School of Music

Regents Professor Emerita Paula Fan, who taught piano at the University of Arizona Fred Fox School of Music for 40 years, died in Australia on Feb. 23. She was 71 years old.

In Memoriam: Paula Fan
Dr. Paula Fan. Photo by Chris Richards Photography.

A concert pianist, Fan performed on five continents, recorded 20 albums and performed on the BBC, NPR and Radio Television China. She earned her BM in music in 1973 at the University of Arizona. Fan was a Tucson fixture serving as the principal pianist for the Tucson Symphony Orchestra for 31 years.

“Paula was one of the rare examples of a person who could simultaneously project experience and wisdom and tenure while still also projecting being a very young and vibrant type of person,” said former TSO violinist Benjamin Nisbet. “She was so elegant and so classy, but also very, very fun and very jovial and light. I think that that says a lot about her as a person; she could instantly command respect from the people around her while also being fun and a very cool person to work with.” — Tucson Daily Star

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Photo by Chris Richards Photography

Rex Woods Remembers Paula Fan

Accomplished pianist, former Fan student and colleague, and longtime Fred Fox School of Music professor and administrator, Dr. Rex Woods wrote this moving tribute to his friend, Paula Fan.

I am having a difficult time putting into words the depth of loss I feel at her passing. I realize that I am only one whose life she lifted among tens of thousands. I met her in 1977 and she quickly became a mentor who lifted my vision of a life in music. She has been a constant inspiration these many years: a gifted teacher, life coach, treasured colleague, and a true friend. I cannot understate the influence for good she has been in my life and the life of my family. 

Photo courtesy of Tom Spitz / Tucson Symphony Orchestra

As students in her art song class, Mary Peterson (my future wife) and I, prepared a new song each week to present for the class. Paula had a knack for quickly coming to understand the unique affinities and potential of each student. She helped every student choose repertoire in which they could shine. When Mary and I were married, Paula presented us with a precious gift—beautiful new copies of Wolf’s Italienisches Liederbuch. We were delighted with the gift but wondered when and if we would ever have occasion to learn and perform this monumental work. Paula had unrelenting optimism coupled with action. I eventually understood that when she introduced a possibility or dream, she had a way of making it come to pass.

After our wedding Mary and I moved to Austin, Texas, and I began my academic career teaching piano and accompanying at the University of Texas. Eight years later I was back at the University of Arizona in a new role on the piano faculty. It was pure joy to work again with Paula and the other keyboard professors (Marsh, Zumbro, Erlings, and Johnson). Not long after that, the director of the school announced a major expansion project for the music building that would include a new recital hall. In characteristic fashion, Paula seized the opportunity and proposed that we present the Italienisches Liederbuch as the inaugural recital in Holsclaw Hall. There were many reasons why it seemed impossible at the time (we were young parents struggling with many challenges and competing demands on our time and resources). Nevertheless, Paula’s enthusiasm and encouragement carried the day and we soon found ourselves immersed in the project. A year later, it all came to pass just as Paula had predicted. Mary and I were at one side of the Holsclaw Hall stage with a beautiful new Steinway; Charles Roe and Paula were at another Steinway on the other half of the stage. Mary and Charles each sang half of the songs: Paula and I recited English translations prior to the performance of each song. 

Preparing and performing these songs was a priceless experience for Mary and me. We grew together as musicians and the whole experience increased our love for each other. Working on the project had a way of making everything else in our life a little easier. It strengthened our capacity in a way that went beyond other diversions, rest, or recreation. 

I have no doubt that those who studied and collaborated with Paula will understand the significance of what Mary and I experienced in this project. I watched her work small miracles like this over and over again. She met people where she found them; she saw the beauty and potential in every life; and she challenged everyone, in the most loving way, to far exceed their previously believed expectations for themselves. 

Paula, you were a bright light in this often dark world. Your legacy is manifest in the lives of countless others whose lights shine brighter because of you.

Sleep well dear friend,

The ambiguity of pure music. In an age when all our senses are expected to be engaged, there is beauty and power to be found in the ambiguity of pure music. Pianist Paula Fan plays with music, words, and ideas at the 2013 TEDxTucson.