Edith Ho, who served as the Church of the Advent’s music director and organist for three decades, died July 30 in hospice care in Worcester following a long illness. She was 88.
Born on Aug. 16, 1932, in Guangzhou, China, Ms. Ho was one of three children who grew up in Hong Kong and Singapore, according to The Boston Globe, and she emigrated to the U.S. as a teenager, giving piano recitals to finance her trip.
Ms. Ho earned a bachelor’s degree in piano from Columbia Union College in Takoma Park, Md., before going on to receive another bachelor’s in organ, as well as her master’s degree, from Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. She also did doctoral studies at Peabody until 1969.( Peabody Institute would go on to present Ms. Ho with a distinguished alumni award in 2007.)
She studied in Germany with the organists Heinz Wunderlich and Helmut Walcha, and performed in concerts across Europe, including a recital at Notre Dame in Paris that reportedly drew a crowd of 4,000.
Additionally, Ms. Ho was awarded an honorary degree from Nashotah House Theological Seminary in Nashotah, Wis., in 1994. She was also a member of the American Guild of Organists and the Association of Anglican Musicians.
Ms. Ho, who lived in Newton for many years, joined the Church of the Advent’s staff in 1977 and would continue working there until 2007, when she retired due to a heart condition, according to The Globe.
Mark Dwyer, the church’s current music director and organist, knew Ms. Ho for more than 30 years. He came to the Church of the Advent in 1989 when Ms. Ho hired him as her assistant and stepped down from that role 12 years later before returning to the church in 2007 to succeed her as its musical director.
“Two major things I’ll remember her for were her incredible self-discipline – she was one of most self-disciplined and motivated people I’ve known,” Dwyer said of Ho. “And she was also one of the most generous people, I’ve known.
She was always writing checks behind the scenes and often had a student living at her house. Her incredible self-discipline was always tempered by her generosity towards others.”
But it was likely Ms. Ho’s unwavering passion for music that most defined her life, said Dwyer.
Ms. Ho lost her husband of 12 years, Paul Van Ocken, a former Catholic priest and one-time monk who hailed from Belgium and went on to work as a radiation therapist at Mass General Hospital, to cancer in 1990. Towards the end of his life, as Dwyer recalls, Van Ocken famously said of his wife: “Well, Edith can live without me, but she can’t live without music.”
Ms. Ho and Van Ocken had no children, and she is survived by family members in California, according to Dwyer.
A memorial Requiem Mass for Ms. Ho will be held Saturday, Sept.11, at 11 a.m. in the Church of the Advent.