Terry O. Decima

Terry Oliver Decima, 79, passed away on March 26, 2022 in Boston, MA. A beloved brother and uncle, Terry will be remembered as a warm and brilliant soul who was a connoisseur of life. A self-proclaimed foodie, he was also an avid concert-goer, voracious reader, and supporter of the arts who enjoyed sharing his interests with family, friends, and colleagues.

A career musician and educator, Terry’s life was defined by his passion for music. His influence on Boston’s classical music community was profound. Terry was a first-class accompanist and was much in demand as an operatic vocal coach. He grew up with music in the home, as his mother Betty was a self-taught pianist and organist. As a child, when he discovered a huge set of Bach’s B-Minor Mass in his community library’s basement, Terry knew that he was going to spend the rest of his life in music. During his senior year at Somerset High School in Somerset, PA, he was accompanist for the Central Western District chorus, and drove 60 miles to Pittsburgh to hear William Steinberg conduct Mahler’s 7th Symphony .

Terry earned his bachelor’s degree at Oberlin College where he studied harpsichord and organ. He spent a year at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria and in 1965 landed at New England Conservatory (NEC) where he earned his master’s in organ performance. In 1971, Terry began a more than five decade career at NEC when he joined the faculty, teaching piano, diction, and repertoire, and co-chaired the Conservatory’s Accompanying program. For many years, he was on the staff of the vocal program at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and frequently coached the Tanglewood Festival Chorus when it sang in French or German. He particularly enjoyed his time in the Berkshires because “of the chance to be around all kinds of music, and not just vocal music.” He worked extensively with a large number of student singers who went on to prominence. He played for a number of leading artist-teachers like Ray De Voll and Mary Davenport, and in any given semester accompanied 15-20 student recitals. 

For many years, Terry was a beloved fixture at First Parish Church in Weston, MA where he became head organist in 1966. He collaborated with William Sano and Mary Shaw, accompanied the Senior Choir, and captivated the congregation during each service’s prelude and postlude with virtuosic organ recitals. In 2016, First Parish celebrated Terry’s 50th anniversary as organist, one of the longest tenures in the church’s nearly 325 year history.

Terry Decima was preceded in death by his parents, Harris and Betty Decima. He is survived by his brother, Richard Decima, and many nieces, nephews, and their children. Terry left behind an extensive library of classical music books, CDs, and vinyls for which the family is looking for other collectors who wish to enlarge their own collections. 


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8 Condolences

  1. Mary Shaw on July 20, 2022 at 1:40 pm

    I miss Terry so much! I’m honored to have been his student and his friend.

  2. Bill Sano on July 21, 2022 at 11:44 am

    There will never be another Terry. He was one if a kind! Thanks for the memories.

    Bill Sano,
    Music director
    First Parish in Weston

  3. Nancy Coleman on July 21, 2022 at 5:24 pm

    Oh, no. I just found this notice as I was about to try to contact Terry on Facebook. He and I were playmates in Somerset, PA, from kindergarten on through high school. I visited often at Terry’s homes, first an apartment near the Diamond, then on High Street and finally a house on Lincoln Street a few blocks from my grandparents. He taught me how to play chess at age 12. We had most of the same classes all through school, including Journalism. In ninth grade, a bunch of us decided to write a little musical we called “Skipalong Catastrophe,” which was a silly bunch of skits in which Terry was the piano player in the Western saloon where the action took place. He laid sheet music on the strings in the grand piano, which rendered a sound like an old honky-tonk piano. I last saw him the summer after our freshman year of college, but after that we lost track. Some of our classmates tried to get him to come to our reunions, but without success. He was missed then, and he is missed now. I really would have loved to talk with him. We would have had a lot of adventures to share.

  4. Marcia Matthysse on July 22, 2022 at 9:26 pm

    I was a First Parish Weston choir member when Terry arrived. What a breath of fresh air he was! And he just kept getting better and better!

  5. Deborah Boldin on July 25, 2022 at 1:59 pm

    I am heartbroken to hear of Terry’s passing and offer sincere condolences to his family. He had a profound impact on me both during my time at New England Conservatory and as a “grown up” professional musician. I was lucky to work with a number of his collaborative piano students; coachings with him were inspiring and revelatory. He was a regular at Chameleon Arts Ensemble concerts for longer than I can remember. Seeing him in his regular seat was always a joy and a gift, and our many post-concert chats continuously reminded me of what an insightful artist he was. Terry was an enormous help a number of years ago with text research for a set of Copland songs, offering guidance informed by personal work with Copland himself. He was a teacher, a friend, a colleague, and an ever-inspiring feature of my musical life and will be deeply missed. I am so grateful for all he shared with me.

  6. Julia Kierstine on August 3, 2022 at 9:52 pm

    My deepest sympathies go out to Terry’s family and loved ones, as they grieve this tremendous loss. As we all know so well, Terry was an AMAZING teacher and brilliant musician. I first met him in 1984 at Tanglewood, where I was studying for the summer before entering Grad School at NEC. I’d never heard of the International Phonetic Alphabet and had zero skills in diction. Terry changed my life. He instilled in me the understanding that diction was of paramount importance. He contributed mightily to my education and my eventual career. In 2014 I was reunited with Terry, on one of the hardest days of my life – when family, (who had, for decades, been members of the church in Weston), asked me to sing Fauré’s “Pie Jesu” at the memorial service for my beloved Uncle. On such a day – what a joy to see Terry again after so many years. And what a joy to make music with him again. His artistry was even more profound than I remembered. He truly was a remarkable, unique, gifted man whose legacy lives on in the countless singers and instrumentalists who were so fortunate as to call him teacher, and colleague. Thank you for everything, Terry. ❤️

  7. Jennifer and Stephen Weininger on August 27, 2022 at 4:41 pm

    Terry entered our lives about four years ago, so we had the pleasure of his company for only a short period of time. Nonetheless, we are grateful for every minute. We became acquainted at a Gardner Museum concert when he asked if a seat next to ours was free, which indeed it was. He sat down, we began to chat and almost immediately hit it off — no surprise for those of you who knew Terry. Jennifer is an NEC alum, Steve a passionate music lover, and our son David an Oberlin alum. There was much to talk about, the conversation never flagged, and it was never less than absorbing. Hearing how Terry helped singers prepare for performances was revelatory. We henceforth saved a seat for him at every concert we were attending and progressed from there to sharing meals before concerts, mostly at Symphony Sushi, a favorite of Terry’s.
    We began emailing periodically and were thus quite shaken when Terry told us of his diagnosis last fall. He had really been through hell, yet his impish sense of humor never completely deserted him. Toward the end of an email describing his ordeals he wrote, “And the pills, the pills, a.m/p.m. I hope when I swallow they know where to go and perform their duty.”
    Terry was a gift, completely unexpected and delivered by a fortuitous encounter. Terry brightened our lives immeasurably; he is, and will continue to be, sorely missed.

  8. Jonathan Nadel on September 15, 2023 at 1:45 am

    One of my most impactful instructors at NEC. I will forever cherish Terry Decima’s zest for precise diction, his brutal honesty and demanding spirit in the classroom. Also, he was a hilarious storyteller. As a young person studying for the first time abroad(Austria), his parents gifted him a black case to hold his music, personalized with his initials: T.O.D. All of his German speaking companions called him Mr. Death. Awesome.

    Terry Decima was clearly a vessel meant to transmit the beauty and communication of words set to music. Thank you, dear Sir.

    Jonathan Nadel, MM ’00

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