Hilary Tann recalled as beloved teacher, prolific composer

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Hilary Tann

Hilary Tann

Hilary Tann is being remembered as an engaging and devoted teacher, mentor and colleague who chaired the Music Department for 15 years.

She was also internationally known as a prolific composer whose work evoked a range of natural settings that she loved to visit, from the quiet reverie of the Adirondack forest to the lush valleys of her native Wales. Her work was also heavily influenced by music from Japan.

She died Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023, at the age of 75.

She joined the College in 1980 and retired in 2019 as the John Howard Payne Professor of Music Emerita.

“Hilary retired from the Music Department in 2019, but her presence is still felt in our halls every day,” said Jennifer Matsue, professor of music and department chair. “She tirelessly advocated for the construction of Taylor Music Center, spearheading the establishment of the College's first facility dedicated to musical studies.”

Taylor is a 14,000 square-foot all-Steinway facility that includes the renovated 1814 North Colonnade and a 120-seat recital hall, Emerson Auditorium. The project was completed in 2006.

Matsue continued, “She was passionate about her own musical life as a composer and cultivating the artistic possibilities in all her colleagues and students, inspiring alumni to establish the Wilson-Tann student lesson scholarship in her honor. She was a big presence and personality who impacted us all and will be terribly missed.”

She taught courses in music theory and composition, and was the founder of the Union College Orchestra.

She was the invited guest composer-in-residence for the 2011 Women in Music Festival at the Eastman School of Music, where her commissioned work, "Exultet Terra," had its world premiere. She also served as composer-in-residence at the 2013 Women Composers Festival of Hartford.

Tann recently announced the release of three new CDs. On March 5, RiverArts in Hastings on Hudson is to present her work, “Nothing Forgotten.”

Her compositions were regularly performed internationally by a number of ensembles. Tann regularly arranged with a local ensemble, Musicians of Ma'alwyck, to record and perform works by her composition students.

Her honors included selection of her piano composition, "Light from the Cliffs," as a repertoire choice in the 2012 William Kappell International Piano Competition and Festival. She received grants from ASCAP Standard Awards, Meet the Composer, NEA, NYSCA, Welsh Arts Council, VW Trust, Holst Foundation, American Composers Forum and the Hanson Institute for American Music Awards.

An accomplished composer of haiku, Tann organized the College’s hosting of the 2015 Haiku North America, the largest and oldest gathering of haiku poets. More than 100 haiku aficionados from all over the world, including India, Japan and Australia, gathered on campus for a few days of poetry, autumn beauty and artistic camaraderie. The event got a shout-out from Peter King, then Sports Illustrated’s pro football columnist. King typically ended each weekly column with a haiku.

ReUnion 2019 featured a farewell concert for Tann. The Casals Trio performed her works and selected compositions of Bach, Elgar and Debussy. Tann hosted the concert and narrated “Seven Poems of Stillness” for cello.

In 2020, Kurt Glacy ’90 established the Hugh Allen Wilson & Hilary Tann Annual Music Fund, which provides four to five students per year with scholarships to cover their instrumental or voice lessons.

Glacy, who has worked as a professional musician, business owner and business consultant, said he owes much of his career and life trajectory with music to Tann. “I took four courses with Hilary, basically everything she taught,” Glacy said in an earlier interview. “I often recall her Welsh chuckle, her German Shepherd, Georgia, who slept beneath the grand piano in her office and how she called me ‘Court’ (not Kurt)."

Born in Llwynypia, Glamorgan (Wales), she earned her bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Wales, and her M.F.A. and Ph.D. from Princeton University.

In a 1986 profile of Tann in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Lawrence Biemiller wrote, “In an age when many take music for granted – half-ignoring Mozart in the car, Prokofiev in the kitchen – Hilary Tann sets her students an example that, in breadth and enthusiasm, makes a strong case for treating music with respect.”

Tann lived with her husband, David Bullard, in the historic Marshall House in Schuylerville. The couple often hosted tours and programs in their home, which dates to the Revolutionary War, when it served as a refuge for wounded British troops.

The College’s Department of Music will host a celebration of Tann's life on Saturday, April 29, 2023 from 2 to 4 p.m. in the late professor’s beloved Taylor Music Center, Emerson Auditorium.

A reception will follow at 4 p.m. in the Burns Gallery of the Feigenbaum Center for Visual Arts.