Music and Mary Washington Stayed With Marilla Haas

Whether she’s at the organ, piano, or string bass, Marilla Mattox Haas ’60 shares her talent with UMW and Fredericksburg. (Peter Cihelka/The Free Lance-Star)

No one ever had to remind 6-year-old Marilla Mattox – now Marilla Mattox Haas ’60 – to practice piano.

Haas’ earliest memories of Sunday mornings in Richmond’s First Baptist Church are of balcony seats carefully chosen by her mother so young Marilla could have a clear view of the organist’s hands. She and her mother frequented what was then Richmond’s Mosque theater, where they heard pianists Vladimir Horowitz and Arthur Rubinstein, contralto Marian Anderson, and the Broadway cast of Porgy and Bess.

“I was always exposed to music,” said the accomplished pianist, bassist, teacher, and accompanist. “That’s just been my life.”

That love of music brought Haas to Mary Washington, where she earned a degree in music. But unlike most graduates, she never really left. Haas played string bass with the orchestra for three decades, taught piano as an adjunct professor in the Department of Music, and accompanied Mary Washington and community musical groups.

“There was never a time when I wasn’t on campus for something between 1956 and when I stopped teaching in 2008,” Haas said. “I was just there at least once a week.”

Her first Fredericksburg home was in Betty Lewis residence hall on Sunken Road. She and her classmates sledded on dining hall trays behind duPont Hall, and her geology class studied silt and rocks in the creek below what is now Simpson Library. Haas has fond memories of Librarian Carroll Quenzel, Professor of Psychology Eileen Kramer Dodd, and her “favorite French teacher,” Professor Miriam Bowes Hoge.

But her music teachers had the deepest effect on her life: the accomplished pianist and composer Levin Houston III, the much-loved department chair Anne Hamer, and orchestra director Ronald Faulkner. Haas spent most of her time on campus in Pollard Hall.

“I went to Mary Washington for music, I lived in the music building, I lived in the practice rooms, and I accompanied everyone who needed an accompanist,” Haas said. “That was just my life.”

In her sophomore year, the pastor of Spotswood Baptist Church approached the MWC Baptist Student Union looking for a choir director. Haas accepted the job in October 1957, and it changed her life’s path. The following year, she met Frank Haas at Spotswood Baptist, and they married in August 1960, after her May graduation. More than 60 years later, Haas is still a member and the organist there.

Haas continued to play string bass with the Mary Washington Orchestra. In 1961, she started studying piano at American University, teaching piano from her Spotsylvania County home, and, for one year, teaching music to grades one through 12 at four Stafford County public schools.

Soon the first of three sons arrived. She dropped the school job and started part time with the Real Estate Department for the Fredericksburg Commissioner of the Revenue.

Before her second boy arrived, she started pursuing a master of music education degree at Virginia Commonwealth University. By 1967, she had three boys and was teaching and performing throughout the Fredericksburg area.

In 1990, she gave up teaching privately to become Fredericksburg’s real estate supervisor full time, and in the evenings from 1978 through 2008, she taught piano at Mary Washington as an adjunct faculty member. And all the while, she continued playing by request on and off campus.

“My sons all learned to cook,” she said of that busy time.

Haas doesn’t like to be center stage, and she doesn’t really have a favorite type of music. What she loves, she said, is playing any kind of music with other people. And, in Fredericksburg, that’s just what she does.

Neva Trenis ’00

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