Adrianne Paffrath of Racine, Wisconsin, 84 years young, left the world and the life she loved on July 4th, 2017.
Adrianne’s sense of curiosity, great integrity, intelligence, warmth, style, enthusiasm, humor, insight and incredible creative powers inspired hundreds of people through her work as a music teacher, performer, director, choreographer, costumer, painter, dancer, collaborator, and colleague.
As a respected artist, cherished mentor and friend, and fun, devoted, compassionate and caring mother, she wove her art and skills in a continual pattern, benefiting and inspiring diverse communities of students, musicians, educators, artists, colleagues, and family. In 2003 her work was recognized when she was named the YWCA’s Woman of Distinction in Education.
Born in Newton, Massachusetts, to Doris and Arthur Knight, Adrianne attended Cambridge Latin High School and earned a scholarship to Radcliffe College where she graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and also began a life full of and devoted to music, singing with the Radcliffe Choral Society – Harvard Glee Club and often performing in her beloved Sanders Theater.
Married to Leslie Paffrath in 1954, they moved to a twelfth floor apartment in Manhattan, where her grand piano was hoisted by crane through the window. Adrianne’s daughter, Marytha, and son, Mark, were born in New York City. Moving to Racine in 1959, Adrianne embraced the beauty of the Midwest and Lake Michigan. It was in this new-found home that her family grew to include daughters Elise and Beck.
In the early 1960s Adrianne co-founded the Racine Montessori School and years later returned there as a music teacher where she was fondly know as “Miss Adrianne.” She is remembered by Montessori students and staff as having a soft and melodic voice that commanded attention in the most gentle way, as well as smelling of rose petals and adorning herself with eye-catching colors and unusual jewelry. At Montessori she was the founder of Sing Out, a tradition of all-school community singing that continues to this day.
In 1968, at the invitation of founding Headmaster Jack Mitchell, Adrianne joined The Prairie School as a music teacher. Eventually, she not only taught music but as Performing Arts Department Chair incorporated theatre and initiated Prairie’s first musicals – often directing the choreography and vocal components of each production. Adrianne also founded the Prairie piano and Suzuki programs and established the Orff Schulwerk curriculum after becoming fully certified in Orff Schulwerk at the University of Denver. Upon leaving her full time teaching position at The Prairie School, she continued as Prairie’s Costume Designer for over 20 years, creating intricate and lavish costumes for every production. She also maintained a private teaching studio in which she taught voice and guitar lessons. Adrianne was passionate about her students, always believing in them and their potential. As an artist completely committed to the creative process, she was a consummate team player and devoted to her colleagues.
Always interested in young people, Adrianne enjoyed being a Harvard Alumni Interviewer, writing recommendations for many applicants from Prairie and other schools in Southeastern Wisconsin. Adrianne was also a lifelong learner and lover of words. A long time devotee of her book group, she loved reading aloud and discussing literature.
Throughout the years, Adrianne brought her vast talents to Racine area churches, first as children’s choir director for St. Stephens and First Presbyterian church in the 1960s. She spent a dozen years as choir director at Emmanuel Lutheran Church and then returned to First Presbyterian Church as Choir Director and organizer of many community music projects. One of her favorite projects was coordinating multicultural programs that combined the choirs of African American and First Presbyterian churches.
As a musician, Adrianne performed widely with a multitude of musical groups ranging from folk duos and singing as an activist to complete choral and symphonic works. Her touchstone was Bach’s Magnificat and her hero was Pete Seeger. Adrianne performed with the Radcliffe Choral Society – Harvard Glee Club, the Boston Symphony Orchestra Chorus, Cantata Singers of New York, Chicago Symphony Chorus, the Bach Chamber Choir, and Sullivan Chamber Ensemble. She played the recorders, krumhorn, guitar, accordion and percussion in the Musica Viva Early Music Consort, sang with the Holly Trio and as a duo with her son, Mark. Her talents on guitar, piano, recorder, accordion, xylophone, bells and anvil were tapped for pit orchestra musicals. With the Racine Symphony her percussion instruments included xylophone, cymbals and bass drum. On one memorable occasion when the RSO was playing the 1812 Overture, someone had forgotten the mallets for the chimes, and Adrianne quickly improvised by grabbing a pair of vice grips. She also played bass drum while astride a horse with the only mounted band to march in the famed Milwaukee Circus Parade! For many years she was a devoted member with Racine’s Choral Arts Society, appearing as a choral soloist on several occasions.
A natural fibre artist, Adrianne established her own business in the 1980s, whose name, North Eagle Fibersmith, embraced her Native-Canadian heritage. She crafted original folk clothing and bags, and offered her work as part of area art fairs. She was also in demand for numerous special commissions.
A longtime professor at The Clearing Folk School in Ellison Bay, Wisconsin, Adrianne taught the Recorder at The Clearing class for over 40 years. She was recently honored with The Clearing White Cedar Award, a special award recognizing exemplary teaching.
Adrianne was drawn to dance at a young age when she took ballet classes. In high school she had a job teaching ballroom dancing and was so successful that her mentor offered her a permanent position as partner; she opted, instead, to further her academic studies and attend Radcliffe College. Adrianne was a visiting artist in Renaissance Dance and Multicultural Music/Dance at the Harvey School in Kenosha. She also loved going to Folklore Village in central Wisconsin and was a veteran member of the Racine International Folk Dancers.
As a visual artist, Adrianne was devoted to water color, having begun her study in the 1950s. She loved to recall her teacher saying, “To paint a bird, you must begin with the beak!” She was particularly faithful to her Wustum watercolor class, enrolling again and again, and her original paintings enhance her home.
A lover of nature, in particular wildflowers, butterflies, rugosa roses (which she planted in abundance), and birds that she identified and recorded in her well-worn 1958 edition of Peterson’s Field Guide to Birds, Adrianne lived with her musical and life partner, Pat Badger, in an 1860s home with Lake Michigan as her backyard. She also held dear the shacks at Corn Hill on Cape Cod and liked nothing better than swimming in the salty waters of her Atlantic birthplace. With her family she restored an old German settlers log cabin in Door County on a piece of land her children dubbed “Mom’s Land.” She and Pat later renamed the property “Summer Pasture.”
Adrianne reveled in her quiet morning cup of tea, watching the goldfinches flutter at the feeder, poring over the day’s New York Times and in lively phone conversations with her far flung children. She was a deep listener, a creative problem solver and led with a generous and adventurous heart. Her many friends found time with her to be healing, enlivening and spirit lifting. She met the world with optimism, grace, gentleness and inherent resolve to add beauty, music, and compassion to those she encountered, and whose lives she indelibly touched.
To cherish her memory Adrianne leaves: her wife Patricia Badger; her children Marytha Paffrath and partner Susan Robbins of Watertown, Massachusetts; Mark Paffrath and wife Amanda Cosgrove Paffrath of Racine, Wisconsin; Elise Paffrath of Bellows Falls, Vermont; Beck Paffrath and and partner Tara West of Sebastopol, California; grandchildren Wesley and Nohra Paffrath of Racine, Wisconsin; beloved cats Pip and Swivet; grand dogs Brill and Smidgen; sweet feline Lily; and Lake House Gibbels and Mitzi.
A celebration of Adrianne’s life will be held at the DeKoven Center, on July 23, 2017 at 5 p.m. beginning in St. John’s Chapel. In accordance with Adrianne’s wishes it will include ritual, music, poetry and dance.
In lieu of flowers donations may be made to: The Ridges Sanctuary, Baileys Harbor, Wisconsin, The Clearing, Ellison Bay, Wisconsin, or the Radcliffe Choral Society, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.