Margaret Avery Rowell was born in Redlands, California in 1900, and died on April 21 in San Francisco, in 1995. She had moved to the San Francisco Bay area as a child of eight, and lived there all her life. She graduated from UC-Berkely in 1923, and married UC philosophy professor Edward Rowell in 1936. She taught cello at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and also served on the faculties of the University of California at Berkely, Stanford University, Mills College and San Francisco State University.
Rowell was an excellent cellist, but more than that she was a cello teacher, and a teacher of teachers. Furthermore, her concern was not simply cello technique, but teaching cellists and others to be vibrant, full-living human beings, as she certainly was herself. Robert Commanday of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote of her: "Anyone who has attended a Rowell lesson, cellist or not, would be captivated by the enthusiasm, the energy, the down-right missionary zeal generated by this evangelist of the cello. You'd have thought she was saving souls or sharing a just-discovered secret of life. And there was no difference in the level of excitement if the pupil were a near beginner, had average talent or was one of her prize proteges." She would be heard to exclaim at her workshops: "I don't teach the cello, because the cello can't learn...I teach the human being!"
Her teaching was not cut-and-dried, or predictable, but often unusually creative. Once at the San Francisco Conservatory, the President came to her studio with a VIP whom he wanted to introduce to Rowell. When they opened her door they were quite surprised to find her and a student crawling on all fours around the room, an exercise she hoped would teach something about power coming from the back, into the hands, yet leaving the fingers free to move on the bow and fingerboard of the cello. She was also fond of having her students practice scales, using only one finger, thus forcing them to concentrate on intonation.
In the early 1950's she organized what became known as the California Cello Club, which hosted all the great cellists: Casals, Piatigorsky, Rostropovich, Starker, Greenhouse and so on, and proved to be an inspiration to hundreds of cellists from around the world. The cello club grew to include all the Bay Area cello teachers and students.
Rowell traveled extensively in the United States and Europe, with Irene Sharp, also of the San Francisco Conservatory, giving workshops for cellists and string teachers.