Ruth Burdock

Obituary
  • "It was probably at least 10 years that we last saw Ruth and..."
    - Leonard Willens
  • - Leonard Willens
  • "Ruth was an inspiration to us all."
    - Louise Sherman

Generations wore a path to Ruth Burdock's door in Leonia to learn piano from a modest lady who played beautiful Bach.

Little did her pupils know that Mrs. Burdock herself studied |in the 1930s under famed Russian pianists Josef and Rosina Lhevinne cq at the Institute of Music Art, now The Juilliard School.

Mrs. Burdock, who gave piano lessons into her 99th year, died Oct. 10 at 102 years, 7 months.

"Ruth played like an angel," said Jacqueline Schiller of Paramus, one of the many North Jersey piano teachers who considered Mrs. Burdock a mentor. "She had a gorgeous tone, a special tone, like you don't hear anymore. She was an inspiration to me."

Patricia Hendrix of West Milford, president of the Professional Music Teachers' Guild of New Jersey, of which Mrs. Burdock had been a board member, said quite a few piano teachers keep going through their 80s and even past 90.

"As long as they can see and hear, it's not that strenuous," said Hendrix, a friend of Mrs. Burdock for 35 years. "But 99's a little extreme, I would say."

Harriet Burdock described her mother, a native of Buffalo, as "a gifted child," not a prodigy.

"By the time she was 10, her parents had bought her a Steinway baby grand," the daughter said.

And by 20, she was studying piano in New York City.

She met a Columbia University student, Eugene Burdock. The couple married at City Hall in 1934 and settled in Leonia 20 years later.

At her busiest, Mrs. Burdock saw 40 students a week, mostly grade-schoolers and teenagers but even a few Japanese bankers among the adults.

She taught in a converted dining room that housed two grand pianos her childhood Steinway and a Fischer.

And she was a bargain at $17 a lesson, according to a profile in The Record when she was 89.

"It was hard for her to raise her prices," her daughter said. "She was sheepish about taking money."

Lily Byerly of Englewood was the last of Mrs. Burdock's thousands of students. She took her final lesson in 2008, before she went off to Wellesley College.

"I rarely thought about Mrs. Burdock's age while I was taking lessons with her; she seemed to be as knowledgeable, caring and strict as she had always been," said Byerly, 22, a preschool teacher.

"But whenever I looked at her hands, I was reminded of how many years she had been playing and teaching the piano. Her hands were in a playing position even while they were resting on her lap, and I always admired the way they glided across the keys."

Mrs. Burdock moved to Inglemoor Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Englewood five months ago.

"The nurses were amazed," Harriet Burdock said. "My mother sat down at the piano there and they thought she would just pound on the keys. But she played pieces from memory, and heads turned."

Mrs. Burdock's husband, who was a professor at New York University School of Medicine, died in 2008. In addition to |her daughter, of Leonia, Mrs. Burdock is survived by another daughter, Miriam Shaw of Stamford, Conn., and two grandsons.

Arrangements were by Van Emburgh-Sneider-Pernice Funeral Home, Ramsey.

Email: levin@northjersey.com
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