Ruth Morrow: the piano woman and marathon racer

Sarah Graves

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Ruth Morrow

Papers, books and folders piled 15 inches high all across the office with a only a small path to the desk and computer. At first glance, it’s hard to even notice the two pianos in the office. Ruth Morrow sat at her desk with a wide grin across her face, ready to discuss the adventure she calls life.

Ruth Morrow, professor of music and Dolores P., D. Phil and Aurora S. Bolin Distinguished Chair of Piano, said she has known since fourth grade that she wanted to teach music at a collegiate level, and she has always been passionate about classical music. Though she said her father never wanted her to pursue a career in music, she was fortunate enough to have a piano teacher at Whitman College, Jose Rambaldi, who guided her musical career.

“If it weren’t for him, I’m not sure that I would be in music,” Morrow said.

Morrow began teaching here in 1989. She said she stayed here at a smaller university as opposed to somewhere like University of Texas or University of North Texas because of the opportunity to teach each individual student.

“I have accepted a number of students who haven’t had much of any training, but I just take them and run to see how far we can get in the four years,” Morrow said. “There are no promises — none of us can promise someone else a job at the end of four years, six years, or graduate school, but I think everyone deserves the opportunity to chase their dreams before deciding to do something else.”

She said she never felt going to a larger university was necessary because she is useful where she is now.

“I’ve never felt the need to chase being at some school with a big reputation because to me that’s not the music. It’s the music that’s important,” Morrow said. “I love my colleagues here. I love the students, and I love truly being of use here.”

Jessica Simek, music education freshman, takes private piano lessons from Morrow. She said Morrow is why she chose to attend this university.

“I hadn’t really considered going to MSU, but she came to my audition, walked all over campus with me and showed me the music department. Her personality is just amazing,” Simek said. “She’s the reason I came, and every day in lessons she just proves more and more why I should be here.”

Nahye Byun, music junior, also takes private lessons from Morrow. She said Morrow led her to love music and major in it.

“She is my advisor and mentor,” Byun said. “She really changed my life because I wasn’t thinking of majoring in music at all. I was still doing music and taking piano lessons from different teachers, but I wasn’t serious about it.”

At Indiana University, Morrow became a Doctor of Music in Piano Performance and Pedagogy. She earned her Master of Arts in Musicology and a Master of Music in Piano Performance from Eastman School of Music of the University of Rochester. At Whitman College, Morrow attained her Bachelor of Arts in Music and Philosophy. She is also a certified instructor of the Feldenkrais Method from the Southern California Movement Institute.

In addition, Morrow teaches young pianist at the Indiana University Piano Academy, which she helped establish, every summer.

Morrow is working on a new research project that she hopes will continue long after her professional life. The research is over solo piano music that heightens awareness of human rights issues such as the Underground Railroad and the Armenian Genocide.

She said she hopes this will make people realize these genocides keep happening.

“We can make music about something bigger than just entertainment value,” Morrow said.

Morrow remains in demand as a recitalist, collaborative pianist and lecturer, and she performs around the United States and Europe. She is traveling to Spain, Sweden and France this summer to discuss the papers she has written over this subject and perform a lecture recital.

“Dr. Morrow is a fantastically optimistic pianist. She is very well prepared, and it’s a pleasure to play with her,” Dean of the Lamar D. Fain College of Fine Arts, Martin Camacho said.

Morrow, born at the former army base in California, Fort Ord, has traveled since a child. She continues to travel and expand her cultural knowledge every chance she gets.

“I love traveling. I love to meeting people and trying to learn as many words as possible in a different language because I think it’s important. I don’t want to drag my culture with me. I want to find out how different people live and what’s important to them,” Morrow said.

Morrow is also an avid runner.

She said she would run for fun in high school, but music became more important as she became older, and she stopped running.

“I have discovered that when I really started studying piano, I just stopped doing a number of things I used to do. I quit running because I had the piano as an outlet,” Morrow said.

In 1996, she said she began working out once again. She participated in the first annual Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Wichita Falls and won her age group.

After this, she competed in her first half-marathon.

“I did everything wrong. I went out too fast. I just died in the last four miles, but that wasn’t long enough,” Morrow said.

She signed up for her first marathon and retired creative writing professor and runner, James Hoggard, mentored her in the running.

She has completed marathons in all 50 states and on all seven continents. She has also finished a half-marathon in all 50 states and on six continents with only Asia remaining.

Morrow’s Favorite Things

  • Food | spicy
  • Color | green
  • Sport | running
  • Animal | cats
  • Movie | Brother Sun, Sister Moon
  • Television show | Designated Survivor 
  • Flower | daffodil
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