Special Wish Leads to Special Concert

The bells of Berea College’s carillon rang out with familiar tunes as Marlene Payne, an alumna and former faculty member who taught at the College during the past four decades, presented a special concert to eager listeners. Payne, who graduated from the College in 1961, learned to play the carillon about 10 years ago after taking lessons from John Courter, an internationally known carillonneur and former music professor at Berea College. After Courter’s death in 2010, Payne performed concerts on campus regularly and coordinated visits to Berea by other carillonneurs from all around the U.S. and other nations.

 

Marlene Payne '61

Marlene Payne ’61, faculty member at Berea College for four decades, carillonneur for 10 years

Although Payne was the star performer, her special concert was a well-orchestrated community effort by volunteers including an EMS medical team, music faculty, communications staff, public safety officers from the College and personnel from the hospice who are providing care for her. After months of being back and forth in the hospital, Payne’s condition is currently on a more stable plateau, so the volunteers made the arrangements to grant her wish to play the carillon again.

Marlene Payne '61

Marlene Payne ’61 finds an old but faithful seat.

Surrounded by a host of family, friends and former colleagues and students, as well as the EMS team who carried her in a special chair up the long flight of steps in the tower of Draper Hall, Payne was seated at the carillon keyboard. Her concert featured familiar hymns, such as Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling, Let There Be Peace on Earth and Amazing Grace, as well as a special song originally composed by her daughter Deborah Payne and scored for the carillon by the late John Courter. The concert produced lots of smiles and laughter, as well as many memories for the intimate audience in the tower. A wider audience gathered on the Berea College Quadrangle below as the notes pealed out across the crisp January air.

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Berea College, the first interracial and coeducational college in the South, focuses on learning, labor and service. The College admits only academically promising students with limited financial resources, primarily from Kentucky and Appalachia, although students come from 40 states and 70 countries. Every Berea student receives a Tuition Promise Scholarship, which means no Berea student pays for tuition. Berea is one of nine federally-recognized Work Colleges, so students work 10 hours or more weekly, earning money for books, housing and meals. The College’s motto, “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth,” speaks to its inclusive Christian character.