Esteemed Flutist Sharyn Byer Dies

Sharyn Byer, a loving wife, mother and grandmother and a virtuoso flutist, conductor and educator, ascended to Heaven at the age of 72.  Sharyn was a remarkable woman of strong faith and gentle soul who carried herself with tremendous class, style and grace.  She was a giving friend and mentor to scores of people around the world. Her presence as a life force will be deeply missed.

Sharyn was born February 5, 1948 in Miami, Florida to Glenn and Mary Sue Sudduth. Sharyn attended Miami High School, served as president of Honoria, was the first chair flute in the band and used her talents to earn a scholarship to The University of Miami School of Music. While in school, she was honored both as a Poinciana Princess and later as Queen of the Poinciana Festival, served as president of Kappa Kappa Gamma Sorority and soloed with the Wind Ensemble under Fredrick Fennell. She met Barry while they were both working in the student union and on Jan. 2, 1973, Sharyn and Barry began their 48 year storybook marriage. 

Sharyn worked for Pan Am Airlines as a flight attendant for 5 years before she and Barry were blessed with children, first Lauren Devon and then David Leland. From that point forward, Sharyn balanced motherhood with a highly acclaimed career in music. She was Principal Flutist of the McLean Symphony for 20 years and directed the band at The Langley School in McLean, Virginia for 11 years. She served as Administrator and Education Committee member of the Young Soloists’ Competition of the National Symphony Orchestra. She was a performing member of the Friday Morning Music Club of Washington, D.C. and twice served as President of the Flute Society of Washington, earning the President’s Award. She was the Principal Flutist of the Capital City Symphony for 20 years, during which time, she invited each of her three beloved grandchildren to conduct a live concert. She founded the Columbia Flute Choir (CFC) and served as its director for over 25 years. CFC has been revered as one of the best. CFC was able to create a unique depth of sound playing a variety of flutes, including the low flutes, from Sharyn’s personal collection. Sharyn was also a member of the music trio Trillium, the flute and guitar Dominion Duo, and the flute and harp ensemble First Light as well as the church orchestra where she shared her talent on Sunday mornings during multiple services at Columbia Baptist Church. She hosted the annual Columbia Flute Choir Festival, regularly performed at such venues as the Kennedy Center, the White House and Atlas Theater as well as in the 200 member Opening Flute Orchestra of the National Flute Association (NFA) annual convention which she has conducted. She was a member of the NFA’s Professional Flute Choir and the Low Flutes Committee. She toured with the International Flute Orchestra (IFO) for the last 20 years where she traveled and performed in great cathedrals across the world. Sharyn was a frequent guest artist for multiple other flute choirs and on many recordings premiering original works of acclaimed composers.

Sharyn was definitely a forward-looking musician with an active performing and touring life as detailed in numerous publications. She was one of the first musicians to convert all her sheet music to digital and utilize an iPad with AirTurn in lieu of a concert stand. She was on the cutting edge, bringing the contrabass flute, crafted by Eva Kingma in Holland, back to enhance the true basso voce and anchor her flute choir. Sharyn was easily recognized not only by her talent, but also by her gorgeous white hair and 8 foot contrabass flute.

Sharyn also played her flute at numerous charity events, participated in church missions and medical humanitarian aid efforts on the eye care team doing thousands of autorefractors as part of the 80+ member Virginia Hospital Center Medical Brigade founded and directed by her husband. She traveled to Russia, El Salvador, and over 12 times with the Brigade to Honduras over the past two decades.

While Sharyn’s professional legacy is quite esteemed, her greatest treasure was family. She is survived by her loving husband, Barry Byer, MD; daughter Lauren Byer Burke and husband Kenneth Michael Burke, Jr.; son David Leland Byer, MD; grandchildren Kenneth Michael Burke, III, Carter Michael Burke and Elizabeth Lauren Burke; sister Linda Sudduth Smith and husband Buck, nephew Austin; sister Cathey Sudduth Wallbank, nephew Derek and wife Eeda, nieces Emma and Claire. Sharyn was a devoted wife, nurturing mother and an award winning “Grammy” to her precious grandchildren.  

Sharyn kept her spirit bright, remained classy and enjoyed simple moments while she battled pancreatic cancer over the last 5 months. Her faith sustained her, family remained by her side, and scores of friends showered her with inspirational tributes.  We would like to thank MD Anderson Cancer Center, including Dr. Brandon Smaglo and nurse Judith Odityo, who offered such compassionate care. 

Sharyn was the perfect balance of beauty, talent, and unconditional love with a side of witty charm. As Sharyn said, “If I have to go, having time to hear from a lifetime of friends is the way to do it.” As reflected in Timothy 4:7, Sharyn fought the good fight, lived a good life, finished the race and kept the faith. She will be deeply missed but we are comforted that she is now playing a golden flute in God’s symphony. 

In great affirmation of her leadership, contribution to the music community and as a founding member, The Columbia Institute of Fine Arts, will be renamed as the “Sharyn Byer Institute of Fine Arts at Columbia” (SIFA) in her honor. Sharyn’s array of flutes, including her low flute collection, will continue to be played by Columbia Flute Choir as Sydnee Stein and Alexandra Molnar-Suhajda lead its next chapter. Additionally, The Flute Society of Washington will bestow Sharyn with the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award and will be starting the “Sharyn Byer Scholarship”.  

A virtual memorial service will be broadcast on the Columbia Baptist Church YouTube Channel and at on her birthday, February 5, 2021 at 2pm EST.  In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to either the Columbia Baptist Church Foundation with a designation to “The Sharyn Byer Institute of Fine Arts at Columbia” or to the Flute Society of Washington with a designation to the “Sharyn Byer Scholarship Fund.”  

Donate on-line here  

In the memo, designate the “Sharyn Byer Institute of Fine Arts Endowment.”

Donations may be mailed to:      

Sharyn Byer Institute of Fine Arts Endowment  

℅ Columbia Foundation

103 W. Columbia Street

Falls Church, VA 22046