Saturday, September 1, 2007

1977-2001: Teaching in Minneapolis and final years

Kathy Reed, Minneapolis Music Teachers' Forum Scholarship Winner, 1977

1977 Kathy Reed, MMTF Honors Concert - Margaret Berg Scholarship, Chopin - Barcarolle

From Kathy Reed: I only studied with Philip Lillestol for my senior year in high school, after I had studied for 11 years with Justine O'Conner. The transition was hard, and memorable. I didn't know any of his other students, but he did in fact leave quite an impression on me.

I am sorry to say that I knew absolutely nothing about his background, and am especially surprised--and delighted now--to know that he studied harpsichord. I loved Baroque music from early on, and did play some Bach that year with Lillestol (WTC I, C-sharp major prelude and fugue, I think), but I mainly remember working with him on the Chopin Barcarolle.

I have to say that my memories are not entirely positive. I'd probably appreciate him much more now. Then, I was just having trouble adjusting from Mrs. O'Conner, who I knew so well, and who by that time, didn't push me very hard.

Mr. Lillestol didn't cut me any slack, starting with my fingernails which he thought (correctly, I'm sure) were too long, causing him at least on one occasion to seize my hands and go after them with his clippers. That left an impression, I'll tell you! I still tell students about it now when I tell them they need to clip theirs.

My general impression of him was that there was something mysterious, murky, and a little scary about him. He looked kind of puffy, had deep circles under his eyes, and spoke in a gruff, low voice. He was in that apartment by highway 35W near Dinkytown, and he sat in a huge black leather armchair by the piano. In my memory it was kind of dark, and there were boxes, and music, and other undifferentiated stuff everywhere. Sometimes during my lesson he would disappear into the kitchen for a while, and come back eating soup or something, and then he would chew on mints the rest of the time.

The specific thing that I remember about studying with him is him recording me on a reel-to-reel tape recorder that he always had set up and ready to go. In the case of the Barcarolle, he also had an LP on his player of Rubenstein playing the piece. He'd take the passage we were working on and record me, then go back and forth, dropping the needle on the Rubenstein rendition and then mine, and ask, "Why would you buy his recording and not yours?" Again, I appreciate now his use of recording to make me listen to myself, but then, it drove me crazy.

All of this notwithstanding, I realized even then that he was making me work hard and causing me to progress much further in that year than I had done before. He clearly knew the music inside out, and had, I remember, specific technical suggestions to help with stuff like the notorious double trill. I didn't look forward to my lessons, but I prepared well for them. I wish now that I had found the maturity to ask him about himself, and get over being creeped out by him and his current surroundings.

We parted on somewhat strained terms, because he was disappointed that I went off to college as a flutist rather than a pianist. I had been playing in the Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies and was completely enthralled with orchestral literature, and told him that this excited me more than practicing piano did at the time. He argued that I had more talent as a keyboard player than a flutist (he was right), and that I'd find more satisfaction ultimately in practicing keyboard literature (he was right about that too). I actually didn't study piano at all my first two years at Lawrence, but then missed it a lot and studied my junior and senior years alongside my flute major. I went to graduate school at Michigan in musicology, and it was there that I discovered harpsichord and got so sidetracked by this that I never finished my Ph.D. dissertation, and now here I am teaching harpsichord, piano, music history, music theory, and directing a Collegium. No flute, except that I accompany flutists a lot.

So I wish he were still around so that I could redeem myself to him for some of my high school immaturity, and have some of the fascinating conversations that I never had with him.

1978 Last evidence of a winning student, Elsie Wang, Schubert Club - 2nd. Place, Jr. HS Piano

1979 Last evidence of a performing student, Elsie Wang, St. Paul Music Teachers’ Recital, Brahms Rhapsodie, Op. 119, #4

From Elsie (Wang) Weiler: I think Mr. Lillestol was a brilliant teacher. As I recall, I studied with him from about 1975 to summer 1979. He was not too happy when I left for another teacher (just before 10th grade), but he had become quite obsessive about teaching me and I had felt increasingly smothered and unhappy about having anything to do with piano. I did not speak with him until 1982, when I called him after winning the Young People's Symphony Concert Association (YPSCA) competition, to thank him for his great teaching. That was the last time I spoke with him.

From Lois Price: Philip started reducing his teaching load in 1980 and by 1985 had stopped teaching all together and rarely touched the piano after that. He spent 1990-1991 back on the farm living with our mother. After our mother became too ill to remain on the farm in April, 1991, Philip returned to Minneapolis to his apartment that he loved. He was in ill health those last years, but still enjoyed listening to his records, reading, and television. I visited him frequently and his nephews visited when they could. He was able to come to Tucson to spend time with us several times.

Bob Laudon was truly a “friend in deed” and did many things for him. Philip always told me about the good dinners he had with him, the rides to see the fall leaves, the special movies they went to, etc. We truly appreciate everything he did.

Philip’s 1913 Steinway is at my son Tim’s home here in Arizona. It is being well taken care of and enjoyed by the family.

1992 Paul Freed retires from U of MN

1993 Philip and Paul Freed became Life Members of MMTA and Bob Laudon an Emeritus Member.

2001 December 20 Philip died.

Minneapolis visitation at Washburn McReavy on 3rd down by the river.

Memorial Service Program, Wahpeton, North Dakota, December 27, 2001. Duane, Jake and Jerome Lillestol are the cousins from 1st photo of this album. Arlene Lillestol (organist) is Duane's wife.

2001 December 27 Memorial Service, Wahpeton, ND

Philip's Gravestone, Homestead Lutheran Church, near Barney, North Dakota

Homestead Lutheran Church, built 1908, near Barney, North Dakota

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