MasterSingers Pay Tribute To Tony Garner ’65 and David Ramsey ’61 With Bach’s “Mass in B Minor”

On April 28, Rhodes’ MasterSingers Chorale together with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and a variety of professional soloists will perform a concert in memory of Tony Lee Garner ’65 and David Ramsey ’61, two beloved members of the Rhodes community. 

Garner, who passed away in 1998, came to Rhodes as a faculty member just two years after his graduation, and toward the end of his tenure, chaired both the music and theatre departments. His colleague, David Ramsey, began his career at Rhodes in 1965. Ramsey was an accompanist for the Rhodes Singers and MasterSingers Chorale and also served as organist for Memphis Redbirds baseball games. He remained an integral part of the Rhodes and Memphis community until his passing in 2008. Music Department Chair Dr. William Skoog says he looks forward to honoring both men at the upcoming concert. 

“I’m hoping this event gives the singers, the alumni, the orchestra, and those who knew Tony and David a time to relive the memories they shared with them, and to honor those memories” says Skoog.“For those of us who are musicians or artists of any kind our spirits are intimately connected to our art, and so it’s almost as if these men will be present here.”

Among his many accomplishments, Garner established the Rhodes MasterSingers Chorale, a semi-professional chorale ensemble comprised of music professionals, Rhodes staff, faculty, students and alumni. He also began the tradition of the MasterSingers performing Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Mass in B Minor” once every five years. With this in mind, and since this year also marks the fifth anniversary of Ramsey’s passing, Skoog chose this piece for the upcoming concert.

“The Bach ‘B Minor Mass’ is widely accepted as one of the greatest master works of all time,” says Skoog. “Tony wanted to do it every five years because he strongly believed Rhodes students and community needed to perform it and hear it that often. For someone who is interested in music, it’s similar to knowing the Gettysburg Address as an American history major; it’s just that important, and a staple of the repertoire.”

Interestingly, Skoog and Garner both sang the piece together with Robert Shaw’s Festival Singers, an internationally-renowned, auditioned chorale group based out of New York City, although they sang in different sections and did not know each other at the time.

“When Tony first sang with Robert Shaw’s chorale, he was so influenced by the experience that he decided to create a similar experience in Memphis and founded the MasterSingers Chorale to perform major works,” he says “Now we have alumni who sang with him in MasterSingers coming from as far as Texas and Florida to participate in this performance.”

Dr. Timothy Sharp, Garner’s successor and Ramsey’s colleague, will return to share the podium with Skoog, each gentleman conducting essentially half of the work Garner’s family, including his widow Bette Dale Garner and his daughter Margaret Garner, and members of David Ramsey’s family, including Gayla Sutton, also will attend the performance.

“This really is a celebration of the lives of Tony and David and their contributions to this community,” adds Skoog. There could be no better musical tribute to them than the Bach ‘B Minor Mass’.”

The concert begins at 3:30 p.m. at First Baptist Church located at 200 East Parkway. Tickets at the door are $15 general admission; $10 Rhodes faculty and staff; free to students with I.D. For more information, contact the Rhodes Department of Music at 901-843-3775.

(information compiled by Rhodes Student Associate Lucy Kellison ’13)