Retirement Tribute: Carolyn Edwards

Carolyn and daughter Chelsea

by Alison Fujito

Violinist Carolyn Edwards and I first met in April, 1987, when we were both called to sub with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra just before joining as full-time members. I remember being immediately impressed that Carolyn seemed to learn the names of every member of every section before the first week was over! 

Carolyn grew up in the Detroit area, where her parents, who were both amateur musicians, gave Carolyn, her brother, and sister a strong musical background. She recalls, “we played classical music recordings during dinner, and our house was always noisy with someone practicing in a corner of the house. We often played chamber music as a family, arranged for piano, two violins, and two trumpets. We could always hear my mother’s Brahms and Chopin as we were going to sleep.” 

Her parents also brought her to Detroit Symphony Orchestra concerts, starting when she was only three years old. After years of begging to play the violin, Carolyn finally began lessons at age seven upon discovering her late grandfather’s violin in a secret cupboard. Her teacher and role model was Emily Mutter Adams, the only female violinist in the DSO. 

When Carolyn was only fourteen, her father passed away, and she needed to work to help with the family finances. She played in the Windsor Symphony Orchestra, ushered at DSO concerts, and also played in an award-winning string quartet that included former PSO cellist Richard Bush! 

She recalls, “I would practice from 5-7 AM, take the bus to downtown Detroit, have chamber music, orchestra, and music theory classes, return to a church near my house to practice another two hours, and then walk the mile home.” 

After high school, Carolyn attended Curtis Institute of Music, where she studied with the famed Ivan Galamian. After only a year and a half there, she left to join the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra as Assistant Principal Second Violin. 

After one season, she went to study with Joseph Silverstein at Boston University. While living in Boston, she performed with the Boston Ballet, Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, Boston Opera Co., New Hampshire Symphony, Harvard Chamber Orchestra, and Springfield Symphony, where she held the position of Principal Second Violin. Carolyn remembers performing at the old Pittsburgh Civic Arena while on tour with Henry Mancini and the Boston Pops and thinking that Pittsburgh would be a nice city in which to live! 

At the age of 26, she decided to study art history at Smith College, where she earned a BA while continuing to freelance — including a one-year stint subbing with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

In April of 1987, Carolyn was asked to sub with the PSO for its very first tour with Lorin Maazel to Japan, China, and Hong Kong.  Only a few months later, she officially joined the second violin section of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. 

A woman of many diverse talents, Carolyn is also an accomplished ice skater. I know this, because she convinced me to join her for a year of figure-skating lessons at the Mount Lebanon Ice Rink (where her natural grace offset my complete lack of grace). 

Carolyn’s daughter Chelsea, a familiar figure on PSO tours and backstage, is an accomplished harpist, graduate of both Yale University and the Royal Conservatory of Brussels, and is currently pursuing a DMA in Harp Performance at The Graduate Center, CUNY. 

Carolyn plans to continue performing chamber music, teaching violin students, expanding their chamber music and performing opportunities, and pursuing her love of painting. I will miss her dreadfully next year, and the other side of the stage will never look quite right to me without her being there. 

Carolyn and Alison on Tour