Music lover with no ties to University of North Texas gives $1.5 to university

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Carl Eastman, a retired engineer with a love of fine music, used to drive 115 miles from his home in Bennington, Okla., to the University of North Texas to hear piano students in recitals on Thursday afternoons.

From 1992 until his health began to fail in 2002, he made the trip to UNT often - sometimes joined by his wife, Margaret - for performances by students and faculty members. Now, a generous gift from Eastman will help scores of future piano and organ students at UNT.

The UNT College of Music has been designated as the sole beneficiary of a $1.5 million trust bequeathed by Carl Eastman, who died in March 2005, and Margaret Eastman, who died in October 2000, to fund scholarships for piano and organ students.

The Carl and Margaret Eastman Piano Fund may also be used to help pay for travel for UNT students attending international piano competitions, as well as to purchase new practice pianos and fund organ maintenance.

"Carl Eastman's generosity and belief in the keyboard program at UNT will help considerably in making this area of the College of Music financially competitive with our peer institutions in our quest to attract the very top talent," said Dr. James Scott, dean of the UNT College of Music.

Students and keyboard programs at UNT will begin benefiting from the trust during the upcoming 2007-08 academic year.

"The extremely generous bequest by Carl and Margaret Eastman will allow us to recruit some of the best students in the United States and beyond," said Dr. Jesse Eschbach, chair of the keyboard studies division at UNT.

Carl Eastman, an amateur pianist, met Steven Harlos, a UNT professor of music, in 1992 when he attended a piano master class presented by Harlos in Durant, Okla. The two discovered they had a mutual friend - Harold Heiberg, now a retired professor of music at UNT. Harlos and Eastman struck up a friendship and exchanged letters for more than 10 years.

"I have every letter he wrote to me," said Harlos, who would often include cassette tape recordings in his letters to Eastman. "Carl's letters are droll, insightful and sometimes very funny. He enjoyed word play and obscure historical and literary references."

According to his letters, Eastman spent most of his career as a contract engineer for the U.S. Air Force and also did work for Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration. In one letter to Heiberg, Eastman noted that "residents nearby a great music school are indeed fortunate," but he wrote that his drive from Oklahoma to UNT was "no big inconvenience." In another letter, with his trademark wit, he noted that Heiberg's offer of giving him piano lessons was "heartwarming, but that reminds me of wooden wheels on a Cadillac, or shooting gnats with an elephant gun."

Heiberg said he treasures Eastman's letters and his "pungent sense of humor."

"I was delighted to have this intelligent and rather eccentric gentleman as a friend," Heiberg said.

Eastman's great love was the piano, but he included the organ division in the gift because his wife loved the organ, Heiberg said.

Harlos said the scholarship is a permanent reminder of Eastman's friendship with UNT and how much he loved the pianists he heard.

"Those of us who had the privilege of knowing Carl remember him with great affection, and his magnificent gift will keep his memory alive, while blessing the lives of countless young artists whom he so admired," Harlos said.

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108