In the News: Local violinist who responded to 9/11 dies of cancer

Former Tribeca resident Marya Columbia, who responded to 9/11 with her violin in hand and played at St. Paul’s Chapel for the next nine months as part of a quartet called the Music Givers, died at age 63 of lung cancer, The Times reports in a heartbreaking obit. She was considered the first musician who was recognized officially as a responder. Her niece Caroline Lester also wrote a moving and detailed story for The New Yorker in September, excerpted below. Thanks to Caroline also for sending these especially poignant photos.

A few days after 9/11, Marya got a call from a violinist named David Gold. He was organizing a string quartet to play in St. Paul’s Chapel, a block away from Ground Zero. The building, which is more than two hundred and fifty years old, is obscured by a half-dozen trees. One of the looming sycamores seems to have saved the chapel on 9/11 by absorbing debris from the towers. (The only damage was to the pipe organ, which inhaled so much dust that it had to be replaced eight years later.) During the months after the disaster, the chapel served as a kind of sanctuary. Firefighters, construction workers, police officers, and others would go there to rest, or for food, or to sleep on cots. Gold asked Marya if she would play for the first responders with him. “She’s got a huge heart—if you ask her to help someone, anyone, she’ll say yes,” he told me. “And, of course, the icing on the cake was that she lived in the neighborhood.” Marya agreed, and, for the next nine months, a large group of volunteers, known as the Music Givers, played three concerts a day at the chapel. (My aunt took the Monday-morning shift.) Mostly they played classical music, though, occasionally, they got requests for Billy Joel or the Irish ballad “Danny Boy.” “You know, we always felt, it’s so insignificant, what we do,” Marya told me. “But then we realized it is significant to these people to have a moment’s rest.”


1 Comment

  1. Whether recent arrival in Tribeca or long-time resident: Never Forget 9/11, its many heroes & victims — often one & the same.