By Christine McGrath/ Stony Brook News
When Drs. Rachel Bergeson and Brian Margolis became friends with new neighbors Katherine and Bob Bayer, they had no idea they would participate in a tradition spanning 40 years. Rachel and Brian began attending frequent in-house recitals in the Bayers’ home in St. James, where Stony Brook Department of Music graduate students put their talents on display. The Bayers’ special showcase of Stony Brook talent eventually inspired Drs. Bergeson and Margolis to recognize the impact their friends have had on generations of Stony Brook musicians by establishing an endowed scholarship in the Bayers’ name.
The Katherine and Bob Bayer Endowed Scholarship will now be available to graduate students in the Department of Music, with a focus on those studying piano or string instruments. With this scholarship, these close friends will add their impact to the generous way the Bayers have left their imprint on the Department of Music over the years through those recitals.
Rachel and Katherine have strong ties to Stony Brook: Rachel has spent 40 years working as director of the university’s Student Health Services, while Katherine graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a music degree. So, what led to this nearly lifelong connection, and how did this scholarship come to be?
Supporting Students Through Music Concerts
While Katherine studied at Juilliard’s Preparatory Division as a young child, it was not until many years later that she completed her undergraduate degree in music. After she earned her associate degree after high school, she and Bob got married and had a child. Katherine then began working office jobs and helping Bob with his business. Several years later, she decided that she would love to go back to school. “I enrolled in a part-time bachelor’s degree program in music at Stony Brook. It took me five years to graduate!” she said. Each semester, she was required to take lessons with graduate students. “I learned so much from them and how much pressure they were under to prepare for their recitals at the Staller Center,” she said. “They didn’t have many opportunities to prepare.”
Wanting to give back to the Stony Brook Department of Music after she graduated, Katherine asked Bob if he would be open to hosting concerts in their own home, and he was completely on board. “I wanted to give graduate students an opportunity to play through their programs prior to their recital — a sort of practice performance,” said Katherine.
The in-house recitals started small, with just a few neighbors, including Rachel and Brian, attending, and they have grown to about 30 attendees. The couple hosts up to 10 concerts a year, and at the beginning of the fall semester, Katherine will send a letter to Stony Brook’s music department inviting piano and string students to play. “Usually, within minutes, we get a bunch of bios from the musicians,” said Bob. They sort through the bios and choose students based on availability and the music they will play. Those who play piano can perform on the couple’s restored 1876 Steinway concert grand piano.
An Invitation Leads to a Scholarship
Rachel said she and Brian have been attending concerts for years. “We are privileged to have been part of this unique audience at their home for such a long time,” she said. In fact, a discussion at one of these performances is what led them to create their scholarship. “We heard there was little funding for the music department and that they were losing interested students to other institutions that provided scholarships,” Rachel said. “We decided to name it after Bob and Katherine simply because of their generosity and spirit that’s always been out there.”
The Bayers were honored and thrilled for the support when they received the news. “We were shocked! It was so generous of them to do this to support graduate students,” said Katherine.
True Music Appreciation
Both couples’ love of music runs beyond the concerts at the Bayers’ home. They often enjoy shows together at the Staller Center. Bob has loved seeing the Emerson String Quartet perform over the years, while some of Katherine’s favorite memories are seeing the recitals of the students who performed in their home. Rachel said she and her husband enjoy the Stony Brook Symphony Orchestra shows. “Brian and I grew up with classical music. My mother was an organist, and I sang in the Messiah choir in college,” said Rachel. “Music has always been something that I’ve enjoyed.”
Both couples met the first scholarship recipient, Owen Dodds, who is working on getting his doctorate in music, earlier this year. “Owen is just delightful,” said Rachel. After receiving the scholarship, he performed his recital in the Bayers’ home — on the restored 1876 Steinway piano. “We were very impressed with him,” said Katherine. “He gave a beautiful performance.”
Owen, who not only performs classical music but also composes it, said the scholarship is helping to pay for his tuition. “I’m incredibly grateful for the support from Rachel and Brian,” he said. “It really makes it possible for me to do what I’m doing.” He added that he can’t wait to perform again at the Bayers’ home. “It was such a wonderful experience, and I hope to keep playing there even after I graduate.”
The Stony Brook Department of Music is able to attract talented students due to its extraordinary faculty, including Gilbert Kalish, leading professor of piano and head of performance activities, and Department of Music Chair Christina (Tina) Dahl. “Our graduate students go on to have successful music careers — we’ve had quite a few students win a Fulbright,” Tina said. “Stony Brook has a great history of placing music students in good academic jobs. Some graduates joined music faculties at Indiana University, Manhattan School of Music and Yale.”
Tina is grateful to have performed at the Bayers’ home herself as a music student, saying, “We recruit some of the most talented artists to Stony Brook because of student scholarships. Scholarship support not only allows the students to pursue their musical aspirations but also allows the music department to continue growing into a thriving musical community.”
Once students start studying music, being around other musicians is important. “Stony Brook is great because Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) students are all around you,” Owen said. “Being in the music community is so important to growing personally and professionally. We inspire each other.”
Rachel said she and Brian truly believe in the importance of music and the arts in the community. The couple is already considering supporting another scholarship or a Staller Center award in the future.