February 01, 2019

Sisters in Song

A chance encounter 60 years ago leads to a surprise reunion.
by Allyson Irish

Gwyneth Walker ’64, left, and Margaret Elsemore Sipple ’60 (submitted)


The year was 1959 and Margaret Elsemore Sipple ’60 was a senior at Abbot Academy. Maggie, as she was known, was president of student government that year and sang with the Miss Chords octet. She loved singing and was also part of the Chapel Choir and Fidelio Society under the direction of Miss Kate Friskin.

That fall, a middle school girl traveled from Connecticut with her parents to tour Abbot. During lunch, it was announced that the Miss Chords would perform. Eight Abbot girls, including Maggie, walked to the head table in Draper dining hall and started to sing. The young Gwyneth Walker ’64 was transfixed.

“As a young girl who had always loved singing and composing, I was thrilled to see and hear these singers,” Walker said. “I remember almost leaping out of my chair, saying to myself ‘This is what I want to do! This is who I want to be!’”

Though Walker only saw the Miss Chords from a distance, the experience was life changing. She immediately knew that she wanted to attend Abbot and be just like them. And she did.

Sometimes we plant a seed we never know we’re planting. This has been one of life’s happy surprises.

Margaret Elsemore Sipple ’60

Walker entered Abbot Academy the following fall, a few months after Sipple graduated. Walker took part in various Abbot singing groups, including the Chanticleers and Fidelio. After Abbot, she majored in music at Brown University and went on to earn her doctorate in music composition at the Hartt School of Music, later working full time as a composer. Among her many awards, Walker recently received the 2018 Alfred Nash Patterson Lifetime Achievement Award from Choral Arts New England.

After Abbot, Sipple went on to Wellesley College, where she sang in the college choir and the Madrigal Group. Though she never pursued music professionally, Sipple and her husband participated in a variety of singing groups, including the New York-based Kairos ensemble, which gave Walker a clue to Sipple’s whereabouts.

After hearing her sing in the dining hall, Walker never saw Sipple again. But she thought of her often and of her beautiful voice. After some online sleuthing, Walker found Sipple and her husband, Peter, through the Kairos website. Much to Walker’s surprise, Sipple lived only a short drive from her home in New Canaan, Conn. The Abbot singers were reunited in the summer of 2018.

“It makes me so happy to think I might have had a tiny role in helping Gwyneth choose Abbot, followed by her distinguished career as a composer,” Sipple said. “Sometimes we plant a seed we never know we’re planting. This has been one of life’s happy surprises.”

Categories: Alumni, Magazine, Magazine Online

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