Music-loving economist gives CU-Boulder largest gift in years

Photo: CU Boulder campus (iStock)
The campus of the University of Colorado Boulder.

An alumnus of the University of Colorado Boulder's love of economics and early music has prompted the school’s largest endowment since 2007.

CU Boulder announced Monday an estate gift of more than $6 million bequeathed by the late Eugene D. Eaton, Jr.

Eaton, who went on to become a sales consultant in Alaska, often attended concerts on campus while pursuing three degrees in economics from the university during the 1960s. He earned a doctorate in 1971.

The funds from the gift will be divided between the Department of Economics and the College of Music.

The former plans to use $2.36 million to help attract scholars and practitioners and $1.36 million to fund a new travel sabbatical program for undergraduates.

Meanwhile, the College of Music will receive $2.36 million to fund the hiring of a specialist Baroque music professor.

“It’s only one position,” College of Music dean Robert Shay says of Eaton's Baroque music-oriented bequest. “But we hope to do something really meaningful with it and expand our students’ opportunities as a result.”

Currently only one CU Boulder faculty member -- harpsichord player Elizabeth Farr -- specializes in Baroque era music, a period of western classical musical history which spanned the 17th to mid-18th centuries. Notable composers of the era include Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel.

Shay says the college will form a committee to examine how best to fill the new position. He adds that this effort will also inform how the university's performing arts presenter, CU Presents, will incorporate more Baroque-style performances into its future programming.

CU Presents currently hosts occasional Baroque performances: The Venice Baroque Orchestra played live at Macky Auditorium last February and baroque lutenist Nigel North will perform at the 2015 Guitar Festival on Feb. 20, 2015.

“The big question is: Do we want to look at someone who can help modern performers become more versatile through learning about Baroque performance practice rather than something isolated to a few students who maybe have an interest in that area?” Shay says. “I think we’re at a point in the field where musicians can only benefit from greater versatility.”

Eaton continued to have close ties to his alma mater until his death in 2013. The College of Music live-streamed a harpsichord recital featuring Farr that Eaton watching remotely from his home in Alaska.

“This is something that touched him going back to his student days and then became a lifelong interest,” Shay says. “It’s a great testament to the power of music. And now we have an opportunity to give other folks a chance to have something really special added to their lives.”

This marks the college’s fifth gift of more than $1 million in the past 18 months. Other recent gifts include a substantial endowment for the Eklund Family Opera Program. This initiative presents three full operatic productions a year and, through its CU New Opera Workshop program, partners students with contemporary composers.

“I think this shows that music is much more than something that lifts our spirits,” Shay says. “It’s really a vital form of human communication that speaks to who we are.”

CPR News attempted to reach the donor's estate for comment, but a representative was not immediately available.