In Memoriam: Neva Pilgrim (1938-2024)

In Memoriam: Neva Pilgrim (1938-2024)

Colgate University announced on Feb. 28 that Neva Pilgrim, artist-in-residence and teacher of voice, passed away at Crouse Hospital in Syracuse, N.Y., on Monday, Jan. 22, at the age of 85.

Provost and Dean of the Faculty Lesleigh Cushing shared the tragic news with members of the Colgate community in an email.

“Admired for her generosity and full dedication to all of her students (who number in the hundreds), Neva was an exceptional teacher and a valued mentor,” Cushing wrote. “Intrepid and determined never to let a student down, Neva traveled to campus from Syracuse multiple times a week (through rain, snow and sleet) to meet with students of voice. She also took them to regional performances, so that they could listen to and meet with vocalists she knew, providing an important context for what her students were aspiring to.”

Originally from Cottonwood County, Minn., Pilgrim taught in Colgate’s Department of Music from 1976 until her retirement in June of 2023. She received her master’s degree in 1963 from Yale Music School, following her undergraduate studies at Hamline University until 1960. Pilgrim then studied and performed throughout Europe, prior to singing professionally in the U.S. for many years.

Pilgrim was also deeply involved in the Society for New Music (SNM), which she helped to found and run. The contemporary classical music organization offers performances of new music and advocates for new works by regional composers in order to cater to the musical community of Central New York. Pilgrim championed equity and access in her work, focusing on expanding opportunities for younger students of music in the region to learn and develop their musical talents.

“Her commitment to supporting enriching opportunities and performing new music regionally was formidable and transformative for Central New York,” Cushing wrote.

Cushing noted that Pilgrim’s “generosity, gift as a teacher and spirit were much admired by her colleagues” in the Department of Music. The email included words shared by Pilgrim’s colleague, Assistant Professor of Music Ryan Chase, as well as Pilgrim’s former student, alumna Jennifer Petrallia ’92, who both spoke highly of Pilgrim’s passion and dedication.

Pilgrim is survived by her husband, Richard Pilgrim, their two sons, Jason and Jonathan, as well as Jonathan’s wife Hilde and their children, Amelie and Jonas, in addition to seven of Pilgrim’s nine siblings: Maxine Berge, Gerald Stevens, Darrell Stevens, Ronald Stevens, Larry Stevens, Carol Stevens and Roger Stevens.

A memorial service will be held on campus later this spring, with details to be announced. The email noted that contributions may be directed to St. Paul’s Church, the Society for New Music and/or WCNY-FM.

The Colgate Maroon-News joins the entire Colgate community in mourning the loss of Neva Pilgrim.

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