Bath high school alumnus donates $50K to launch music fund

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BATH — Allen Commeau’s life has taken him far from Morse High School, where he graduated in 1962. But the school and its community are never far from his mind.

Now living in Santa Rosa, California, Commeau is donating $50,000 to launch a Music Enrichment Fund at the school. The endowment will pay for scholarships for Morse music students, allowing them to attend summer music schools and be exposed to the Portland Symphony Orchestra, the Bowdoin International Music Festival, and other organizations.

The donation is “something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” Commeau said by phone Tuesday. “This just seemed to be the appropriate time to do it.”

The catalyst for the gift, he said, was reduced funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, programs both established in the 1960s.

“That really had a profound effect on communities across America; cities and towns like Bath,” said Commeau, who played trombone at Morse, was band president his junior and senior years, and continued to play at the University of Maine.

He also received a scholarship from the Bath Lion’s Club to attend the University of New Hampshire Summer Youth Music School three consecutive summers while in middle and high school.

Larger urban areas with sustainable benefactor bases will not be affected as much by the federal funding cuts, “but it’s small communities like Bath that are going to be hurt,” Commeau said. “… It’s going to impact libraries, it’s going to impact regional orchestras, it’s going to impact small local theater groups, dance companies, all that sort of thing.”

“I got angry about that, and that prompted me to do this now, rather than later,” he added.

Commeau said he hopes the fund will inspire other music alumni from Morse and the Bath community to consider making contributions.

“My intent is to open a door to those students that express an interest in music performance, both instrumental and voice, and to give them the opportunity to meet others from around our country that share this interest,” Commeau said in a news release. “This level of exposure can have a profound impact on a student that they may not have available to them.

“Hopefully, some of the students will carry these experiences into adulthood and support music and arts in America,” he added. “If I can encourage any Morse graduate to carry his or her support for the arts into their adult life, then that will make my gift a success.”

The Morse High School Music Association will administer the fund, and a board will review student applications and oversee distributions. The more than 250 students who take part in band and chorus at Bath Middle School and Morse High will be eligible to apply for scholarships.

“We are so pleased that Mr. Commeau is making this generous donation to our music program,” Anthony Marro, band director at both schools, said in a statement. “A resource like this will provide students exposure to the musical community in ways we could not fund through our school budget.”

Commeau’s years after high school took him into the U.S. Army during the war in Vietnam; the treasurer’s office at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as assistant director of investments for endowed funds, and what is now KPMG, an auditing company. He retired after time spent in real estate development in San Francisco.

Now thousands of miles away from the City of Ships, Commeau remains close to his Morse classmates through the school alumni association.

“We’re spread all over the country, but at least once a year we get together back in Maine,” he said. “I do treasure those friends, classmates, and time spent there.”

Music, which Commeau calls “the great equalizer,” continues to be a part of his life.

“You have the ups and downs in life, and the vagaries of life,” he said. “But music has always been the constant for me and my family.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Allen Commeau, who graduated from Morse High School in 1962, is donating $50,000 to launch a Music Enrichment Fund at the Bath school. He is shown here at a Bamberg Symphony Orchestra Concert in Germany.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.