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New scholarship echoes lifetimes of sharing music

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The East Lansing home where Henry and Phyllis Nelson lived for decades is full of musical reminders.
There’s the tuba in the living room – at the ready for rehearsal – and the flute, piccolo, and baritone saxophone in a back room. And there’s a stack of songbooks that Phyllis Nelson left. 
A lifetime of interesting experiences were “all through music,” Henry said, and he’s found a way to give back and honor his late wife of 63 years.
The Henry M. and Phyllis J. Nelson Endowed Scholarship in Music Education will be given to undergraduate students in the Music Education area of Michigan State’s College of Music. 
The Nelsons both graduated from the music education program at then-Michigan State College in the 1940s and went on to distinguished teaching careers – she in vocal music, he in band. They were named Michigan Teachers of the Year in their fields in 1978. Two of their three children received band scholarships to MSU and two grandsons also played in the marching band.
The university and its music education program remain near and dear to Henry’s heart. He’s especially mindful of helping students pursue their love of teaching music.  
"This endowment makes it possible for us to acknowledge and provide support for the strongest music education students as they are nearing the completion of their degrees, when the financial stresses of paying for a university degree are most acute,” said Cynthia Taggart, chair of the music education program.
The 160 undergraduates endure a rigorous admission process – including auditions – and must meet very high expectations in a jam-packed five-year program.
Asked about the value of music in schools, Nelson tells the story of bumping into a former student, not uncommon for someone with such a long and storied career. He asked his past student, now a CPA, what she got out of playing with the school band.
“Without thinking, she replied, ‘Discipline,’” said the proud teacher. “An appreciation of music will be with them the rest of their lives. That’s probably the most important thing.”
For more information on making a gift to the College of Music, contact Assistant Director of Development Linda Conradi at (517) 353-9872;