Any day of the week, it’s a sure bet that Ryan L. (BS ’79, JD ’85)) and Mary Benson Richards’ (BMU ’83) Pleasant Grove, Utah, home will be filled with the sound of music. That’s because Mary has passed on her own musical passion to her six children, and made their residence a conservatory of sorts filled with award-winning performers.
A lifelong musician, Richards graduated from BYU as a flute major and later earned a master’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“I always knew I would teach music, and I earned an advanced degree so I could eventually teach in an academic setting,” says Richards. So far, though, it is her own children who have been her music students. “I hoped I could engender the same kind of love for music in my children that I felt as a child,” she says.
“At four, Natalie was too little to know whether she wanted to play the harp,” Richards explains. “I wanted someone I could play chamber music with and decided if the instrument wasn’t a good fit, I would introduce it to my other children until I found someone who liked the harp.”
Natalie, however, loved the instrument and by third grade had soloed at the Utah Symphony Salute to Youth concert. She won first place in the American Harp Society competition, and her harp has taken her many places, including France and Ireland.
“This daughter is reserved and speaks through her harp,” Richards says. “More than any of my other children Natalie sits down and plays for pleasure; it’s a part of her soul.”
Bethany (BM ’14) selected piano. She appeared with the Utah Valley Symphony and performed in the Utah Symphony’s Salute to Youth concert. In 2004, she was a semifinalist in the prestigious Gina Bachauer Junior Piano Competition. In the months prior to the competition, she practiced up to eight hours a day and went to school half days. When the competition ended, her younger sister Abby placed a note on the piano that read, “Step away
Abigail, (’18) selected the viola and studied with a violist in the Utah Symphony. “Music is a sweet part of her life,” her mother says. “Abby loves the orchestra and chamber playing. For her, music is the big picture.” Emily is a violinist her mother calls “exceptional,” adding, “If any of my children major in music, I think it will be Emily.” And Caroline (’15) is a harpist and violinist who traveled with her sister Natalie to help with teacher training.
Stephen (BS ’12) entered BYU on a Gordon B. Hinckley Scholarship. He has played violin and clarinet, was in a jazz band, and accompanies on piano.
Richards doesn’t expect her children to choose musical careers, but sees great value in having music in their lives. “Music gives our family an opportunity to serve others by performing, our children learn to interact with adults, and they gain confidence. And because we don’t have hay to haul or fields to plow, it provides invaluable focus, discipline, and a solid work ethic.”
Richards credits her husband for making this musical lifestyle possible. “He is so supportive. He bought all these beautiful instruments, funded the lessons, and he and Stephen narrate when we play Christmas concerts and firesides.”
As for her personal achievements, Richards plays the flute with her friend, Lysa Wight Rytting (BA ’84), a harpist in the Utah Symphony. Combining their talents—and names—they’ve formed the Amaryllys Duo and have made a CD and given concerts. For several years Richards was principal flutist with the Utah Valley Symphony.
Despite her own achievements, Richards says her greatest joy is playing chamber music with her children.