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Former Youth Symphony Conductor Vilem Sokol Passes Away

Jamala Henderson

A beloved former University of Washington music professor and conductor of Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestras has passed away. Vilem Sokol died of cancer on Friday at the age of 96, and as KUOW'S Jamala Henderson reports, his love of music and teaching left a profound imprint on his students.


When Vilem Sokol conducted a youth symphony rehearsal, you were bound to learn more than just musical notes on a page or phrasing. Mr. Sokol would quip and joke during the four–hour rehearsals with the Seattle Youth Symphony. He kept his students entertained with story after musical story, usually about a particular composer or a former student.

Erin Adams was a student cellist in the Seattle Youth Symphony for four years the mid 1980s. Today she teaches cello and elementary schools students. She remembers Vilem Sokol as a tremendous musical teacher and mentor.

Erin Adams: "He is one of the foremost who poured so much love and support and everything into me. That's why I teach. And not just cello but elementary school. We knew that every time he said, I'm so lucky to start with a fresh group of kids every year, that he meant it. He was that full of charisma and we loved him for it."

Erin says Mr. Sokol's storytelling style of teaching is something that she passes on to her own musical students today because she wants them to appreciate the culture and history behind the music they play.

Here's Vilem Sokol speaking at the Seattle Youth Symphony's 60th anniversary gala in 2003.

Sokol: "Now there were times when things were not going well in rehearsal. This is just natural. At one of the rehearsals, I was really, really frustrated. Really frustrated. And I finally said, you know something? I'm suffering. And you know what I'm suffering? I'm suffering in purgatory."

Years later, one of Mr. Sokol's former students would give a television interview that finished off that story with his own take: That Mr. Sokol might have been suffering, but the students were in heaven.

Vilem Sokol taught music at the University of Washington for nearly half a century. He also conducted the Marrowstone Music Festival orchestra and Seattle Youth Symphony from 1960 until he lay down his baton in 1988.

Vilem Sokol is survived by his 10 musical children and the generations of students he taught who've gone on to become professional musicians, teachers and music lovers.

His funeral mass will be held Thursday morning at 10:00 at St. James Cathedral in Seattle.

I'm Jamala Henderson, KUOW News.

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