Endowment Supports Guest Artists and Honors Parents

Harris gift promotes performance opportunities in College of Music.

Lauren Harris, at home with his Baldwin Piano, an instrument evoking fond memories in music has inspired his support for an endowment in honor of his mother and father. Photo by Harley Seeley.
The teen years, Lauren Harris, far right sits with his father and mother, Julius and Belle Harris in the summer of 1957.
Julius and Belle Harris from a 1966 passport photo taken for a trip to Israel.

Lauren Harris believes in the beauty of music and the power it has to change people’s lives.

He discovered that beauty growing up in a family that loved the arts, one that has nurtured his lifelong love of music.

“Some see music and the arts as luxuries that can be dispensed of,” says Harris, a professor of psychology at Michigan State University. “I see them as integral to education, something that adds meaning and beauty to one’s life.”

That regard for the value and transformative power of music and the arts has led Harris to establish six endowments at MSU—including one in his parents’ name to the MSU College of Music.

In 2012 Harris established the Belle S. Harris and Julius N. Harris Endowed Visiting Artists Fund to bring nationally and internationally renowned artists to MSU to perform with faculty and students, conduct master classes, and meet with students and members of the campus and Mid-Michigan communities. Harris says his goal is to support programming that can help encourage increasing numbers of students and community members to experience enriching performances by accomplished artists.

“The College of Music, through its outstanding faculty and music programming, has become well-known internationally,” says Harris. “Everyone at MSU and in the community are the very lucky beneficiaries. If this endowment helps bring more people, especially students, out to hear great music they otherwise might not have heard, that would be a great satisfaction.”

Leading the art-filled life

Harris remembers the reams of music scores his mother, a fine pianist, kept near her Baldwin grand in their apartment on Chicago’s North Side. He remembers, too, how their apartment was filled with music, both from playing the piano and from the many 12-inch 78 RPM recordings of symphonies played on their phonograph.

“It might take seven records to accommodate a 50-minute symphony,” says Harris, recalling how 78s had to be turned over or changed every few minutes in the era before long-playing records. “But we were able to listen to a lot of classical music along with great Broadway tunes like ‘South Pacific’ in those days before rock ‘n’ roll.”

When his mother died, Harris inherited the piano that he still plays, often evoking memories of coming of age surrounded by Chicago arts and culture in the late ’40s and ’50s. His mother and father Julius—a high-school teacher and athletic coach—had a yearly subscription to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, making it possible for him and his older sister Eleanor to attend Thursday evening concerts. Eleanor, Harris says, remains a regular CSO subscriber to this day.

Harris and his sister’s sensibilities were further fine-tuned through private piano lessons, the presence of the Art Institute of Chicago and the city’s other cultural assets, a public-school system that leveraged those resources, and a religious education at the Anshe Emet Synagogue that had an outstanding arts program and a glorious cantor and chorus. Sunday visits to their grandparents’ Hyde Park apartment included gatherings, with all their uncles and aunts, around a 10-inch TV to watch the NBC Orchestra conducted by Arturo Toscanini.

“It was unusual for two little kids to be surrounded by adults, watching and listening to these concerts, but we loved it,” he says. “It was easy growing up in such an environment to have one’s ears and eyes tuned to great music and art.”

At the University of Illinois and then at Minnesota for graduate school, Harris continued to attend recitals and concerts nearby or on their campuses. He also made regular visits home for more. After joining the MSU Department of Psychology in 1965, he immediately began attending concerts and performances through the then School of Music.

“I remember enjoying the performances in the old Auditorium and the Fairchild Theater but being discouraged that relatively few students were in the audience,” Harris says. “It’s gotten better, thanks to great programming and outreach by the College of Music, but there’s still a ways to go.”

Over the years, Harris resolved to do what he could to help. He began looking for ways to support the availability of cultural experiences, and settled on six endowments that he hopes will deepen interest in the arts by people of all ages.

Two—including the endowments through the College of Music and the College of Arts and Letters—honor his parents and bring visiting artists to campus. Two others support educational programming for MSU’s Jewish Studies Program and MSU Hillel Jewish Student Center. Another brings works of art to the MSU Library. The sixth endowment, in the Department of Psychology, is to help bring artists and scientists together through a combination of lectures, performances, demonstrations, and discussions. All are future gifts through his estate plans that he has begun funding through yearly cash donations, taking advantage of the IRA charitable rollover provision.

In addition to his IRA charitable rollover gifts, Harris has contributed annual concert sponsorship support. This year, that support helped bring the highly acclaimed St. Lawrence String Quartet to perform as part of the 16th Annual Cello Plus Series.

“Lauren’s generous support of the College of Music is a game changer for many of our students as well as for the broader community,” says James Forger, dean of the College of Music. “The Harris endowment has enabled us to engage some of nation’s leading performer-teachers whose presence has made a significant difference to many constituencies.”

Harris has also sponsored a seat in the recently renovated Cook Recital Hall in the College of Music in honor of his parents. He’s sure they would be very pleased to know of the gifts made in their names, as well as his continued interest in the arts and education.

“The modest endowment I provided for the College of Music is just a small token of all the tremendous things that the College has done for me,” Harris says. “Music and the arts have been so important in my life. I want others to have an opportunity for the same experience.”

Harris’ endowments—including the Belle S. Harris and Julius N. Harris Endowed Visiting Artists Fund in the College of Music—are future gifts made through his estate plans. The endowments are currently being funded through yearly cash donations that leverage the IRA charitable rollover provision. For information on how you can support the College of Music, or to learn how to establish a named endowment, please contact Rebecca Surian, senior director of development for the College of Music, at surian@msu.edu or by calling 517-353-9872.

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