Monday, October 20, 2014

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Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra Mourns Loss of Top Violinist

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Buffalo: Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra Mourns Loss of Top Violinist
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CHAUTAUQUA, N.Y. -- The woman shot and killed inside her home in Westfield, Chautauqua County, this week was an accomplished and well-respected violinist with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra.

For eight weeks every summer, Mary Whitaker, 61, would come to the Chautauqua Institute to play violin with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra. Whitaker was a regular for the past 36 years.

"This kind of tragedy is something that one grieves tremendously. One is in shock because you can't believe it's actually happened," said Marty Merkley, vice president and director of programming for Chautauqua Institute.

Merkley said he first met Whitaker 24 years ago, when he came to the Institution.

"It was her smile and her wit. It was always a smile there, she was fabulous to banter with because it was just one quip after another," said Merkley.


Whitaker's body was found Wednesday inside her Titus Road home, about 20 miles from Chautauqua Institution. She had been shot twice. Friday, authorities announced the arrest of two men in Erie, Pennsylvania, in connection with the homicide.

Merkley said the orchestra is made up of 74 of the best musicians in the world. They all bring their own style and personality to the orchestra, but Whitaker, who also played with the Westchester Philharmonic, had the special something.

"She hailed from New York City, where she was a musician there for the rest of her year and a very accomplished violinist, very much in demand in New York, and brought a New York sensibility to Chautauqua in the summertime and a variety of styles and music that we're required to play in the orchestra here. She brought all of that with her with a wicked sense of humor," said Merkley.

Merkley said most of the orchestra members have left for the summer, but condolences continue to pour in.

A service celebrating her life will be held at 4 p.m. Sunday.

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