EVERETT — There was always music in the Harris household.
Cheryl Harris was a classically trained violist who dedicated decades to the Everett Youth Symphony, the Everett Philharmonic and the Everett Symphony Orchestra. A mother of four, she told her kids they could do whatever they want after graduating high school. But until then, they had to learn at least one instrument.
“You’d hear music around the clock here,” said Bill Harris, Cheryl’s husband. “Finding a quiet room to practice in was a precious resource. They’d be up til 2 a.m. playing.”
At one point, Cheryl Harris and her two oldest sons formed a trio. She played viola and they played cello and violin. When her youngest kids joined in, they had a piano quintet and would play in public — a wedding here, a funeral there. Bill Harris joked that he’d long given up on playing French horn, instead basking in all their musical glory.
Cheryl Harris’ impact on budding musicians extended far beyond her own children. She nurtured generations of students and their squeaking strings in Snohomish County.
“One of my favorite things to do was to sneak in and watch Cheryl when she was conducting with the younger kids,” said Sally Lebens, who met her while they both worked for the Everett Youth Symphony. “It was such a joy to just watch because she was so good at it. She was infinitely patient.”
Cheryl Harris died Feb. 19. She was 73.
A memorial will be held at 11 a.m. March 31 at Trinity Episcopal Church.
In 2012, Cheryl Harris was diagnosed with uterine leiomyosarcoma, her husband said. The aggressive tumor has a poor prognosis, regardless of the stage it’s discovered. Cheryl Harris fought it for more than a decade. Despite the diagnosis and chemotherapy, she never stopped teaching or playing.
She first auditioned for the Everett Symphony Orchestra in 1984 — eventually playing principal viola — and also performed in the Port Gardner Bay Chamber Orchestra and Everett Philharmonic. She played in backup groups for Tony Bennett and Ray Charles.
She worked as the Everett Youth Symphony’s librarian for nine years before beginning to conduct Young Strings in 1996. She continued as a string coach and choral accompanist for local schools. She also played in groups like Quartette Con Brio and Northwest Savoyards.
There was a matter-of-factness about Cheryl Harris, her husband explained: She was patient, but also persistent and tenacious, and she could recognize when kids were capable of more. Her focus, Bill Harris said, was “creating independent kids.”
During treatment, she helped teacher Joe Bynum with beginning strings and elementary orchestra in the Northshore School District. They met years before when auditioning for the symphony.
“She was a very strong woman and a very fine teacher,” Bynum said, pausing. “Whenever I thought I couldn’t go to work, I’d think, ‘Oh, wait, no. She’s still coming.’ All while she had cancer, she taught.”
Through hours of practice, with little hands whirring away at screeching instruments, each student’s improvements would compound. Cheryl Harris made kids laugh, and she made them feel comfortable as she guided them from one concert recital to the next, Lebens recalled.
“I started to think about who I could contact to let know she’d passed on, and I got to think about all of the kids she worked with who have gone on to do things,” Lebens said. “One kid … studied composing and he’s now actually writing music for movies.”
Cheryl Harris’ impact on Everett’s music scene, on its youth, reverberated widely over her 40 years here.
At 12 years old, the Texas-born girl and her family visited Seattle for the World’s Fair. She vowed to one day end up in the Pacific Northwest.
She attended the University of Texas, then went to graduate school at University of Oregon, inching her way north. She then studied abroad in Germany, practicing music all the while, where she went on a blind date with a young man named Bill.
As fate would have it, it would take this chance encounter — 5,000 miles from home — to unite the duo who’d unknowingly grown up mere miles from one another in Texas. Bill and Cheryl Harris married about a year later, and together, they finally made their way to Snohomish County.
During the 49 years of their marriage, Cheryl Harris grew tomatoes and berries in the summers, raised her children perennially and taught thousands of students through the strings.
“She was dedicated to creating music and to creating music in children,” Lebens said. “She was a real advocate for young kids, and like I said, it was simply a joy to watch her work. She was a master at what she did.”
Kayla J. Dunn: 425-339-3449; email@example.com; Twitter: @KaylaJ_Dunn.
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