Dorothy Purdy Amarandos, 94, passed away peacefully on June 22, 2019 after a struggle with cancer. In typical fashion, she made it a fine performance and expired on the very last note of a Mischa Maisky recording of Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise. She was in her own home at The Fountains at Washington House in Alexandria, Virginia, surrounded by her devoted family and caregivers. She was an immensely talented and creative musician who became a nationally renowned teacher and performer on the cello as well as the viola da gamba. She touched many lives over her long and varied career. She was born in 1924 in Chicago, Illinois, the third of four children of Chester and Nellie Purdy. Luckily, an accidental tumble out of a moving automobile at age 2 failed to inflict any lasting harm.
Dorothy’s passion for the cello started when, as a young girl, her mother took her to hear soloist Lois Colburn Bickel play the Boellmann Symphonic Variations with the Chicago Symphony. Dorothy started her cello studies in the fifth grade with a local teacher in Hinsdale, Illinois, whom she quickly outgrew. Within a year she was making a 90-minute commute, alone, by steam train and street car to study with Lois Bickel herself on the north side of Chicago. She made her soloist performance debut at the age of 15 playing the Saint-Saens Cello Concerto with the professional Illinois Symphony.
She was awarded a full scholarship to the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, where she studied with Luigi Silva. She was Vice-President of her sophomore class and a member of the Sigma Alpha Iota International Music Fraternity. During World War II, while remaining enrolled at Eastman, she joined an extended U.S. concert tour with an all-women’s symphony playing for military audiences. She famously performed an unaccompanied version of the Vitali Chaconne for violin, arranged for solo cello by Silva, dozens of times for thousands of soldiers.
After obtaining her Bachelor of Music degree in 1946, Dorothy remained at Eastman for graduate studies. She earned a Master of Music Literature degree for studying the viola da gamba. For her graduate project, she produced an arrangement for cello with piano accompaniment of Christopher Simpson’s Variations written for viola da gamba. She also was awarded a Performer’s Certificate in Cello following a solo performance of the Dvorak Cello Concerto with the professional Eastman-Rochester Symphony Orchestra under Howard Hanson. During her graduate year she was profiled in the local newspapers with a photo of her waving from the door of an airplane on her way to Texas to perform as principal cellist with the San Antonio Symphony. She had been “routed …out of [her] bed in the middle of the night” having been chosen by Luigi Silva as his student best qualified to fulfill the symphony’s request for a substitute for the principal who had unexpectedly died.
After graduating, she married George C. Amarandos, a physical therapist, and made Rochester her home. They had three children, George, Jr., Aileen and Mark. While raising her family, Dorothy played cello in the Rochester Philharmonic under Erich Leinsdorf, maintained a private cello studio, and was lecturer at the University of Rochester.
In the 1960s, Dorothy founded Ars Antiqua, a performing group of innovative dramatizations of Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque music played on original instruments. Some performances were even accompanied by “convivium” banquets featuring food evoking the culture and period of the performance. For Ars Antiqua, Dorothy researched, created, produced, directed and performed the viola da gamba in 22 original concert-productions. The consummate multi-tasker, Dorothy also designed and sewed all of the costumes. The much-acclaimed group toured along the Eastern seaboard, and earned the support of the New York State Council of the Arts and National Endowment for the Arts. Recordings of many of the performances were later restored and compiled on a special 4-CD set.
In the 1970s, Dorothy lived in Columbus, Ohio, and was professor of cello at Ohio State University, Denison University, Ohio Wesleyan University, and Otterbein College. She was also principal cellist of the Columbus Symphony under Evan Whallon, and a member of various performing ensembles. In Columbus, she continued to produce Medieval and Baroque concerts performed on original instruments.
In Columbus, she purchased her treasured cello, an early 19th century instrument attributed to the Panormo workshop. Because it had been reconstructed after being damaged by a bomb in World War I in France, she nicknamed it “Napoleon Blown-Apart.” Her continuously evolving career subsequently included executive positions with the Michigan State Council on the Arts in Detroit, Michigan, as well as the National Guild of Community Music schools in New York City.
After moving to Virginia in the 1980s, she played cello with the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra under William Hudson for several years, and developed a large private studio of cello students of all ages.
At the age of 75, the indomitable Dorothy started a whole new chapter of her life as Founder and Artistic Director of Cellospeak, a Virginia-based non-profit organization offering educational and performance opportunities for adult amateur cellists and producing special musical arrangements for cello-only ensembles. Cellospeak started its annual workshops with only 13 participants, but over nearly 20 years has drawn hundreds of “campers” from all over the country. She retired at the age of 90, closing her cello studio in Reston, Virginia, and handing over the reins of Cellospeak to a new Artistic Director and Executive Director. She moved to the Fountains at Washington House, inaugurating her retirement by arranging a cello concert for the residents. She enjoyed the retirement of her dreams, making new friends, taking painting classes, participating in a book club and discussion group, and going to concerts. She continued to guide Cellospeak as a director and Executive Chairman of the Board until her death.
Dorothy was predeceased by her husband as well as two brothers, George A. Purdy and James A. Purdy. She is survived by son George, Jr. and his wife Estelle Amarandos of Belmont, California, and their children Nathan and Nina Amarandos; son Mark and his wife Anna Amarandos of Laguna Hills, California; and daughter Aileen and her husband Joe Pisciotta of Falls Church, Virginia, and their son Nicholas Pisciotta as well as Joe’s son Dominic, his husband Andy and their children Spencer and Olivia Berg of New York City. Fondly known to close relatives as “Aunt Dots,” Dorothy also leaves her surviving sibling, Dr. Robert A. Purdy and his wife Lois of Shabbona, Illinois, and the extended families of numerous nieces and nephews.
Dorothy will be remembered by friends and family as a kind and adventurous person of immense energy with the ability to see humor in everything and to laugh herself to tears. She will be sorely missed by innumerable students and colleagues as a creative force, a performer with inimitable style, an inspiring and demanding teacher with unwavering attention to detail, and an indefatigable proponent of the love of the cello. A musical memorial service will be scheduled in the fall of 2019 in Alexandria, Virginia. Details will be forthcoming. An obituary also will be posted on the Everly-Wheatley Funeral Home website, and remembrances on her Tribute Wall will be welcomed.