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.
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.
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.