The strains of piano music and song filled Branscomb Auditorium as members of the musical community gathered to honor Dr. Robert MacDonald.
MacDonald devoted 47 years of his life to teaching at FSC before his death at 83. Some of his accomplishments as department chair included adding student recitals, beginning the band and orchestra, adding degrees and starting the Festival of Fine Arts.
“The level of performance quality that he created in the Festival of Fine Arts that he led for 40 some years, he started that from scratch,” Professor of Music Dr. John Thomasson said.
At the memorial celebration on Feb. 7, Dr. Anne Kerr, FSC’s president, said that MacDonald had always “insisted on excellence” during his time at FSC.
“He was not narrow-minded about the study of music,” Music Department Chair Paula Parschẻ said. “He really felt that there was a breadth of opportunity to study everything: cultural influences, historical influences, everything really fed into the study of music.”
Parschẻ was one of MacDonald’s students. For the concert, Parschẻ accompanied Associate Professor of Music Diane Stahl on the piano during Stahl’s performance of “Ave Maria.”
“I was in that moment with Professor Stahl, and really feeling the music, and I really sensed that Mr. MacDonald was around and about because I remember he would just be so, so moved by how she performed that piece,” Parschẻ said.
Other FSC faculty members performed, including Dr. Waite Willis with his group The Rainbeaux, which MacDonald had helped launch.
Thomasson, also accompanied by Parschẻ, performed “The Impossible Dream” from “Man of La Mancha,” a song that MacDonald had sung during his last performance at FSC.
Thomasson was also one of the chief organizers of the event.
“We wanted to do a worthy tribute to such an influential man for our department,” Thomasson said.
Thomasson had discussed plans with Ingrid MacDonald, MacDonald’s wife. In order to allow Sona and Skye MacDonald, MacDonald’s daughter and grandson, to perform and make plans, the date had to be shifted back.
At the ceremony, Ingrid and MacDonald’s brother, Donald, both read out loud some of MacDonald’s favorite poetry.
Sona sang some of her father’s favorite songs, including “Somewhere over the Rainbow.” Skye sang and performed a song on the piano that he had composed for his grandfather called “Help.”
Brittany Febbraio, the recipient of the Robert MacDonald Music Scholarship and one of Parschẻ’s students, was in the audience that night. When Febbraio sent a thank-you note to Ingrid for the scholarship, Ingrid wrote back and said that Febbraio could go to the memorial to learn more about MacDonald.
“I wish I could have gotten to know him, because he did seem like such a great person,” Febbraio said. “It was really nice to see everything about his life when I went to the memorial.”
Parschẻ said that it was a “privilege” to perform at the concert.
“It was one of those moments that it just felt as if I had reached the full circle and that, through all of my interaction with him, and work with him, I was able to express musically my great feelings of admiration and love for him,” Parschẻ said.
The last song of the evening was played by MacDonald himself. The song was a recording of “Always” by Irving Berlin and arranged by MacDonald.
As the recording played, the lights dimmed until there was nothing left but a solitary spotlight on a red rose that Ingrid had placed on the piano. When the last note died, so did the light, leaving Branscomb Auditorium dark.
E/N: In the print publication of The Southern, the headline read “Remembering Dr. McDonald” instead of “Remembering Dr. MacDonald.” Brittany Febbraio’s name was also misspelt as Brittany Febrairo.