Robert Alan Murray

1932 - 2023

Robert A. Murray, a pianist and organist, was born on December 18, 1932, in Eagle River, Wisconsin, to Thomas D. and Ursala Smock Murray.  Following graduation from high school in 1953 he served in the U.S. Army until1955. He began his teaching career in 1958 at Monterey Bay Academy in California. While there he studied piano in the Bay area with Egon Petri and Harrald (sic) Logan.

He completed a BA in music at Emmanuel Missionary College, now Andrews University, in 1958. and subsequently completed a master\'s degree at the University of Michigan in 1962 in piano and music literature, studying under Benning Dexter; and a Ph.D. in musicology at the same institution in 1971. As a musicology student he studied under Hans David, Louise Cuyler, and Robert Warner, writing as his dissertation The German Church Cantatas of Johann Schelle (1648-1701).

An accomplished pianist, Murray accepted a position at Union College in 1962. He would teach there for the next 33 years, the second longest tenure in music on record at the college. In addition to teaching piano, music history, and advanced theory, he also served as chair of the department from 1969 to 1976 and as acting chair in 1984-85.

During his service at UC, Murray led out in the construction of a two-manual Hubbard French Double harpsichord, completing it in 1979, and was a major force in the installation in 1984 of a three-manual Rieger pipe organ in the college church. Prior to that he systematically updated the pianos att the school. In the early 1980\'s, Murray and his son, Robert, a cellist, collaborated with Robert Walters and his son, Robert, an oboist, in a chamber group known as the "Roberts IV" which toured extensively throughout the Midwest for three years. In 1984 he established a bell choir, noted at the time as a "first" in the denomination. Later he organized a small strings group to compensate for the end of the college orchestral program.

During his career and continuing to the present, Murray was interested in participating in community music activities. While at UC, he served as Dean of the local chapter of the American Guild of Organists and served as a member of the Lincoln Symphony board, chairing its artists committee. After retiring to Arizona, he served as a member of the Green Valley Concert Association and wrote program notes for their concerts. Additionally, he enjoyed music-making with a number of talented retired professional musicians in the area.

He was living in Burleson, Arizona, when he died on May 18, 2023, at age 90. He is survivedby his wife of 66 years, Leona; daughter, Kathy Dickerson and her husband, Dennis; son Rob Murray and his wife, Susan Weismuller; and grand children, Jennifer (Dickerson) Classen and Dane Classen; Aaron and Becca Dickerson, Laura (Dickerson) and Pinto and Gabriel Pinto; and great grandchildren Noah, Micah, Eliana and Asher Dickerson, Gabriel and Isaiah Pinto. 


Sources: Interview with Robert Murray, 2004; Skyvue Funeral Home obituary; personal knowledge;.UC Cord Magazine, Winter 2023, 30.

 My Beginnings in Music

Robert A. Murray

I was always interested in music. One of my earliest memories is of my dad singing the country-western song, "Red River Valley." Neither of my parents had much schooling, and neither had any formal musical training. Whenever my parents would visit someone with a piano or pump organ, I would become a pest.

My first instrument, however, was not a piano; it was a tonette - a recorder-like instrument that the public school music teacher introduced in 3rd or 4th grade. He came in one day with a beautiful Bakelite instrument, variegated in color. We children brought back $1.00 which would also pay for the instruction book. When the instruments came, to my disappointment, most of them were black. The music teacher wisely selected the several children he considered to be most promising and gave them the pretty instruments; the rest of us got the black ones.

That didn\'t deter me. By the end of the year I had been brought to the local high school where I made my public debut by playing for the students at assembly "Where, O where, has my little dog gone?" The resourceful teacher even drilled some holes in the back of the tonette so I could get extra notes. I still have that instrument, by the way. It remind us that one should never, never take a kid for granted or write someone off! I don\'t think any of the other students in my school ever pursued a musical career.

Piano came later. As you know, a child who learns the recorder or a recorder-like instrument is in line for a woodwind instrument. My parents were too poor to own a piano of their own, but a thoughtful neighbor, a Mrs. Thompson, knowing of my interest in music, offered to let me practice at her home. I\'ll never forget my mother announcing this neighbor\'s kind offer. My mother told me that she had a surprise. I replied, "You mean I get a clarinet?" She then explained the details. I remember a slight disappointment, but, because I had given up hope of ever learning the piano, I was excited.

There were two sources for piano instruction in our little town (Eagle River, WI): the Catholic sisters (75 cents) or another person (35 cents). I was sent to the latter. She used John Thompson\\\\'s series and started me off with Teaching Little Fingers to Play. A few months later our family was visiting a home where the children played some of the same pieces I had been playing. My mother, who knew next to nothing about music, recognized that my version was different. She confronted my teacher, who replied defensively to the effect that she knew very well that I didn\\\\'t always play the right notes but that the notes I substituted were better than the ones on the page!

That did it. I was taken to the Catholic sisters, who had me take two lessons a week for a year or so until I got straightened out. I stayed with the sisters until I went away to Bethel Academy, later Wisconsin Academy, at age fifteen.

In addition to formal music lessons, I thoroughly enjoyed reading and re-reading magazines that they had in their hallway - Etude and Musical America. On good Sundays we could pick up a CBS station (AM) where I could get the NY Philharmonic. Monday evenings were special because a distant NBC station would broadcast the Firestone Hour and the Telephone Hour. All of these were important to me. I am thankful for my parents who somehow got $40 for a used upright piano, once I had proven my interest in music, and I am thankful for the sisters and their thorough instruction.