Grau Estate gift and Estes concert helped BVU arts thrive

Opera song

Iowa legend Simon Estes joins the Buena Vista University Concert Choir and Buena Vista County High School Choirs in a 3 p.m. concert on Sunday, November 21 at the Schaller Memorial Chapel on the BVU campus .

Estes, from Centerville, will sing and interact with students as part of his “99 Counties Roots and Wings Tour,” an endeavor in which Estes, one of the world’s greatest bass-baritone voices, shares the blessings of her talent while showcasing the gifts and work ethic of students in vocal music programs across the state.

“I am so excited to visit Buena Vista University in Storm Lake for this concert,” says Estes. “It will represent the 57th county in Iowa that I have visited since the start of our ‘Roots & Wings Tour’.”

Estes, a philanthropist who endowed scholarships and raised millions of dollars to educate young people while protecting African residents from malaria, donated a portion of his court fees to high school students in Iowa, representing 229 scholarships totaling over $ 223,000. for students from schools participating in its “Roots and Wings Tour”.

“Several years ago I was teaching at Boston University and singing in opera houses around the world,” says Estes, who has performed with 115 orchestras around the world. “That’s when my wife, Ovida, said, ‘Simon, maybe you should slow down a bit and go back to Iowa, where you can travel and sing.

Estes said he struggled financially as a college student at the University of Iowa more than six decades ago. Using the talent he says God bestowed on him, he devised an Iowa tour plan that combined music, education and philanthropy. Estes gives a masterclass and talks to BVU and high school students from across Buena Vista County in the week following the November 21 concert.

“I talk about my values, my principles, my faith and the importance of education,” says Estes, 83.

The benefactor’s gift called game changer for the arts

The concert, free and open to the public, signals the latest development in a whirlwind of activity for BVU’s growing music programs, an effort recently supported by a donation of $ 1.575 million from the Doris Grau Estate. A 160-acre plot of land in Buena Vista County, previously owned by Grau, was auctioned off in August. The proceeds from the sale were used as an endowment to support BVU’s musical initiatives, a legacy that followed Grau’s creation of a BVU scholarship in the name of his late parents, Oscar and Tena Grau.

Grau, who died in 2019, frequented BVU in the 1940s before moving west to work and reside in California, where she found success with Wells Fargo as an investment and trust manager, manager of real estate throughout the country. An opera lover, Grau was also an accomplished pianist who enjoyed participating in cultural and symphonic events in San Francisco for years.

BVU remained in her thoughts throughout her life, and she exemplified the impact of the University through her family’s scholarship and her vision for a future in the arts.

“I wanted to do something that would have a positive impact for generations to come and repay the community that meant so much to me, my parents and my siblings,” said Grau. “I think a gift to BVU will have a bigger impact on students than other organizations I’m affiliated with.”

Grau’s donation helps establish an endowment for the arts at BVU, which will give music programming students more opportunities to travel. Additionally, concerts such as Estes apparition, camps and clinics, both on campus and in communities across the region, will become commonplace for BVU instructors and students.

“Thanks to Doris Grau’s vision and generosity, BVU faculty and students will be even better equipped to share their musical gifts and talents with our community, a wonderful development for our students and those who love music and music. arts across the region, ”said BVU Vice President for Advancement Joan Canty.

“We are grateful for the work former BVU President Fred Moore and former Vice President for Advancement Ken Converse have done to help Doris Grau achieve her vision of making an impact on music at the university in such a meaningful and lasting way, ”said President Brian Lenzmeier. “Generations of BVU students will benefit from his generosity.”

“I plan to see vocal music teachers at high schools in Buena Vista County before our concert with Simon Estes,” said Christopher Phalen, director of choral activities at BVU. “I will bring several pieces of music to each school and then work with teachers and students as I help teach those pieces for the concert on November 21. It is a great opportunity for us to communicate with teachers and students. It is also a unique opportunity for our local high school students and BVU vocal music students to observe and sing along with Simon Estes.

Ticket information will be released on a date closer to the concert that marks the start of Thanksgiving week.

Estes says he intentionally takes time each week to thank his success, which can be attributed, in part, to a teacher, Charles Kellis, of the University of Iowa about 62 years ago.

“The choir director at the University of Iowa told me my voice wasn’t good enough for the choir,” Estes recalls. “He then told me that a young teacher was coming and that he could take me to class. This young teacher, Charles Kellis, quickly recognized and told me that I had a voice for opera.

Estes’ reaction is one of the legends: “I said, ‘What is opera?’ “

In just a few short years, young Iowan with no opera exposure was singing at the Juilliard School on a full scholarship. Over time, he would go down in history on hundreds of occasions as the first black man to perform with major orchestras around the world. And just as often as he broke barriers and delighted audiences with his rising voice, he pledged to share gifts with those who might one day follow.

“We are put on this earth for two reasons: to love God and to love one another,” he says. “Blessed is a word I often use. I have been truly blessed.

“Simon’s story aligns perfectly with BVU’s mission, ‘Education for Service’,” Phalen continues. “He came from humble beginnings, he worked diligently to perfect his craft in order to become an internationally renowned opera star. Even with the countless accolades he has received, he continues to share with others.


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