I lost two of my mentors this past week, one from high school and one from college. Both inspired me as instructors, and both had an impact on my career as a Presbyterian church musician
Anne Sheppard was my senior AP English instructor at Laurens District 55 High School. In her class we covered everything from Dante’s Inferno and Virgil’s Aeneid to Dickens’ Great Expectations. Anne regaled us with stories of her travels and became a friend to her students.
Fast forward quite a few years…I had finished Furman and was in my first teaching job at Gray Court-Owings School. Our paths would cross at various teacher meetings and we would greet each other warmly. A job came open as Chancel Choir Director for First Presbyterian in Laurens and I applied for it. Anne was on the Session and on the music committee. Anne also sang alto in the choir. It was here that I got to know her best. She was a dedicated choir member and I could always count on her to serve as a section leader. As a young director it was a bit intimidating to have Anne and several other of my former teachers in the choir, but she helped put me at ease.
I lost touch with Anne after leaving First Presbyterian. The last time I saw her was in 2015 at the Furman Scottish Games. She was with her daughter, Martha. Anne didn’t recognize me at that time, and didn’t remember me when I told her who I was. She did remember my brother, Stephen, whom she had also taught. It was a difficult encounter, but I was still glad to have had the opportunity to talk with her.
Anne began teaching at Laurens High School in 1963 and continued teaching until her retirement in 1988. In 1996 she moved to the Martha Franks Retirement Community but continued to be active in the church and the community. Anne was 85 years old when she passed away on October 22. She is survived by her four children, Frank, Tom, Margaret, and Martha. Here is a link to her obituary.
Dr. Ramon Kyser
I also just learned of the passing of Dr. Ramon Kyser, professor emeritus of music from Furman University and long-time music director at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Greenville. Dr. Kyser had been in declining health and had entered hospice on October 9. He passed away on October 23 and was 88. Dr. Kyser is survived by his daughter Debbie Kyser of Greenville.
My first encounter with Dr. Kyser was as a student at Furman. He began teaching at Furman in 1971, primarily as a voice instructor but also teaching other courses in the major. I didn’t take voice lessons with Dr. Kyser, but I did have him for several other courses, beginning with music history in 1980. Several of my close friends, Keith Dover, for one, had him as a voice instructor.
I really didn’t get to know Dr. Kyser until after Furman. In 1985 I began singing with the Quodlibet Singers under the direction of Dr. Albert Blackwell. Dr. Kyser sang in the bass section with me, and it was always a delight to hear his rich voice, whether as a solo or as part of the ensemble.
In the 1990s I was privileged once again to sing with Dr. Kyser as part of the Heritage Chamber Singers under the direction of Dr. Bill Thomas. The bass section for that group consisted of Dr. Mark Kilstofte, composer and professor of music at Furman, Dr. Bruce Schoonmaker, my voice professor from Furman, and Dr. Kyser. How I managed to get a seat at that auspicious table I’ll never know, but each rehearsal was like a voice lesson for me.
Dr. Kyser retired from Furman in 1997. I saw him frequently when I would attend Furman functions with Laura, and at church music-related events. He was always genial, with his rich voice putting everyone at ease around him.
Dr. Kyser served as music director for Fourth Presbyterian Church for thirty-two years, from 1973 until 2005. Upon his retirement from Fourth he contacted me about filling in as music director until a permanent replacement could be found. I was thrilled, honored, and a bit intimidated with the huge shoes I had to fill. It was during that time that I got to know Ramon’s daughter, Debbie. She was a dedicated member of the choir and directed the handbells. After my brief time at Fourth, another of Dr. Kyser’s former students and close friend Hank Hinnant took over at Fourth.
In 2010 another close friend and former student of Dr. Kyser, Keith Dover, headed up an effort to dedicate a bench outside of the Daniel Music Building in Dr. Kyser’s honor. On August 29, 2010 former students, Furman colleagues, Fourth Presbyterian members, and friends gathered to honor Ramon. I was traveling at the time and unable to attend, but a video of the dedication was posted to YouTube.
So, goodbye Ramon and Anne. It has been a pleasure making music with you. You have inspired many to follow in your footsteps and left a legacy of song and love of literature. You both will be missed.