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Salli Terri - The Choral Journal Obituary

the following obituary appeared in The Choral Journal (September 1996)

Salli C Terri
September 3, 1922 - May 5, 1996

BORN IN London, Ontario, Canada, Salli C. Terri was an inventive and vibrant person, whose professional activities ranged from serving as chief arranger for the Roger Wagner Chorale to providing the voice-over for the cow in Mary Poppins. A progressively debilitating series of strokes ended her life. Terri pursued a double major in college - music and literature - and she retained a fascination with language, which she used in provocative and colorful ways. When Roger Wagner finished conducting his first performance of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, for example, she congratulated him on "guiding that unwieldy giant on skates."

    Salli Terri
A curious and adventuresome young woman, she worked in Japan from 1950 to 1952 as a teacher of English and music. She relished her role as teacher. At U.C.L.A. she taught classes in choral arranging, singing for actors, and music fundamentals, and she formed the madrigal singers. On campus, and also privately, she taught sight-singing. She later taught music theory at Fullerton Junior College in Fullerton, California.

In 1952, Terri joined the Roger Wagner Chorale for its first tour, a series of concerts on the West Coast. In 1953, she went to Europe with the Chorale, which had been invited to particpate in the Coronation Festivities for Queen Elizabeth.

Terri was married for twenty-five years to composer John Biggs and had two daughters, Jennifer Biggs Walton and Adrienne Biggs. The family toured and performed together as the John Biggs Consort.

Terri's haunting vocal style reflected her intense interest in folk music, especially the music of early America. In a visit to John Jacob Niles, from whom she sought permission to publish her arrangement of Jesus, Jesus, Rest Your Head, she learned how he reshaped the Appalachian songs he collected, sometimes combining elements of several songs. She was also intrigued by the Shakers. Drawing on her experiences staying with Shaker families, she wrote "Shaker Worshop Service (1971) and A Moravian Lovefeast (1978), her last works.

An extraordinary communicative artist, she was a featured soloist on albums such as Folksongs of the New World and on national and international tours with the Roger Wagner Chorale. In addition to her many albums with the Chorale, she made seven solo albums and performed a one-woman show in the 1960s. Duets with the Spanish Guitar (1958) with Laurindo Almeida, guitar, and Martin Rudeman, flute, was nominated for a Grammy Award and was reissued recently on CD. It includes a memorable rendition of Villa-Lobos's Bachianas Brasileiras, which the composer considered the best recorded performance of this work. In addition to her live and recorded performances, she left a legacy of more than fifty choral arrangements.

- Jeannine Wagner

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obituary sent in by Teresa Myers, daughter of  Robert E Myers
(Robert Myers produced Salli's best known recordings, as well as most of the 1950s recordings by the RWC)

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last revised 22 January 2011