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
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.
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