Barbara H. Van Slyke (1931–2011)

On April 23, Barbara Van Slyke, longtime member of the San Francisco Early Music Society and former board member, died peacefully of lung cancer, surrounded by her family and close friends.

In 1971, Barbara earned an M.S.W. degree from UC Berkeley, thus beginning a successful career as a social worker and psychotherapist in Palo Alto. Her work continued until February, 2011.

Barbara was the child of a fine organist and told me many times of the thrill of sitting on the organ bench while her father played Bach’s powerful music. This seminal experience fostered a lifelong passion for Bach, and Barbara became an accomplished musician with a deep love for the harpsichord and organ. She was one of the most devoted fans of early music I’ve ever known. An avid concertgoer, not wanting to miss anything, she regularly subscribed to the SFEMS concert series, American Bach Soloists, Philharmonia Baroque and Chattanooga Chamber Music. Barbara was committed to bringing people from other parts of her life to concerts, sharing her passion for the music and musicians she loved so much.

In the early 1990s Barbara came up to me after one of my performances at the Berkeley Early Music Festival and revealed that she had a desire to study harpsichord with me. This was the beginning of our association, which also turned into a wonderful friendship. Barbara made the commitment to come all the way from Stanford to San Francisco once a week for a lesson, and rarely missed a week. She worked hard to learn the language of French Baroque keyboard music and also to pursue her dream of learning Bach’s Goldberg Variations. In 2006, she performed beautifully the Aria and ten variations for our student group—a huge accomplishment! I have no doubt that she would have gone on and learned the rest had she lived longer.

It will take a very long time for me to get used to not seeing Barbara sitting in our local performances with a smile on her face—welcoming the music deeply into her heart and memory.

A memorial celebration will be held at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 600 Colorado Ave., Palo Alto, on Friday, June 10, at 2:00 p.m. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be sent to SFEMS, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra or to the charity of your choice.

—Katherine Roberts Perl