Jeanne Colette Collester: Parents' Dedication to Music Spurs Gift to Fund Scholarly Research

Jeanne Colette Collester’s parents, an influential vocal instructor and a pioneering pianist and conductor, were serious about music. Now a generous bequest from their daughter will allow the Newberry to propel its music collections to the front ranks of American independent research libraries for music scholarship.

When this gift is realized, the Newberry will establish the Esther and Rudolph Ganz Curator of Music Collections, in memory of Collester’s mother and stepfather. Her gift will fully support this staff position, as well as provide funds to enable the curator to attend conferences and to purchase and catalog new items for the Newberry’s music collections.

“My parents dedicated their lives to music in Chicago,” says Collester, who retired after 28 years of teaching art history at Principia College. “Endowing the music curator position is a way of continuing their contribution and honoring what my parents felt was important about music in Chicago. The significance of Chicago to early twentieth century music was every bit as important as that of New York, and I feel this curatorship will help bring that to light.”

Esther LaBerge Ganz taught voice at the American Conservatory of Music and at the Chicago Musical College at Roosevelt University, where she was known for her strength in musical interpretation. Rudolph Ganz, a Swiss pianist, composer, educator, and conductor, had a distinguished and prolific career in music. Among many career achievements, he was conductor of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (1921-27), a soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, and President of the Chicago Musical College of Roosevelt University (1934-54). Rudolph Ganz particularly loved his role as an educator, serving as conductor of the Young People’s Concerts for the New York Philharmonic and introducing American audiences to twentieth century composers like Maurice Ravel. In fact, when Ravel learned that Ganz was the first to perform his music in America, he dedicated his masterpiece Scarbo to Ganz in 1908.

Collester, who wrote the book Rudolph Ganz—A Musical Pioneer, was introduced to the Newberry principally through her mother. Esther Ganz became good friends with Diana Haskell, former Lloyd Lewis Curator of Midwest Manuscripts. Haskell persuaded Mrs. Ganz to donate her husband’s collection and personal papers to the Newberry. The collection is an important documentation of musical life in Chicago at the turn of the century and includes Ganz’s unpublished autobiography.

“My parents believed deeply in music. I have so much gratitude for what they instilled in me, and this gift is a way to say ‘thank you’ to them.”

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