Where were you when you heard about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy? Where were you when you heard about the Challenger spaceship explosion? How did you hear about the planes flying into the World Trade Center and other events of September 11? It was one of those major life events which shake you to the core, and become firmly embedded in your memory when you first heard the news.
On Saturday afternoon, I was diligently working on my taxes (!) when Karl Bachman called me with the news that our beloved colleague, Beebe Freitas, had passed. Oh, we all knew it had been coming—Beebe had not been well, that was why I found myself subbing at Punahou Chapel a lot last year and recently. But when the news came, it was still a shock, especially since it was only three days after the death of another musical giant in our community, Neva Rego.
It’s really an ironic coincidence that I was working on my taxes when I heard the news, because for years and up to the last, my husband Carl Crosier prepared Beebe’s tax returns!
Her obituary was published today in the Star-Advertiser, “Gifted isle musician helped others reach their potential” and my takeaway was that Beebe was known first and foremost as THE accompanist in town—she made soloists sound better because of her sensitive piano accompaniment. Her sightreading skills were legendary—she could play from open orchestral scores and not miss a note!
Keoki Kerr wrote an extended tribute with many more stories which you can read here.
I first met Beebe at the University of Hawaii in 1974 when I was hired to teach organ in the Music Department and she was a lecturer in piano. In the early years, I remember going to her house in Aina Haina for a faculty party.
Later I found out she played the organ for not only Punahou School but also at the First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu. She was a daughter of a Presbyterian pastor in Youngstown, OH, and her mother was head of the sociology department at Youngstown State University. She began playing the piano at age three and played her first memorial service at age 6.
Beebe was a graduate of Oberlin College, and obtained her Master’s Degree in 1959 from Boston University. She continued her studies at Juilliard where she studied piano with Beveridge Webster. While in New York, she participated in the opening performance of Lincoln Center, and was the rehearsal pianist for Leonard Bernstein, William Steinberg, Thomas Schippers, and Robert Shaw.
After moving to Hawaii with her husband, Louis, who took a business and economics professorship at the University of Hawaii, Beebe also joined the UH faculty, teaching piano, accompanying, working with choruses, and coaching opera and music theater workshops.
She began as rehearsal accompanist for Hawaii Opera Theatre in 1972 and later was named its Artistic Director. As Simon Crookall, now Executive Director of HOT, said in today’s obituary: “Beebe was really a power of nature. She was literally the core of the company for many, many years. She was the go-to person for all things musical.”
I’ve posted this video before but here it is again: Punahou School’s Profile of an Organist, which was filmed for “Hiki No” on Hawaii Public Television.
Here are some comments from Beebe’s colleagues on her passing:
Rest in Love, Beebe Freitas. Beebe was a force of nature, a consummate musician and an inspiration to so many. I spent every single Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evening with her when I first came to Hawaii as a young conductor, as she accompanied both the Symphony Chorus and Opera Chorus, when I was chorus master. She was a wonderful and kind mentor and friend. I loved how she would just casually say, ‘when I played this for Lenny, he wanted it this way’. Beebe and I got through TWO Robert Shaw guest conducting gigs together, and dozens of choral/orchestral masterworks with the Symphony and dozens of operas. She helped so many musicians in Hawaii become their better selves. (Tim Carney)
Beebe. Oh, Beebe. Beebe. I will forever treasure the music we made together. I will forever treasure the heart and soul you gave this community. I will miss you. I thank you. I thank you so much. Beebe Freitas, I thank you so! (Susan McCreary Duprey)
I love you, dear Beebe Freitas. Thank you for showing us what the glory of God looks like during your time on this earth. You were so excellent at EVERYTHING! I guess now I’ll just go on and try to make you proud. (Leon Williams)
Beebe was joy. She helped everyone around her feel good and sound better. She was a selfless collaborator and peerless musician. My life is richer for having known her and made music with her. Play on, Beebe! (Greg Dubay)
I wake up to another very sad morning 😢 last week miss Neva Rego passed away and this week the amazing and beautiful Beebe Freitas.Both amazing women in the world of Opera that touched my life for 8yrs while living in Hawaii and so many others! Beebe was the best vocal coach and accompanist a singer could want and I remember, living so far away from the mainland, that id be just fine, cuz all you needed was one! …May you Rest In Peace dearest Beebe! (Jacqueline Quirk)
Sad to find out this morning that the most amazing pianist I’ve ever worked with has passed away. Beebe Freitas was not only a masterful artist but a true light in the world. I’m heartbroken for her family and friends. (Michelle Blake)
I have no words. Beebe Freitas was the loving, generous spirit who’d nurtured countless musicians and singers … (Nanilisa Pascua)
My world has stopped for a moment and my heart grieves for the loss of such a beautiful soul and talented musician. You have impacted many lives. Rest In Peace, Beebe. (Rose Dino)
Beloved musician, encourager, and friend. Beebe Freitas will be missed by many whose lives she impacted. Beebe accompanied all the chapel songs I led when I taught at Punahou whether it was Kindergarten, 1st grade, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th or 7th grades. Especially with the younger ones, she could help with an adjustment and make me look better. I admired her not just as the fantastic musician she was but as a person full of faith and grace. I loved her and cherish her memory. (Pam DeBoard)
Beebe Freitas and Neva Rego…Two amazing women that greatly inspired me and so many others with their gift of music and song …What a huge loss for our Islands and for all those who knew these humble, strong and remarkably talented women ….And yes, I am thinking there is quite a concert going on in heaven as we speak 🎶🙏 Play on, mighty Maestras….You will be sorely missed 💕 (Melina Lillios)
I’ll miss Beebe sooo much! In addition to being the most talented pianist and organist, she was so warm, gracious, loving, and caring. She is a beautiful person, created in the image of God. Thank you for blessing us, Beebe!! ❤❤❤ (Gail Wakatake)
Services for Beebe Freitas have been announced for Saturday, March 10, at 10:00 am, First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu. (I am so sorry that I will not be able to join my colleagues in celebrating her life—I will be in Seattle that weekend.)