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George Philip Koonce, 82, of Greensboro, NC, and Bath, ME, died Wednesday April 3, 2019, of natural causes at Blumenthal Nursing and Rehabilitation. He was an educator, musician, and composer of note and lover of children, animals, and the Christian Church.
Services will be at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Greensboro, NC, at 2 pm on Saturday, May 4, 2019.
Koonce was born April 17, 1936, in Little Rock, AR, to George Coleman Koonce Jr. and Helen Marguerite (Harrington) Koonce. He was a top musician at Little Rock Central High School, where he graduated in 1954, and an Eagle Scout.
Koonce attended the University of Arkansas (Fayetteville) for two years, becoming a brother for life in Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity of America. He then transferred to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, graduating in 1958 with a Bachelor of Arts in Music, majoring in Oboe and minoring in Organ.
Koonce’s exceptional musicality from an early age led to a lifetime of teaching, performing, and mentoring at the university and professional levels.
In 1957, Koonce received a “Coveted” scholarship to Tanglewood Music Center, led by Boston Symphony Conductor Charles Munch. In 1958, he joined the faculty of Brevard Music Center, where he met the future mother of his four children, Isabel Autry Koonce Freeman, whom he married in 1962. He later studied Composition at the Eastman School of Music.
Koonce earned his Master’s in Music from Florida State University in 1963, where he researched the “Study of Parthenia,” (the first printed music for virginals). While at FSU, he was choral director for a choir of juvenile delinquents in Chattahoochee, where he became not only a teacher but mentor, including a future minister to whom he introduced Christianity.
After FSU, Koonce joined the faculty of Morehead State College (now University) in Morehead, KY, where he taught woodwinds and theory 1963-64 and composed and led the performance of the “Fanfare for Brass” in honor of fallen President John F. Kennedy, within two weeks of his assassination.
Koonce then joined the faculty at the University of Florida (Gainesville), where he taught oboe and music theory. In 1967, he began working on a Ph.D. in Musicology at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), where he also was Assistant Band Director. In 1969, he transferred his doctoral studies to UNCG (University of North Carolina-Greensboro), where he taught oboe and theory. While at UNCG, he was the guest oboist at the annual performance of The Nutcracker Suite and also taught music at NC A&T University 1969-70.
Koonce performed oboe at numerous symphonies, including at the Brevard Music Center, the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, and the Jacksonville (FL) Symphony, where he also taught music in the Duval Public County Schools.
Koonce’s passion for music and education was apparent and compelling. He was a delightful, dedicated, and patient teacher with all music students, regardless of skill level or talent, which he always accelerated. He trained many oboists for future performance work, including the principal oboist for a major symphony orchestra.
Koonce was a devoted Christian and active member of the Episcopal and Catholic churches. He was a member of the American Guild Organists and active in many church communities throughout his life.
As part of his Christian passion, Koonce loved to visit Trappist monasteries whenever he could. In 1964, he visited the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, a Trappist monastery near Bardstown, KY, with his wife, Isabel Koonce. This experience led to an enduring admiration and lifetime devotion to the teachings of Thomas Merton, an American Trappist monk, writer, theologian, mystic, poet, social activist, and scholar of comparative religion. Koonce’s Trappist studies and composition skills led him to eventually compose the Merton Peace Symphony, a celebration of the life and writings of Thomas Merton, in 1986, commissioned and performed by the North Little Rock Symphony. The Symphony is now housed at the Thomas Merton Center in the W.L. Lyons Brown Library at Bellarmine University in Louisville, KY.
Koonce was preceded in death by his parents (George Coleman Koonce Jr., Helen Marguerite Koonce of Little Rock, AR) and beloved brother, David Michael Koonce of Vienna, VA, with whom he retained a lifetime bond of brotherhood.
Koonce is survived by his former spouse and lifetime friend, Isabel Autry Koonce Freeman of Greensboro, NC; daughter Audrienne Marguerite Keen and spouse Gerald Paul Keen of Greensboro, NC, grandson Thomas Haven Wade Bunting of Greensboro, NC, grandson Benjamin Christopher Bunting of Raleigh, NC, granddaughter Mary-Hannah Audrienne Bailey Bunting and granddaughter Grace-Anne Isabel Myrna Keen also of Greensboro, NC; son George Philip Michael (Mickey) Freeman of Golden, CO, grandson Max Alexander McCall of Denver, CO, granddaughter Katherine Isabella Freeman and grandson Samuel MacClean Freeman, of Golden, CO; son John Everette Christopher Freeman and spouse Julie Deanne Freeman of Spartanburg, SC, grandson Joseph Christopher Freeman of Boiling Springs, SC, granddaughter Lauren Caroline Freeman of Tallahassee, FL; and granddaughter Alison Nicole Osborne of Clemmons, NC; daughter Catherine Freeman Willard and partner Robert Wolfe of Greensboro, NC,granddaughter Emilie Shannon Willard of Greensboro, NC, and granddaughter Carrie Elizabeth Bailey Willard of Greensboro, NC; stepson Steven Francis Freeman and spouse Leigh Ann Freeman of Acworth, GA, granddaughter Ashleigh Ann Freeman of Atlanta GA, grandson Austin Alexander Garmon and great-granddaughter Kayleigh Ann Garmon of Pulaski, VA; stepdaughter Valoree Haven Hanson and spouse Arlen Meredith Hanson of Saxapahaw, NC, and grandchildren John Emanuel Huysentruyt, Christopher Haven Huysentruyt, and Margaret Jan Huysentruyt, also of Saxapahaw, NC; and stepson Sheppard Andrew Vars of Santa Springs, GA.
Koonce also is survived by his sister-in-law, Sarah Morgan (Sally) Koonce, of Vienna, VA, nephew Keith Alan Koonce of Boulder, CO, niece Sarah Elizabeth Koonce of Newton, MA; nephew Kevin Michael Koonce of Draper, UT, and niece Rachel Anne Koonce of Liberty Lake, WA.
Koonce also is survived by his lifetime best friend and fellow Eagle Scout, Larry Johnston, of Denver, CO, who called Koonce with a prayerful message of love and early birthday wishes on the day of his passing that brought peace and was acknowledged with a loving head nod. He also is survived by his devoted friend, Joan Dixon, of Bath, ME.
Koonce touched the lives of many. As an example of Koonce’s reach and impact, the weekend after his passing, a former oboe student led the Springfield Symphony Orchestra and dedicated the performance to Koonce, his first oboe teacher.
No relationship in Koonce’s life was more important than that with his former wife, Isabel Autry Koonce Freeman, his lifetime best friend, partner, and soulmate. The two never lost their affection and appreciation for the musical, spiritual, and familial connections that will far surpass our time on earth.
Koonce helped break ground in 1970 for St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, where he will be buried. Services for family and close friends will be at 2 pm Saturday, May 4, 2019. Donations in Koonce’s honor can be made to St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, 1300 Jefferson Road, Greensboro, NC 27410 (336-294-1282) or in care of firstname.lastname@example.org.
"They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever. Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O Lord; and teachest him in thy law." (Prayer for St. Augustine's Day)
St. Barnabas Epicopal Church
1300 Jefferson Rd., Greensboro NC 27410