The Catholic University of America

A Commemoration by Dean Wagstaff and Dr. Walter

Amy Antonelli (B.A., Mary Hardin Baylor College; M.M., University of Texas; Ph.D., The Catholic University of America), adjunct associate professor and assistant dean in the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music died on March 22 after a brave fight with cancer. Dr. Antonelli was the coordinator of undergraduate admissions and an adjunct professor in music theory. For some four decades, she was a respected musician in the Washington area, serving as an accompanist, collaborative pianist, and chamber musician. She was also active in a number of community organizations and served a three-year term on the music panel of the Washington, D.C., Commission of the Arts, to which she was reappointed for the 1996, 1997, and 1998 grant periods.

Over the years, to many freshmen, “Dr. A” was the “face” of the music school. With her successful recruitment efforts that culminated when each new freshman class arrived on campus, she made these students feel at home because of their previous encounters with her during the admissions process, her accessibility, and welcoming spirit that was extended to all. Freshmen parents seemingly felt the same as their sons and daughters. Her friendliness made all newcomers feel comfortable as she provided a seamless transfer from parental home and high school to campus life with university expectations.

Dr. Antonelli was a gifted teacher of harmony and the various aspects of music theory, subjects with which many students have struggled. She continued to use these gifts while assistant dean and spent countless hours tutoring students in various classes. Her academic help for students was prodigious, but what is perhaps more touching is the large number of students and alumni who have stated that she had such great influence on their success by helping with various personal and family matters, many such problems that could have threatened their ability to remain at CUA. The stories shared by alumni about how they were helped by Dr. Antonelli are overwhelming in number, depth, and emotion. 

In her professional life, Dr. Antonelli dedicated years of work to two important collaborations. After serving on a committee for the Washington Chorus that hired CUA alumnus Maestro Robert Shafer, Antonelli and Shafer continued to work together with various organizations for some four decades on projects that included the Grammy-Award-winning CD of John Corigliano’s Symphony No.1 / “Of Rage and Remembrance.” From 1971 to 1989, she was president of the Board of The Washington Chorus, for which she was rehearsal pianist, 1971–2007, playing in rehearsals and performances for Shafer and other distinguished conductors, including Mstislav Rostropovich, Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos, Marvin Hamlisch, Margaret Hillis, Sir Neville Marriner, Seiji Ozawa, and Leonard Slatkin. Until some months ago, she had served as rehearsal pianist for The City Choir of Washington, also under the direction of Shafer. She recently shared her vivid memory of being called upon at the last minute by Maestro Rostropovich, while Shafer was away, to conduct in rehearsal the National Symphony and a large group of choristers. Antonelli, who was not a professional conductor, warned the musicians to “count and go.” After they finished the work, Rostropovich called to her to do the piece again so he could listen from the other side. She also recounted memories of events featuring iconic American composers Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein, who personally requested her participation in various performances he conducted in Washington DC.

The other important project to which Antonelli dedicated much work in recent years was the Defiant Requiem program, a concert drama conceived by faculty colleague and then dean of the School of Music Murry Sidlin.  Defiant Requiem, which commemorates performances of Verdi’s Requiem by Jewish prisoners in the Nazi concentration camp at Terezin near Prague in the Czech Republic, was one of seven President’s Concerts that Dr. Antonelli helped organize and produce during Sidlin’s tenure as dean. She was a founding member of the Defiant Requiem Foundation, associate director, and a member of the board. She was particularly proud to be able to include CUA students and faculty in trips to the Czech Republic and Hungary to perform in Defiant Requiem presentations. Antonelli cared intensely about the educational programs fostered by the foundation to help American schoolchildren learn about the Holocaust and was obviously thrilled by the sold-out performance of Defiant Requiem that she helped organize and prepare at the John. F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 2010, an event that brought a number of survivors of Terezin to Washington, DC.

Dr. Antonelli was a highly regarded colleague throughout the university, having worked with many faculty colleagues in other schools at CUA on various projects and committees; she cared deeply for the mission of the University and the School of Music. The students and alumni who have excelled because of her concern are an enduring tribute to her. One lasting memory will be her delight in bringing her grandchildren to concerts and productions by CUA students. At these events, she shared her joy in our students’ music with her family, friends, and community.

The funeral service for Dean Antonelli will be held at Temple Emanuel, 10101 Connecticut Ave., Kensington, Md., on Tuesday, March 25, at 11:30 a.m. Interment will be at Judean Memorial Gardens.