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Remembering Valerie Heywood: A Talented Local Musician and Dear Friend

In recent weeks, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra suffered a great loss when one of their members, Valerie Heywood, passed away unexpectedly.

Valerie performed as a violist with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra for almost 35 years, joining in 1985 and assuming the role of principal violist from 1991 to 2017. She studied at the University of Michigan and The Juilliard School in New York City. She began her career touring with numerous ensembles and made her mark as a studio musician, recording with many famous artists. She also shared her passion for music as an educator, teaching privately and at local colleges and music camps. The Buffalo News published an article summarizing her life’s work as a musician. 

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra lost an incredibly talented musician and its members lost a very dear friend. Longtime BPO contra bassoonist Martha Malkiewicz wrote the following tribute in honor of Valerie.

“Val Heywood and I had parallel lives. We joined the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in 1984, brought our mothers on the orchestra’s 1988 European Tour, married the same year, cared for our aging mothers the same years, and most recently, talked about our retirement plans. Our lives drastically diverged when she died suddenly and without warning. 

Val possessed a natural beauty. In fact, she was probably the most elegant person on the stage. (You might have seen her because she was our principal violist for 26 years so her seat was right in front of the conductor, next to the cellos.) It would be easy to assume that someone so beautiful might be unapproachable, but the next thing you would have noticed was the way her entire face glowed when she smiled. You would have known you were special and included the minute she smiled at you. 

Her musical talent was undeniable. Before getting the job with us, Val was a studio musician in NYC, playing with Diana Ross, Dave Brubeck, Cher and even touring with the disco band Chic. When the BPO played rock music, you would see Val dancing in her seat.  But her dream was not to freelance in NYC. She wanted a job with an orchestra. How lucky we were when she got the job here! In a very few years she won the Principal Viola position and was soon sharing her beautiful sound in orchestral solos. Then came playing chamber music with the Ars Nova Chamber Orchestra and teaching. She taught privately, at Bravo String Camps, at SUNY Fredonia and SUNY Buffalo. During the orchestra off-season, Val played with music festivals in Wyoming and New Mexico.  But you might not know all of that because Val did not draw attention to herself or her talent.

Val had a beautiful laugh. It was not loud, but it was warm and honest. She never laughed at someone else’s expense, but would certainly laugh at herself. There was the time we were driving to a run-out concert and realized we were going to be late because we were reading the map upside down! Whereas I would be able to sneak into my seat in the back of the orchestra, Val had to walk to the front. I still hear her laughter as she later explained to all of the musicians the embarrassing reason we were late. 

Val knew how to love. She always gave the best of herself to everyone around her regardless of any personal challenges she was facing. She loved the orchestra, music, her friends, her pets and most of all her husband. 

It goes without saying that Val is deeply missed.”

Valerie’s BPO staff biography detailing her musical contributions can be read here.

This content is part of a sponsored series in partnership with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. 

Written by Buffalo Rising

Buffalo Rising

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