Today and for Decades to Come, A Unique Gift to EWU Will Produce Beautiful Music

November 19, 2019 By Leilah Langley
quartet practicing

When an Eastern Washington University alumnus is a maker of fine, long-lived musical instruments, you can imagine that any gift he might make would be an especially melodious one.

Lynn Nelson ’69 is a luthier, a maker of stringed instruments such as guitars or violins. During the president’s annual Thanksgiving Dessert Reception this year, Lynn and his wife Gail presented the university with a gift as unique as it was generous—a string quartet’s worth of instruments: two violins, a viola and a cello, each exclusively for use by Eastern’s music department.

“We are so honored to receive these works of art, which I trust our students and faculty will use to express their art for generations to come,” said the master of ceremonies Shari Clark, the vice president of diversity and inclusion at EWU.

EWU and music run in Nelson’s blood. With a degree in music education from Eastern, Nelson moved to Oregon and worked in K-12 education for many years. But in the 1980s he made a transition to his true passion, repairing and crafting string instruments.

Fueled by that same passion decades later, Nelson used carefully selected maple from the Swiss Alps and spruce from the Bavarian and Austrian Alps for this instrumental quartet. The end result? A truly valuable gift designed to last far beyond the tenure of students studying music at Eastern now. Nelson writes of his gift, “In my three decades as a luthier, it was common to work on one hundred and two-hundred-year-old instruments. I say this because I have the expectation that these instruments should survive at Eastern at least three centuries.”

This isn’t the first time Nelson has given the gift of music to Eastern. In 2017 he gave students the opportunity to play and listen to a rare 18th century violin made by Giuseppe Guarneri, del Gesù in 1736. Nelson owns the violin. At the time, EWU student Grace Fishel was selected as the violinist to play the instrument.

(From L-R) Jonathan Middleton, EWU music department chair; Gail Nelson, donor; Julia Salerno, faculty, violin 1; Alexis Andrus, graduate student, violin 2; Nicole Leach, graduate student, viola; John Marshall, faculty, cello; Lynn Nelson, donor.

For the newly gifted stringed instruments, two students and two faculty members were awarded the inaugural performance with the instruments. Faculty members Julia Salerno and John Marshall joined graduate students Alexis Andrus and Nicole Leach in an arrangement of Waltzing Matilda.

Eastern faculty, staff and retirees enjoying a slice of pie at the Thanksgiving Reception paused for three minutes and 48 seconds to enjoy the beautiful and lively melody. When it ended, they offered a standing ovation for the performers, as well as for Lynn and Gail Nelson.