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Isabel Carley

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Isabel Carley Obituary
Isabel McNeill


Gaithersburg, MD - Isabel McNeill Carley, music educator, composer and musician, died peacefully at her home in Gaithersburg, MD, on Thursday, 14 July 2011.

Born in December 1918 in Chicago to John T and Netta H McNeill, she grew up there and in Toronto. After a BA in 1939 from Queens University, Kingston, Ontario, she earned an MA in Music History from the University of Chicago in 1941, and undertook doctoral work the following year. While in graduate school she founded the University Recorder Ensemble.

In 1943, she married James Carley in Chicago, then taught music in Quebec and Missouri schools while he was serving in the US Army. She later joined him at his post in Alamogordo, NM, where two children, Elizabeth and John, were born during the war years. For the next ten years, they lived in New York, Oregon and North Texas while her husband's career as a professor of sacred music took shape. The family moved in 1953 to Indianapolis, IN along with a third child, Anne. Her husband retired in 1973, after which they relocated to the mountains of western North Carolina and lived there for the next thirty years.

Isabel Carley's professional career had been recharged in 1962 when she attended an Orff-Schulwerk course in Toronto, the first held in North America. It changed her life and galvanized her purpose. During the next academic year (1963-64) when her husband was on sabbatical, she enrolled at the newly established Orff-Institut in Salzburg, Austria. She became the first American graduate, earning a Specialist's Diploma with Honors, and also studied composition privately with Carl Orff. As the Orff approach to music education took hold in the United States in the 1960s, she emerged as one of its leaders. A co-founder of the American Orff-Schulwerk Association (AOSA), she served on the AOSA Board, edited The Orff Echo (chairing that publication's editorial board for its first fifteen years, 1968-1983), and contributed to the AOSA Recorder and Curriculum Task Forces in the 1990s. In recognition, AOSA established the Isabel McNeill Carley Library in 1985, and in 1998 presented her the AOSA Distinguished Service Award. An active composer, her works for small ensembles began to appear in the catalogs of publishers, and she and her husband established their own imprint, Brasstown Press.

She devoted herself to her work as a music educator and composer for sixty years. Some thirty involved leading Orff certification courses in the United States and abroad, teaching workshops for AOSA chapters and Title III programs, participating in national and state-level Music Educators National Conference (MENC) events, and presenting sessions at national and regional AOSA conferences. Throughout, she taught music privately, to children and adults, in the US and, during 1985, in Taiwan. As a performing musician, she sang alto and played recorders, keyboards and percussion with the Carley Consort (Indianapolis) and the Kenilworth Consort (Asheville, NC), for which she also provided arrangements of Medieval repertoire.

Retiring from active teaching in 2004, she moved with her husband to Maryland to be nearer their children.

Her published works include numerous compositions for recorders, Orff ensemble, piano, voice, and percussion. Of her many instructional books, the best known is the three-volume Recorder Improvisation and Technique, of which Book One was issued in June 2011 in a fresh, fourth edition. The remaining two volumes and a new book of her essays are currently in production.

Predeceased by her husband in July 2006, she is survived by a brother, William H McNeill of Colebrook, CT, and sister, Elizabeth McNeill Campbell of Kingston, ON; her three children, Elizabeth Carley Oddy of Syracuse, NY, John M Carley of Edgewater, MD, and Anne M Carley of Charlottesville, VA; three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren; lifelong friends; loving family, including numerous nephews and nieces and their children; colleagues and former students.

A memorial service is to be announced for the fall.

Published in the Asheville Citizen-Times on July 17, 2011
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