Professor Gwendolyn Lytle passed away Thursday morning at her Claremont home after a battle with cancer.
Lytle was a beloved member of Pomona’s music faculty for 35 years, including three years as chair of the department. Whether in her many individual voice lessons or in her classes on American music, she was always eager to share her joyous love of music and her great depth of knowledge of the vocal instrument and the musical world.
The daughter of a church organist, she began performing in a singing group with her sisters at the age of 9. After graduating from Hunter College, she went on to receive a Master of Music degree at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. She came to Pomona from the University of California, Riverside, where she had served as a lecturer in music for 10 years.
Known for her extraordinary soprano voice, she performed all across the country and around Europe both as a concert soloist and in such operas as The Marriage of Figaro and Dido and Aeneas. In recent years, she joined her brother Cecil, a noted pianist, for a series of concerts devoted to the music of George Gershwin, a PBS broadcast of which was shown across the United States, and devoted herself to a repertoire of poems by Emily Dickinson and Langston Hughes, as set to music by a range of American composers.
“Gwendolyn possessed the rare quality that her artistic personality was in perfect synergy with who she was in day-to-day life. Whether in concert performance, the classroom, or a committee meeting, she radiated passion and sincerity in equal abundance," says Eric Lindholm, chair of the Music Department. "Her laugh could fill a room, inspiring all others to find more joy in the moment. Any occasion with Gwen gained meaning by her presence, because she approached everything with such honesty and commitment that it all felt more important, and more real.
“During her 35 years at the College, Gwen taught more than 650 students, in both private voice lessons and classroom courses on music history and literature. Whether they were beginners or experienced enough to be tackling major repertoire, her voice students found in Gwendolyn a fully committed mentor, whose energy was always focused on their understanding of the voice, their emotional and psychological identification with the text, and the development of each one’s mind and spirit. Gwen’s own performances showed mastery in a great range of styles, from art songs by Schubert or Copland to new music to spirituals.”
Her relationship with her students was both demanding and loving. As a former student wrote, “Professor Lytle has been my instructor, mentor, friend, champion and sometimes mother for three years. She's seen me at my best and worst, and I can't thank her enough for her love and support.”
Plans to honor Lytle's life with a memorial service are not yet complete. We will share that information once they are finalized.
Donations may be made in honor of Gwendolyn Lytle to Pomona College Music Department which is establishing the Gwendolyn Lytle Scholarship Fund at Pomona College for talented needs-based students studying music.