Beloved Faculty Member Retires, and Honors Her Mentor's Legacy

April 20, 2018 Samantha Burns

Iride Pilla, known to many as Miss Pilla, was the first “major voice” to graduate from Boston Conservatory, in 1924. She went on to establish a brief but successful career as a performer, touring in Europe and singing on some of the world’s greatest stages. Pilla later returned to the Conservatory to teach, and was an influential instructor of voice at the Conservatory for seven decades.

Guiding her students as much in the principles of vocal technique as she did in how to behave as a performer, colleague, and citizen, Pilla dedicated her life to teaching before she passed away in 1997 at the age of 92. Miss Pilla set high standards for her students, and many of them proudly recall their time training with the challenging yet nurturing teacher, including current voice faculty member Mary Saunders.

Saunders, who earned her B.M. and M.M. at the Conservatory and has since taught at the school for 41 years, has always felt that Miss Pilla’s legacy needed to be formally honored in some way, after dedicating her entire career to teaching Conservatory students. Now that Miss Pilla is fading from current memory, Saunders and fellow long-time voice faculty member Sara Goldstein teamed up to commission a plaque to be placed outside of Miss Pilla’s former studio in 8 Fenway. The studio contains the original curtains, chandelier, settee, and mirror from the beloved voice teacher, which have been preserved for more than a decade. Now featured on the second floor of 8 Fenway, Pilla’s original studio sat where the Admissions Office now makes its home.

Saunders fondly remembers Miss Pilla as not only a teacher, but as a mentor—always generous with her time and knowledge, and always willing to learn new things. She also recalls her characteristically big personality, sharing an anecdote in which someone asked Miss Pilla, “How do you get tenors through their passaggio?” Pilla replied, “Anything you can!”

After an incredible tenure in her own right, Mary Saunders will be retiring at the end of this academic year. Being able to commemorate her mentor’s legacy was the icing on the cake of a wonderful run. To honor Saunders’s service to the Conservatory, an evening of performances and tributes will be held in her honor on April 23 at the Conservatory’s Seully Hall.

The plaque for Miss Pilla and her original studio artifacts can be viewed at 8 Fenway, adjacent to the Albert Alphin Library.