Obituary 1

Murray Savar, longtime music director at Agnes Irwin School, singer, composer, and teacher, has died at 68

Murray Savar, 68, of Philadelphia, chair of the Visual and Performing Arts Department at Agnes Irwin School, musician, singer, composer, teacher, and minister, died Monday, Oct. 30, of glioblastoma at the Quadrangle nursing center in Haverford.

The longest-tenured member of the Agnes Irwin faculty, Mr. Savar joined the school in 1977 and taught music, drama, and the dynamic art of life to students in prekindergarten through high school for nearly 47 years. He created and directed hundreds of concerts and plays, and lovingly managed the school’s celebrated Bel Cantos a cappella group.

He etched a niche so deep in the Agnes Irwin community that the Board of Trustees in 2017 named the Lower School’s driveway the Murray Savar Circle. In an online tribute after his death, a friend said: “I’m not sure this void will ever be filled.”

Mr. Savar was fluent in seven languages, and his students sang songs in German, Italian, and Hungarian. He directed the annual Winter Concert and Spring Sing, introduced music to the kindergarten’s Invention Convention and other events, and conducted the Bel Cantos at dozens of performances in Philadelphia, New York, and elsewhere.

He embraced the participatory Kodály method of music instruction, oversaw the school’s new piano lab and composition room, and instructed the children of many former students. “His classroom,” a former student said, “was a place to learn, a place to be silly, a place to feel safe making a mistake, a place to give that solo a try.”

He was so beloved that school officials posted a poignant memorial tribute to him on its website and scheduled a school celebration of his life for Friday, Dec. 15. “He filled every space he entered with music, laughter, and joy,” Head of School Sally Keidel said. Lower School Dean Julie Haines said: “His music and friendship enriched our souls, and he brought out the best in all of us because he was simply the best.”

Mr. Savar encouraged solos, composed a musical history of the school for its 125th anniversary in 1995, and debuted his “Agnes Irwin, the Musical,” in 2019. He hosted Facebook Live concerts during the COVID-19 pandemic, and a friend said in a tribute: “No one who knew him will ever forget him.”

He was hired as a middle school teacher right out of Temple University’s School of Music, now the Boyer College of Music and Dance, and incorporated music into every facet of the Agnes Irwin experience. He created the Agnes Irwin City Tour in 2011 to promote the school’s history and legacy, became chair of the Visual and Performing Arts Department in 2017, and won the school’s Agnes and Sophy Dallas Irwin Enrichment Fund Award in 2021 for his contributions.

In September, U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan recognized Mr. Savar on the floor of Congress. Agnes Irwin held Mr. Savar Day on Oct. 2, and the school’s Alumnae Association recently welcomed him as an honorary alumnus.

In 2020, he told students and school officials: “Every girl I have known for the past 43 years shares the following trait with every other Agnes Irwin alum of every age, every generation: the ability to use her talents to affect positive change.”

Mr. Savar also served as pianist, organist, and cantor at Temple Emanuel and Congregation Kol Ami in Cherry Hill. He officiated marriages and at other events as a minister for the Universal Life Church. Longtime friend Audrey Perkins said: “It was his magnetic ability to engage others that completely defined him. Murray built bridges between people.”

Murray Steven Savar was born Oct. 20, 1955, in Philadelphia. He grew up in Mount Airy, played piano at 6, and graduated from Central High School and Temple in 1977.

He lived in Center City and near Washington Square, and liked to wear bow ties to school and on stage. He was interested in Philadelphia’s history and architecture, and broadened his experiences with travels to Europe and elsewhere.

He wrote scores for a local filmmaker and sang with the Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia, now Choral Arts Philadelphia. He liked to bike and hike, do word games and yoga, and entertain friends and family. He especially enjoyed setting his tenor voice to Christmas carols.

He chronicled his family’s immigration from Russia to the United States and cared for years for his aging parents. He gave special attention to his older brother Larry, who lived with Down syndrome. His parents and brother died earlier.

“He was a selfless person,” said his cousin Shelley Daniels. “Kind, considerate, and empathetic, he was the ultimate connector of generations and cultures. Music was his joy.”

In addition to his cousin, Mr. Savar is survived by other relatives.

Private services were held earlier.

Donations in his name may be made to Agnes Irwin School, 275 S. Ithan Ave., Rosemont, Pa. 19010; and Congregation Kol Ami, 1101 Springdale Rd., Cherry Hill, N.J. 08003.

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