Gerald E. Cole, 81, professor of music, organist at Western Maryland College

July 04, 1999|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Gerald E. Cole, former music department chairman, organist and professor of music at Western Maryland College for three decades, died Tuesday of cancer at Fairhaven retirement community in Sykesville. He was 81.

The longtime Westminster resident joined the faculty of Western Maryland College in 1955 and was promoted to department chairman and full professor in 1971. He retired in 1984.

A tall man who wore heavy-rimmed Buddy Holly-type black glasses and a meticulously trimmed mustache, Mr. Cole was known for his serious intellect and scholarly mien. His tastes ranged from classical to the Beatles, a group he admired for their imaginative harmonics.

A believer that the study of music within the humanities formed an essential part of a liberal arts education, Mr. Cole elaborated on the subject in an article he wrote for the college's alumni magazine in 1961.

"Through sharp attention aural awareness is possible for any student," he wrote. "All can come to know a musical structure by ear. The style of a composition is an historical fact, bringing into focus all of the sociological, economic and ethnic influences of its time and its relation to other great works."

David Kreider, a pianist and lecturer at the college, said, "He was a very demanding teacher but also had a nice sense of humor. He never overdid compliments and, when he gave praise, he really meant it."

Mr. Kreider praised Mr. Cole's skills on the organ as "fine and intelligent" and said his performances were "never flamboyant or drew attention to himself. The focus was always the music."

Joyce Muller, Western Maryland's director of public information, recalled watching Mr. Cole in concert.

"His whole body was crouched into the keyboard," she said. "When he played, the music came up and through him."

Arleen Heggemeir, a former professor of music at the college, remembered her old colleague as "a demanding teacher [who] wanted excellence, and his students appreciated it. He really taught them how to think."

Mr. Cole was born and reared in Topeka, Kan., where he graduated from high school. He earned his bachelor's degree in music from the University of Kansas in 1939 and his master's degree from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in 1940.

He served as head of the music department at Tarkio College in Missouri, head of the organ and theory department at Phillips University in Oklahoma and professor of music at the University of Western Ontario before coming to Western Maryland College.

He was vice president of the Maryland Music Teachers Association and was a member of the National Association of Schools of Music. An avid stamp collector, he also enjoyed swimming.

Mr. Cole was married for many years to the former Mildred Knapp, who died in 1996.

Plans for a memorial service at Western Maryland College are incomplete.

Mr. Cole is survived by a nephew, Carle C. Hall Jr. of Missouri Village, Iowa; and a niece, Judith McDonald of Denver.

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