BATH — Concerned that the federal government under President Trump will not support the arts financially, a 1962 graduate of Morse High School, now retired and living in California, has donated $50,000 to create a Music Enrichment Fund to provide scholarships so students can attend summer youth music schools and to expose them to the Portland Symphony Orchestra and other musical groups in Maine.

Allen Commeau, a trombone player at Morse who also served as band president and continued playing at the University of Maine, said he had been thinking about supporting the high school music department for many years.

“But the catalyst was reading that our current president had decided to defund the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities,” Commeau said in a phone interview Tuesday. “These are two programs that were established by Kennedy administration back in the 1960s, and they have been very successful. They are programs that if defunded will have a profound effect on small cities and town around the country, like Bath.”

In his budget proposal, Trump has proposed eliminating the NEA and NEH. Congress has yet to act on his proposal. Commeau didn’t want to wait to see what Congress decided. “That’s what lit the fire for me, but it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” he said.

Commeau worked as an accountant and helped the Massachusetts Institute of Technology manage its investments and endowments before moving to California and becoming involved in real estate.

Anthony Marro, the band director at Morse, said the gift was a surprise for everyone involved in the music program. “I was sitting in the band room in the middle of January, and a secretary came down and told me someone called and donated $50,000. I said, ‘Are you sure?’ ”

Commeau said he hoped other Morse music alumni and people in Bath also will contribute to the fund.

Playing music changed his life, he said, giving him confidence and teaching him the importance of listening and working cooperatively with other people. While in the band at Morse, he received a scholarship from the Bath Lion’s Club to attend the University of New Hampshire Summer Youth Music School for three summers. He played music in college at the University of Maine, and has made music a priority in life.

“This sort of thing can have a profound effect on young students,” he said. “It’s all about opening doors for students.”

The Music Enrichment Fund will be administered by the Morse High School Music Association, a booster club for the school’s music programs. A board will be established to review student applications and oversee the distribution of funds.

More than 250 students participate in band and chorus at Morse and Bath Middle School. All will be eligible to apply for music scholarships, Marro said.

The fund also will be used to expose student-musicians to professional orchestras and ensembles.

“The big thing for what it means to the music department, these are things the regular school budget can’t afford to do. We can’t send kids to summer camps, and we can’t bring them to the Portland Symphony or the Bangor Symphony (orchestras). It’s just not in the budget,” Marro said. “I don’t know how many of our students have actually been able to see something like that, but I bet it’s just a fraction of them who have seen an orchestra perform live.”

Commeau said he was grateful for opportunities he had coming of age in Bath, and wants to make sure others have similar opportunities.

“It’s a great town to grow up in. It was a very positive environment for me both at Morse and as a resident of Bath,” he said.

Beth Schultz is a parent of three music students in Bath and treasurer of the Morse High School Music Association. Raising money, she said, is difficult. She hopes Commeau’s gift seeds more donations from the community.

“Every year I hope that maybe we can raise enough money to take all of the kids and expose them to this or that, but it’s just something we haven’t been able to do,” she said. “It’s almost like Mr. Commeau was listening to our conversations. Out of the blue, it makes all of these things possible.”

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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Twitter: pphbkeyes

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