ROCK HILL, S.C. - A Winthrop University alumna and former music student recently donated $25,000 to help preserve the D.B. Johnson Memorial Organ in Byrnes Auditorium.
The gift from Hazel Bailes Somerville '69 comes in the midst of a restoration campaign during the organ’s golden anniversary.
Somerville, who is the artistic director of the Blair Children’s Chorus at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., recalls many memorable Winthrop experiences centered around the organ and the skillful teaching of organist David Lowry.
"I have always been a bit of a dreamer," said Somerville, a York, S.C., native who in her college days, yearned to travel. "I don’t know if David Lowry knew that he was fueling that dream through organ class, but that is what happened."
She longed to listen to organs in Germany that had been played by J.S. Bach or to hear organs in France to see if "those big French pieces" were being performed properly on Winthrop’s famed organ. Somerville succeeded in visiting many European organ venues.
"I was just as awed as I thought I would be," she said. "I also realized that these historic instruments were magnificent works of art that required the care of builders, players and patrons long after the original planners had died."
Her realizations prompted the gift, one of the largest contributions to the campaign to date. Somerville, who earned degrees from Winthrop and New York’s Union Theological Seminary where she studied organ, voice and choral conducting, urges other Winthrop graduates and supporters to donate to the organ restoration campaign. Rock Hill organist Shirley Fishburne '72 and '73 and former Board of Trustees chair and local attorney David White are leading the effort to raise $400,000 for the restoration.
Music still plays a crucial role in Somerville’s life. Under Somerville’s direction, members of the six groups that make up the full Blair Children’s Chorus have performed with the Nashville Symphony, at the Renaissance Center in Dickson, Tenn., in local schools and churches and in concerts at Blair School of Music. They also have toured in North Carolina, Florida and California.
Somerville moved to Nashville in 2003 from Boston where she was the artistic director of Youth pro Musica-The Greater Boston Youth Chorus. Appearances of her Boston choruses include three performances on nationwide television with the Boston Pops under the direction of Keith Lockhart; performances and recordings with the internationally known Boston Camerata under the direction of Joel Cohen; an appearance on National Public Radio’s program "From the Top"; collaborations with choral groups at Harvard University; and an appearance with the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Isaiah Jackson. The D.B. Johnson Memorial Organ, which is named after Winthrop’s founding president, is widely regarded as one of the most valuable and historic organs in this part of the country. The Boston company that built it, the Æolian-Skinner Organ Company, constructed some of the finest mid-twentieth century instruments in the U.S. Winthrop’s organ is one of the few in the country to have been adjusted by G. Donald Harrison, Æolian-Skinner’s legendary president. Money from the campaign will be used to renovate the organ’s pipe work, install a digital memory system, replace the leather components and rebuild the organ’s console. To date, the university has commitments of about $170,000. A series of concerts in South Carolina and Georgia have helped promote awareness of the organ campaign. A 50th anniversary concert is set for Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. in Byrnes Auditorium. For more information, contact the Office of Development at 803/323-2150.
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