Emory Report

February 2, 1998

 Volume 50, No. 19

Emerson makes $800,000 gift
to Chamber Music Society

Alumnus and benefactor Cherry Emerson '38C-'39G has made the Emory Chamber Music Society of Atlanta one of few such groups in the country to hold an endowment by donating $800,000 in support.

Emerson, an Atlanta native and longtime supporter of the arts, jokingly called the gift a "completely selfish presentation." "I've found chamber music to be good for me," he said, "It's the form of music I understand best."

Currently in its fifth season, the Emory Chamber Music Society includes some of Atlanta's finest musicians and is led by artistic director and pianist-in-residence William Ransom. Several of the members also are in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and Ransom's wife, pianist Keiko Yamashita Ransom, also is part of the ensemble.

Ransom said Emerson's gift will allow the group to focus on performance activites, commission new works and collaborate with Atlanta artists and guests in the coming years without having to concentrate on fund raising. But more than that, he said, the gift assures the continuance of an important part of music instruction at Emory.

"It's not just the concert series-the core members are also artist-affiliate faculty members," Ransom said. "They contribute not only through their playing but through teaching; it's a very wide-ranging influence we have."

Through the years, Emerson has watched the quality of Emory's music department grow. Though he spent his career as a chemist and earlier donated $1.25 million to endow the William Henry Emerson Chair in Chemistry at Emory, Emerson is more than well-versed in music. As a teenager he studied under Alfredo Barili, an Italian immigrant considered the founder of Atlanta's classical music scene.

"I'm a chemist, and I love chemistry, but I can say the development of musical life at Emory has been even more remarkable than the developments in chemistry in the last 50 years," Emerson said. "The knowledge of the music faculty is just amazing."

Emerson said when he came to Emory, music professor Malcolm Dewey was the music faculty. "He had a tiny office and an upright piano, and that was it. The one thing that distinguished Emory was its glee club, but that's all there was."

Like the music department, Emerson knew how to rise to great heights from humble beginnings. Though his family lived in the Morningside neighborhood in Atlanta, Emerson raised his own money to buy his first Steinway piano at the age of 13 by selling Coca-Cola to construction workers. Every summer weekday from 1928 to 1930, he would fill his wagon with ice and Coke bottles to sell for a dime apiece. After three summers of work, he had in hand $685.02 for his Steinway, which he bought from Carter Piano Co. for an even $685. Emerson kept the two cents.

Sixty-eight years later, Emerson still loves music, and he's showed his affection with a gift of substantially more than $685. "The Chamber Music Society is going to be a great part of the future of music at Emory, so I wanted to be associated with it," Emerson said. "It's going to be a permanent part of the Emory scene and bring joy to a lot of people, and that's all the reward I would want."

Ransom said the Chamber Music Society will formally announce Emerson's endowment at its concert Feb. 8 at 4 p.m. in the Performing Arts Studio. The group's first CD, "Chamber Music of Johannes Brahms," will also be released at the show. For ticket information, call 404-727-5050.

-Michael Terrazas

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