Marilyn Shields-Wiltsie and Dr. Theodore E. Wiltsie
2016 Recipients

Marilyn and Ted are ardent opera supporters who frequently travel internationally to attend performances and never miss a Nashville Opera production.

For nearly ten years, Ted has led the Opera Club of Nashville, which promotes opera in general and Nashville Opera specifically.  He arranges, publicizes, and chairs the programs, and occasionally gives one.

In addition, Ted is conductor and artistic director of the Delta Symphony Orchestra in Greenville, Mississippi, a position he has held for over 20 years.  Marilyn, a concert pianist, frequently plays concertos with the group, as well as with other conductors and orchestras.

A designated Steinway Artist since 1992, Marilyn has performed concert tours in Russia, Germany, France, Switzerland, Armenia, Austria, Great Britain, Mexico, and the U.S.  She promotes Nashville Opera wherever she travels.   She has played recitals on instruments of opera composers Wagner, Mozart, Rachmaninoff, and Shostakovich, as well as non-operatic composers.

She was invited to present a solo recital as part of the 2000 Bayreuth Festival at Villa Wahnfried, Richard Wagner’s home and museum, and performed this recital on Wagner’s Steinway concert grand.  Many of her concerts in recent years have featured the music of Wagner and Liszt and have been performed under the auspices of various Wagner Societies.  When her programs include opera transcriptions, she promotes Nashville Opera as having presented the first complete, professionally mounted Wagner opera in ourSoutheast region (The Flying Dutchman, April 2000).

She received the honorary title “Ambassador of Armenian Music to the U.S.” in ceremonies at the Khatchaturian Museum in Yerevan as a result of earthquake relief concerts she presented there.   She received an invitation from the Tchaikowsky Competition Committee to return to Moscow as its guest for the competition.

She played the state premiere in several states of Messiaen’s monumental Visions de l’Amen, which she coached in Paris with pianist Yvonne Loriot, Messiaen’s widow, for whom it was written.

As an officer in the United States Air Force assigned to Washington, D.C., Ted was director of the USAF Singing Sergeants and conducted the USAF Symphony Orchestra.  He was also instructor of choral conducting and rehearsal procedures with the USAF Band School there.

He performed in the first recording and the Western Hemisphere premiere of Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex, conducted by Stravinsky himself.

While stationed in Europe, he was assigned to organize and direct the 17th Air Force Men’s Chorus, which performed at government functions throughout Europe and the Middle East, and also conducted the 17th Air Force Band.

Ted served on the Nashville Opera Board and continues to serve on the Advisory Board.  Marilyn has served on the Guild Advisory Board since it started.

As an opera critic, Ted’s opera reviews are published in The Wagner Society of America’s Wagner News, The Wagner Society of New York’s Wagner Notes, and the Metropolitan Opera Guild’s Opera News, which published his rave review of Nashville Opera’s Salome.

Marilyn, currently on the Centennial Club board, has presented Amy Tate Williams in a Christmas recital and will be presenting Director of Education and Outreach Anna Young and the five Mary Ragland Young Artists as the club’s principal concert in the spring 2016.  For the showcase program for spring of 2017, John Hoomes will speak on Nashville Opera.   She has chaired the club’s Opera Study Group, which presents John Hoomes’ talks before Nashville Opera performances, and began the policy of inviting guests to John’s talks.

Marilyn began playing piano at the age of two.  By the age of four she could read music and play more difficult works.  She earned the Bachelor and Master of Music degrees from Peabody College, Vanderbilt University, then pursued several years of post-graduate study with esteemed pianist and conductor Leon Fleisher.  She served for a number of years as senior artist-teacher of piano at the Blair School of Music of Vanderbilt.

Dr. Wiltsie holds a Bachelor of Science in music education from Ithaca College in New York and has advanced musical studies in conducting, voice, medieval notation, and literature at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.  He also earned a Master of Arts in sociology at the University of Northern Colorado.  In addition he earned a Specialist in Education in human development and counseling from George Peabody College and a Doctor of Education from Vanderbilt University.

Ted learned to sight-read music by the age of six and began studying violin at the age of seven.  He switched to viola upon entering the Ithaca College School of Music, where he became principal violist with the Ithaca College Symphony Orchestra.  There he studied with Dr. Bert Rogers Lyon, professor of music and coach of Metropolitan Opera soloists.  He also studied with Dr. Elmer Tidmarsh, choirmaster and organist at Union College in Schenectady, New York, and the Cathedral Notre Dame, Paris, and with conductor, composer, and pianist Dr. Russell Woollen of the National Symphony Orchestra and the Catholic University of America.

Ted is past president and current board member of the Nashville Branch of The English-Speaking Union.

Marilyn is the founder and president of The Steinway Society of Nashville, which has presented opera-related programs, and serves on the boards of the Nashville International Piano Competition and the Friends of the Arts at Belmont University.

They are Nashville Opera Impresario Council members, subscribers since the 1990’s, and Founders of Nashville Opera’s newly established Vision 20/20 initiative for increased support.


marilyn shields-wiltsie and Dr. Theodore E. Wiltsie


"The Metropolitan Opera is not just a living, it’s my life.” 
Francis Robinson, photo courtesy of The Francis Robinson Collection of Theatre, Music, and Dance, Vanderbilt University Special Collections

Mr. Metropolitan

Francis Robinson (1910-1980) loved opera from the very day he heard Enrico Caruso on the Victrola at his school.  He began his career in the theatre as an usher at the Ryman Auditorium while he was studying at Vanderbilt.  He later worked as a reporter and Sunday editor of the Nashville Banner; a writer, actor, and producer for WSM Radio; and a theatrical press agent for William Fields, where his clients included Katharine Cornell, Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne, and Cornelia Otis Skinner.  After World War II, Robinson was hired by impresario Sol Hurok to help with the Metropolitan Opera annual tours.  Robinson’s extraordinary gift for public relations led to the expansion of his duties at the Met to include head of the box office and subscriptions, and in 1954 he was made assistant manager of the company under the legendary Rudolf Bing.  He went on to spend more than thirty years at the Metropolitan Opera.  In 1978, Robinson became host for the telecast series Live from the Met, reaching out to opera audiences around the country.

Previous Recipients

G. Helen Brown, Ph.D., 2015
Shelley Page, 2014
Joseph H. Allen, M.D., 2013
The Judy Liff and Joe Barker Family, 2012
Earl S. Swensson, 2011
June Greer Bogle, 2010
Marion Pickering Couch, 2009
Marguerite Fish, 2008
William O. Whetsell, Jr., M.D., 2007
Maestro Kenneth Schermerhorn, posthumous, 2006
Carol Penterman, John Hoomes, Cara Schneider, 2005