Jane P. Whitten, 83, educator, musician

Jane P. Whitten
Jane P. Whitten
Posted: March 12, 2013

Jane Peebles Whitten, 83, an educator, musician, and philanthropist who taught at West Chester University, died of complications of a stroke Wednesday, March 6, at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

She was married for 55 years to Benjamin Whitten, a pianist and teacher who died in 2010.

Mrs. Whitten was a gourmet cook long before cable television featured celebrity chefs, and she would constantly try new recipes from Craig Claiborne and Julia Child, her family said.

"She could make music in the kitchen like few people I have known," said Peter Orth, who studied piano with the Whittens before going to the Juilliard School and on to a career as a pianist. "Her tomato vegetable cream cheese aspic was a particular favorite."

Mrs. Whitten was raised in Norfolk, Va., where her parents, James and Harriet, nurtured her piano ambitions. She won several prestigious competitions as a teenager and landed a scholarship to study with Austin Conradi at the Peabody Conservatory at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. There, she met her future husband. They married in 1955.

Mrs. Whitten earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Hopkins. She taught music at the Garrison Forest School in Owings Mills, Md.

In 1959, the Whittens moved to Chester County. Both began teaching at West Chester State Teachers College, now West Chester University. While raising three children, Mrs. Whitten earned a master's degree in library science at Villanova University in 1971.

Mrs. Whitten became head librarian at Coatesville Elementary School. She taught piano in the afternoons to private students in her West Chester home.

Friends recalled that Mrs. Whitten would corral her husband into practicing the keyboard with the same intensity he demanded of his students.

Former student Fred Crumrine remembered, "Upon seeing Big Ben walk away from the piano, Jane admonished: 'That was not practice. That was racing through the piece!' " Her husband replied, "Can you believe she said that to me?" before going on to practice slowly for another hour, Crumrine said.

In the late 1970s, the Whittens began a summer music school in Eagles Mere in Sullivan County, Pa., putting pianos in an old house dubbed "The Antlers" and taking students there for intense study.

In later summers, the couple took students to the Loire Valley Music Institute in France, founded by Crumrine.

After living in West Chester and Chadds Ford, the Whittens moved in 2003 to an apartment in Center City. Mrs. Whitten was an active volunteer, including at Philadelphia Cares, where she helped make meals for people living with AIDS/HIV.

She is survived by her sons, Nathaniel and Benjamin; a daughter, Victoria; and six grandchildren.

The family plans to hold a celebration of her life later.

Memorial donations may be made to the Benjamin Whitten Endowment of the Music Teachers National Association, 441 Vine St., Suite 3100, Cincinnati, Ohio 45202.

Contact Linda Loyd at 215-854-2831 or lloyd@phillynews.com.