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John Courter, organist, carillonneur and retired professor of music, dies

John Courter, organist and carillonneur at Berea College and retired professor of music, died Monday, June 21, at his home in Berea. He was 68.

John Courter, retired professor of music

Mr. Courter joined the Berea College faculty in 1971 as a teacher and organist. After retiring from teaching in 2007, he continued to serve as College Organist and was also the College Carillonneur. In addition, he was the Organist at Union Church and had been a long-time contributor to the music of St. Clare Catholic Church, both in Berea.

A native of Lansing, Mich., Mr. Courter earned a bachelor’s degree in choral music education from Michigan State University in 1962 and a master of music degree in organ in 1966 from the University of Michigan. He had also studied at the North German Organ Academy and held diplomas from the Netherlands Carillon School.

Mr. Courter contributed to the musical life of the campus and larger community in numerous ways during his 39 years at Berea . In the music department he taught organ, piano, chime, and carillon performance, church music, and music theory and was a former director of the Harmonia Society. As College Organist he performed frequently for official functions, at worship services in Danforth Chapel, as an accompanist for the Concert Choir and other campus ensembles, and as a recitalist. A well-known organist in the region, he was Dean of the Lexington Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.

Mr. Courter was involved in the renovation of the Holtkamp pipe organ in Gray Auditorium at Berea and the recent restoration of the 10-bell chime in Phelps Stokes Chapel. He was the driving force behind Berea’s 56-bell carillon, the largest in the state of Kentucky, and had been the College Carillonneur since 2000 when the instrument was installed.

In 1995, Courter received Berea College’s esteemed Seabury Award for Excellence in Teaching, and in 2006 received the Elizabeth Perry Miles Award for Community Service for his numerous contributions to the campus and community as a musician and for volunteer service with Madison County’s public radio station.

In 1993, Mr. Courter was awarded the prestigious Berkeley Medal for Distinguished Service to the Carillon as a performer and composer. He was a Fellow of the American Guild of Organists, the highest certificate of achievement, and a member of the Guild of Carillonneurs in North America. Recently, the Board of Directors and membership of that organization bestowed on him the unprecedented title of permanent Honorary Member of the Guild.

Mr. Courter had been one of the leading contemporary composers for the carillon. He won several international prizes with his original compositions for the instrument and his works have been published in Germany, the Netherlands and the United States as well as performed on carillons throughout the world. He has written works commissioned by the Palace of Government in Barcelona, the cities of Utrecht, Kampen and Almelo (The Netherlands), the Arts Council of Ireland, the University of Michigan and Grand Valley State University. “In Memoriam – Sept. 11, 2001,” a 3 ˝ minute piece written in 2002 to honor victims of that event, has been played around the world. One of his compositions is also included in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians and Grove online.

In 2005, Mr. Courter established the Summer Carillon Concert Series at Berea College which continues to bring international performers of the instrument to Berea’s campus. In his will, Mr. Courter had made arrangements for the ongoing maintenance of Berea’s carillon, which will be dedicated as the John Courter Carillon during the College’s Homecoming this fall.

A memorial service for John Courter will take place Thursday, June 24 at 3 p.m. at Union Church in Berea. There will be a special memorial concert and celebration of Mr. Courter’s life at Berea later this year.

In 2009, Courter was featured in a video highlighting the restoration of the Chimes.


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