Release Date: February 11, 2008
Opera coach endows scholarship, names new rehearsal hall at Kennesaw State
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(From left) KSU President Daniel Papp, Gwendolyn Brooker and Dean of the College of the Arts Joseph Meeks.
Photo by Patrick Bowling
KENNESAW, Ga.—Kennesaw State University officials gathered last week for the signing of a new agreement with longtime music supporter Gwendolyn Brooker of Marietta. Brooker has pledged $100,000 to the university to name the new music rehearsal hall in the recently opened Dr. Bobbie Bailey and Family Performance Center. The facility will be named the Eric and Gwendolyn Brooker Rehearsal Hall in honor of Brooker and her late husband. The $100,000 gift will be used to create the Eric and Gwendolyn Brooker Scholarship Endowment.
The Brookers emigrated to the United States from Australia with their teenage sons in the 1970s. They settled originally in Chicago where Eric Brooker continued his career as a communications engineer and Gwendolyn Brooker continued her career as a piano accompanist and opera vocal coach. Having previously worked with Sydney Opera House, she began working with the Chicago Lyric Opera and also as a private coach for acclaimed mezzo-soprano and Marietta native, Jennifer Larmore, who won a Grammy Award yesterday and who is an artist-in-residence at KSU. In 1993, the Brookers retired to Atlanta to be closer to one of their now adult sons and quickly became involved with the local cultural community, including Kennesaw State.
“We were attracted to Kennesaw State because, although it was small at the time, there were more and more reasons to come out here. Joseph Meeks and the music department always envisioned so much,” Brooker told the guests at the signing ceremony. “Eric would say, ‘One day, this place is going to be huge.’”
Meeks, now dean of the KSU College of the Arts, invited Brooker to be the first member of the university’s music advisory board in the mid-1990s. “She has always shown such loyalty,” Meeks recalled. “She and Eric became very dear friends.”
The Brookers also became regular attendees at the university’s many musical performances and eventually began recommending artists and helping the school make more connections in the world of international classical music. Through it all, the Brookers maintained a keen interest in the growth and development of the university’s music department. After Eric Brooker lost his long struggle with cancer in December 2004, Gwendolyn Brooker became even more involved at Kennesaw State. In addition to her continuing service on the advisory board, she now also acts as a vocal coach and as the rehearsal accompanist for the KSU opera program, which was established in 2006 under the direction of Russell Young.
“Gwen Brooker is very modest, but her value is not lost on us,” said Peter Witte, chair of the KSU Department of Music. “Her belief in the work we do with students is its own gift to KSU, that she lends her own musical talents to our students is another. Gwen's presence at KSU is meaningful in so many ways.”
The Brooker gift will continue to help the music program in perpetuity. “We are deeply indebted for this wonderful, wonderful gift,” said KSU President Daniel S. Papp. “Throughout the 21st century and into the 22nd, our students will benefit. Our world will be better as a result of what they learn here thanks to wonderful friends like Mrs. Brooker.”
Brooker indicated that she felt pleased to be able to help the music students of Kennesaw State because it is what her husband would have wanted. “Eric had such a strong work ethic; he would have loved the rehearsal hall because that is where we do our work as musicians and it is where the students come to life. And, he would have been even more pleased about the scholarship to help the music school grow.”
The 3,600 square-foot Eric and Gwendolyn Brooker Rehearsal Hall is used daily by the KSU Department of Music for various classes and for rehearsals by several resident ensembles, including the KSU Chamber Singers and the KSU Opera Theatre Company.
The KSU Department of Music is fully accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music and is recognized as an All-Steinway School. The department offers a bachelor of music degree in music performance or in music education and a bachelor of arts degree in music. With 160 declared majors, it has experienced 70 percent enrollment growth since 2000. Most of its applied music are members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Atlanta Opera Orchestra or Cobb Symphony Orchestra.
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Kennesaw State University is a comprehensive, residential institution with a growing student population exceeding 20,000 from 132 countries. The third largest state university out of 35 institutions in the University System of Georgia, KSU offers more than 55 undergraduate and graduate degree programs.
The KSU College of the Arts is one of only four Georgia institutions to have achieved full national accreditation for all of its arts programs.