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Morrison remembered for dedication, spirituality

April  01, 2013

Professor Emeritus and former conductor of the Augustana Choir and Handel Oratorio Society, Donald E. Morrison died at his home in Rock Island on Friday at age 81.

Morrison was the second conductor of the Augustana Choir and held that position from 1966-1993. During his tenure as its director, the choir toured throughout the United States and Europe. The choir performed for King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden at the Royal Palace in Stockholm under Morrison’s direction in 1985.

Morrison was awarded the first Henry Veld Chair Music, named for the Augustana Choir’s first conductor, in 1987. He also founded the Chamber Singers, which continues its tradition of excellence in choral music most notably at the college’s annual Lessons and Carols services.

The Augustana Alumni Association Board of Directors named Morrison an Honorary Alumnus of Augustana College in May 2012. On that occasion Morrison conducted the Augustana Choir for the last time at the Festival Concert.

Former choir members Brian Warner ’80 and Madelyn Kerback ’80 Anderson nominated Morrison for the Alumni Association’s honor on behalf of choir alumni.

“He was like a gardener who tended to us with dedication, loving care, discipline, a certain amount of toughness, humor, spirituality and the knowledge that we all had the ability to grow and bloom,” said Anderson, who is a communication instructor at Northern Illinois University. “There was never a question in his mind that we could succeed. He simply knew that we could succeed, and therefore placed high expectations on each and every one of us to do the best that we could.

“And in that process, he empowered us to be our best.”

Don Morrison at a choir reunion
in 2011

Warner sang under Morrison’s direction for four years and served as choir tour manager in 1988.

"I would be hard-pressed to find a member of The Augustana Choir who sang under Don Morrison who was not changed by the experience,” Warner said. “He was the consummate musician and teacher, always pushing the ensemble toward a

goal of perfection, but he was also a husband, proud father and adoring grandfather, prankster, athlete, artist, mentor, limericist and friend.

“His legacy of conducting finesse, interpretation and phrasing, program design and musicianship will be carried on by his students and everyone he touched."

Morrison was born June 29, 1931 in Stuart, Iowa. He graduated from Drake University in Des Moines and received his master's degree from Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He also studied at the University of Southern California, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Oakbrook University.

Dr. Jon Hurty became the director of choral activities and director of the Augustana Choir in 1996 and knew first-hand how Morrison resonated with current and past choir members.

“Don had a way of connecting both with alumni that sang with him and current members of the group. When he conducted and worked with the Augustana Choir last spring, it was as if he had never left the ensemble,” said Hurty. “When he worked with the group, Don brought out both his love for the music and for the singers. He will be greatly missed.”

Private funeral and interment services are being held, and a public celebration of Morrison's life and legacy is being planned for a later date. The Handel Oratorio Society will dedicate its upcoming performance of Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem to the memory of Morrison.

Wheelan-Pressly Funeral Home is assisting the family with arrangements and hosting an online guestbook.