MacMurray College is currently faced with the tough decision of selling several elements of local history. MacMurray’s Annie Merner Chapel is home to two famous instruments that the college may be forced to auction off.
The chapel is home to a 1952 Opus 1150 Aeolian-Skinner G. Donald Harrison signature organ that is world-renowned in the realm of organ performance. G. Donald Harrison was a pioneering organ tonal director for the Aeolian-Skinner company from 1933 until his death in 1956. The model currently housed in Annie Merner Chapel was one of the last organs he helped construct. Harrison had a connection with MacMurray organist Catherine Crozier, who played the dedication recital of the organ at the chapel on October 10, 1952. Crozier and world famous organist and former MacMurray College music professor Dr. Robert Glasgow were instrumental in bringing the organ to Jacksonville. Glasgow would go on to play on many Aeolian-Skinner organs around the country as a part of his national organ tours and lectures. Glasgow taught at the college from 1951 to 1962 before joining the University of Michigan School of Music faculty. Glasgow was awarded the Doctor of Musical Arts by MacMurray in 1973.
The other piece of musical history in Jacksonville is also housed in Annie Merner Chapel. The Steinway & Sons piano that sets on the stage has been used since the late 1950s. Steinway pianos have been on the campus since 1875. The piano is signed by world-famous pianist Van Cliburn who selected the piano for the college in the late 1950s at the height of his popularity. Van Cliburn played the instrument and signed it in New York before it was shipped to the college around 1959. It is the same age as the Steinway currently housed at Rammelkamp Chapel on the Illinois College campus.
MacMurray College drop-out and well-known folk artist Judy Collins likely played the piano as a classical music performance major in 1955 at the age of 16. Collins would drop her piano for a guitar and step into a legendary folk music career six years later.
Annie Merner Chapel has played host to many legendary performances and speeches itself including Fred Rogers and legendary blues guitarist B.B. King in the 1970s. Built in 1949, the chapel can seat up to 1200 people. It’s been a popular wedding venue for many over the years as well as dozens of theatrical and musical performances. The college is hoping to sell the college’s 60 acre campus intact. MacMurray Music Director Christine Smith says she hopes that the Skinner organ remains housed at the chapel because of the extensive and costly amount of work that would have to be done to remove it. The fate of the organ and piano likely will lay with the buyer of the campus, which is set to be auctioned by Tulsa, Oklahoma-based auction company Williams & Williams within the next 3-4 months.