When Alta G. Mayer was only in junior high school in Tucson, Ariz., her mother used to drive her and her sister across town at lunchtime, when they performed together on a half-hour radio show -- her mother on piano, her sister on violin and she on the cello.
Mrs. Mayer, a longtime member of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, got an early start with the cello, which proved to be her lifelong passion.
"She hit her stride pretty early," said her son Felix of Cheektowaga. "She was passionate about classical music her entire life."
Mrs. Mayer of Amherst died Nov. 15 in Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, Amherst, after a brief illness. She was 82.
A Tucson native, the former Alta Grimes also used the name Alta Quinones, in honor of her mother's maiden name. She attended Mills College in California and the Juilliard School in New York City, before working for the Kansas City Symphony in 1950.
The following year, she moved to Buffalo to become a cellist with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. Except for a few years when she raised her young children, she was with the orchestra from 1951 until her retirement in 1984.
Mrs. Mayer loved to tell the story about how she met her husband, Theodor W., principal double bassist with the BPO.
"She said she looked around the orchestra and set her sights on my father, who was an honest guy and a really good bass player," Felix Mayer remembered.
Mrs. Mayer taught at the University at Buffalo, Daemen College and Villa Maria College. In addition, she and her husband gave individual instruction to roughly 300 students in their teaching careers. Their students included dozens of people who went on to careers in music or music instruction.
Apart from her love of music, she also liked cooking, needlepoint and crocheting, her family said.
Her husband died in March, after 51 years of marriage.
In addition to her son, she is survived by a daughter, Rebecca R. Torres of Buffalo; a sister, Gloria Gallup of Dana Point, Calif.; and four grandchildren.
A celebration of Mrs. Mayer's life will be held at 2 p.m. Tuesday in Unitarian Universalist Church, 695 Elmwood Ave.