Local musical icon, arts education supporter celebrated in word and in song

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“Music is my art, my religion, my passion...”

So begins “A Credo”, written by East Texas native Ann Frances Heiligman Saslav. An internationally acclaimed musician, a beloved teacher and a fixture of the community whether at home in Overton or elsewhere, Saslav is said to have never met a stranger.

Her life and her music were celebrated at a special event Saturday, Jan. 12, held in the Van Cliburn Auditorium on the Kilgore College campus. Approximately 100 friends, family members and neighbors attended to share memories and enjoy music performed on a Steinway piano donated to the college by renowned pianist Van Cliburn, a personal friend of Saslav.

Born in Tyler and raised in Overton, Saslav developed musical proficiency early in life. She began playing a toy piano as a young child and began formal lessons at age 3. At only 15, she made her concert debut with the Houston Symphony. She went on to study music in New York and Philadelphia before touring the country and winning a Fulbright Scholarship to continue her studies in Vienna, Austria.

“Ann was a star to begin with,” said Jean-Beth Hamblen. Jean-Beth and husband Jim live in Overton, Ann's father was their family doctor. “Ann was so big into the community, whatever was going on she wanted to be a part of it. She was a leader.”

Friends and family alike shared fond memories of Saslav. Her younger sister Sandra Nichols imagined how she might react to seeing dozens of people gathered to celebrate her life.

“What she would do is she would say 'Oh, don't make such a big fuss', and she would have loved every minute of it,” Nichols said. “I think she'd be somewhat surprised and very grateful about the local people who came out to see this. Of course, she'd certainly be very appreciative of the musicians who are participating. They were all good friends of hers and they'd all performed together and were very important in her life.”

To many in East Texas, Saslav and her husband Isidor were an invaluable part of the community. Both were lifelong patrons of the arts and spent many years teaching young people how to perform and appreciate great music.

“We've lost a real treasure,” said Raymond Caldwell, Texas Shakespeare Festival director and former KC instructor.

Caldwell added the Saslavs were front-row regulars at TSF opening nights and always supported the fine arts.

“You can't replace people like the Saslavs and Ann was, of course, recognized internationally as a very accomplished musician. How many of those do we have around? It's so appropriate that her memorial is here in the Van Cliburn, they were friends.”

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