A Fall 2009 Stephen Tilford Memorial Concert Series marked the fulfillment of the dreams of two generations of Music professors at Georgetown College – Daniel Tilford and the late Stephen Tilford. The five events showcased two recent, magnificent acquisitions – a Steinway Concert Grand Piano and a Johannus Organ – that bear the Tilford name.
Naomi Oliphant, who was part of the concert series and a former teacher of Stephen’s at the University of Louisville, perhaps described it best when she said, “The name Tilford has been synonymous with Georgetown ever since I’ve lived in the state, so for at least the past 25 years.”
In fact, the Tilford connection began many years before that. Stephen’s father, Dr. Daniel “Danny” Tilford, graduated from Georgetown in ’59 and met his wife, Shirley, while attending the school. He spent 40 years teaching on the Music faculty of the College, and two of his children (Bradley, ‘84 and Jane Ellen, ‘94) are alumni.
Though Stephen didn’t attend his father’s alma mater (“I was the piano teacher – he was too good to be taught by me,” Daniel Tilford explained with a smile), he succeeded his father as piano professor in 1999. Sadly, in February 2005, Stephen was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer. After undergoing chemotherapy, he was pronounced cancer free in November of the same year, but by April 2006, the cancer had reoccurred. On September 10, 2006, Stephen’s battle with cancer ended.
Stephen’s biggest dream, according to his father, was to have a Steinway sitting on the Chapel stage. In 2004, Stephen was in contact with a Louisville company that could supply such a wondrous instrument. His father thought the dream was far-fetched. But after Stephen’s passing, while going through his son’s files, Danny found documents from Stephen’s contact with the company. “I thought, ‘Let’s go with this’,” said Danny, who then along with the College established the Stephen Tilford Memorial Concert Grand Piano Fund to fulfill that dream.
“It was just amazing how the money came in,” he said. By September 2007, approximately half the necessary funds had been donated, and on March 13, 2009, the Memorial Concert Grand was delivered to the Chapel. The effort was truly collaborative; over 400 people expressed their love and respect for Stephen by making donations that paid for the piano.
“It gives you an idea of the feeling people had for [Stephen] that they were able to purchase such a beautiful instrument,” Dr. Oliphant said.
More about Dr. Stephen Tilford
Stephen attended the University of Louisville and Northwestern University, and earned his Doctorate of Music degree from Florida State University in 1999. One of his greatest accomplishments was winning third prize in the International Piano Competition “Palmo D’Or” in Finale Ligure, Italy in 2000. He taught at Georgetown College from 1999 to 2006.
Likewise, Danny Tilford saw his own dream accomplished when, on October 28, 2007, a Johannus organ – made to his specifications in Holland – was installed in the Chapel. Named the Osborne-Tilford Family Organ (because the money for the organ was bequeathed by Mrs. Mildred Osborne and an anonymous alumnus), the instrument is comprised of two parts – a CavaillÈ Coll and a Van Rhijn Baroque organ.
The Steinway Grand Piano (a Model D) is, according to many musicians, one of the finest of the finest instrument, a gold standard and the choice of concert artists and educational institutions alike. The remarkable part of the story, however, is not the grand instrument, but the man behind it, and the people it has brought together. With only one exception, all the concert series performers knew Stephen Tilford personally, and their eagerness to take part in the concert series was a testament to his impact on the lives of so many.
Oliphant fondly recalled Stephen Tilford, the former U of L piano student. “[He was] one of the students who from the very beginning became a favorite of the faculty,” she said. “He was a hard-worker, a role model, and he had a sense of humor…He was a student you felt particularly close to.”
Potapov, who currently serves on the board of the Lexington Ballet, described studying under Stephen. “I enjoyed Stephen a lot. I was trying to finish out my piano education and he was pushing me to work more,” Potapov said. “I think he wanted me to achieve greater things than I wanted for myself…He was wonderful to think through the music with, and I certainly learned a lot from him.”
However, in the midst of the excitement surrounding the upcoming concert series and the installment of the new piano, one sentiment was echoed over and over again by Stephen’s friends and family – “I just wish he could be here to play it.”