began playing the violin as a young girl and studied with Edwin W. Bruce for years, concertizing all over New England. While she was in high school, she traveled to Boston to play under Serge Koussevitsky, renowned conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra at the time. This must have been around 1930. And when she graduated from high school in 1932, she procured a gig playing dinner music at the Lake Side Inn in Lake Placid, NY for the summer, receiving several recommendations, including one from her violin teacher.
Music was a huge part of her life. Her children recall her telling the story of a trip to Boston as a young woman to see the great Norwegian Wagnerian soprano Kirsten Flagstad perform a recital at Symphony Hall. Filled with emotion Kathleen began to weep openly during the program, to the great consternation of a gentleman seated next to her. He inquired after her well-being, "Madam, are you all right?" Mortified by the attention, she apologized and said she was just overcome by the beauty of the moment. “Vintage Mom,” her kids explain. "So like her.”
She married in 1938 and had her first son, Edward, in 1942. There is another story that her family tells about a house fire on Summer Street in Barre in the dead of winter during WWII. Kathleen evacuated her apartment in her nightclothes with little Edward in one arm and her violin in the other, highlighting what mattered most to her in life.
She continued to study, practice, and play until 1949 when her second son, Robert, was born. Unfortunately, Robert was terrified of the sound of the violin and, in spite of Kathleen's best efforts, she couldn't get him to stop screaming and crying, so she put the violin away for many years. Ironically, Robert is now guardian of his mother's violin.
Her family can’t remember exactly when she picked her instrument up again, but her daughter recalls vividly that when Jon Borowicz invited her to join the Philharmonic she agonized for weeks. Could she play well enough? Could she carry her part and devote the time required for practice and rehearsal? Once she made up her mind, however, that was the end of the story.
For all her talents on the violin, Kathleen remained a true amateur, playing music totally for the love of it, rather than as a profession. Her day job involved working throughout her adult life as an accountant, first for the Archibald Peisch and Co. and then from 1971 until her retirement in 1994, for the former Granite Savings Bank, working in their Trust Department.
Playing in the Philharmonic meant a tremendous amount to her. She didn't have the easiest life, being married, raising four children, and working—but the Philharmonic always gave her strength and peace to keep going. Her daughter recalls her commenting every time she came back from either rehearsal or a concert that it would take her hours to settle down because she found the playing and focusing so energizing.
What is really amazing is how long she played with the Philharmonic—until she was 97. She was honored that Lou Kosma graciously lengthened her performing career by encouraging her to continue despite a sore shoulder, which limited the amount of time she could hold up her violin during rehearsals. He told her that it didn't matter how much she was able to play, that she should just do was much as she could. This was a huge boost to her spirits. It also provided the impetus for her to practice and perform right up until her final health crisis.
Kathleen died in December of 2012. Her last concert with the Philharmonic was in October of that year. She left an empty hole in the violin section. Four of her fellow string players and close friends from the orchestra played at her funeral service: Marta Cambra, Patricia Fitzgerald, Drusilla Macy, and Don White. Dru and Don were both particularly fond of her, having given her rides for years to and from rehearsals and concerts. During the service, among the selections the string quartet performed was one of Kathleen's favorites, Robert Schumann's "Traumerei". Dru dedicated a poem to her.
Another favorite piece of Kathleen’s to play was the Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana. Her daughter, Martha, is also a musician, having received her piano degree from Boston University. Many days she and her mother would spend an afternoon making music together, including the Intermezzo. Martha was moved deeply by its performance at the Philharmonic’s 60th anniversary celebration concert.
A talented, sweet, and caring person, Kathleen was also quite humble, and displayed a playful sense of humor. I didn’t know her that well, as I sit on opposite sides of the stage from the violins, but one of my fondest memories of Kathleen was probably in her last year of playing with us. We chatted briefly as we washed our hands in the ladies room prior to one of our concerts, and I probably mentioned something like how wonderful it was that she was still playing with us. Her response gave me immediate pause, and then it hit home. “I do what I can, I play what notes I can, and I’ll play with the orchestra as long as they let me. My motto these days is to do no harm.” That sounds to me like vintage Kathleen.