Stephanie Shepard (Obituary)

Obituary by Sue Steward
Published in The Guardian, Saturday April 9, 2005

Stephanie and Dog

In 1978, the singer and musician Stephanie Shepard, who has died of cancer aged 64, and her partner Patrick Meadows, a jazz musician and poet, bought an old farmhouse with three cottages at Deià, in the mountains of Majorca. The village was a focus for artists, home to Robert Graves and a refuge for exiles from London’s psychedelic rock scene, such as Kevin Ayers, Daevid Allen and his group Gong, and Robert Wyatt.

It had been in 1975 that Shepard met Meadows and they began playing, she recalled, impromptu “duets, flute and piano and baroque sonatas, and choral pieces”. By 1978, “para-musical workshops” of early music were attracting German, French, Dutch and English friends, who rented the cottages. From that summer, emerged what became the Atardecer (Sunset) concerts, held at the Son Marroig palace, outside Deià.

The concerts – focused around the couple’s chamber group Tafel Music – developed, in the 1980s, as the Deià international summer music festival. It has grown to be one of Europe’s most idiosyncratic classical festivals. Most concerts are still performed at Son Marroig, against the sunset.

Music was researched and commissioned by Meadows through the winter, and Shepard translated the programmes into Mallorquin. Local artists design the programme: this year’s will feature a portrait of Shepard and Meadows by the British painter Phil Shepherd.

Shepard was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, the daughter of an artist and an amateur singer. From 1963 to 1965, she studied recorder and music theory in New York, and at the Royal College of Music in London with Edgar Hunt.

In the late 1960s, she became involved in transcendental meditation, which led to her first visit to Majorca; after a spell back in the United States, she settled in Deià in 1973. Then came the meeting with Meadows.

The couple also hosted rehearsals for the 16-piece Studium, conducted by the young Palma singer Carlos Ponseti. Today 60-strong, it is one of Spain’s leading choirs; Shepard, a contralto, sang with it until just before her death. She was interred to the sound of their songs.

Shepard’s other passion was the garden she created on the farmhouse terraces. At its entrance, a jacaranda frames a dazzling kaleidoscope of colours, while birdsong echoes amid the tones of wind chimes. A set of tributes to her is being published by Tomás Graves, son of Robert.

Shepard’s brief marriage to Peter Kolesar ended in divorce. She is survived by Meadows.

Stephanie Jane Shepard, musician,
born May 18 1940; died March 10 2005