By Tori Bachman-Johnson ‘12

tilfordThis fall’s Stephen Tilford Memorial Concert Series marks the fulfillment of the dreams of two generations of Music professors at Georgetown College – Daniel Tilford and the late Stephen Tilford. The five free events will showcase the two recent, magnificent acquisitions – a Steinway Concert Grand Piano and a Johannus Organ – that bear the Tilford name.

The first is Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. in John L. Hill Chapel featuring concert organist Chris Oelkers – soon-to-be known as film actor Brad Pitt’s musician “body double” (more on that below). Thanks for this kick-off concert go to the Rivierstad Company of Louisville and Dan Benjamin ’80, who is a close friend of the Tilfords.

Naomi Oliphant, who is part of the second concert (Sept. 27) 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 performers knew Stephen Tilford personally, and their eagerness to take part in the concert series is a testament to his impact on the lives of so many.

But it’s the new Johannus organ in the spotlight for the first concert (Sept. 20). Concert organist Oelkers will play six pieces, including Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in E Minor.

Meanwhile, tuck away this Hollywood tidbit about Oelkers: he is Brad Pitt’s musician “body double” in the upcoming motion picture “The Tree of Life.” If you haven’t heard of the film, you’re not alone – director Terrence Malick is notoriously secretive about his projects. The film will be released on Christmas Day of this year, and also stars Sean Penn, along with (rumor has it) dinosaurs shot in IMAX.

Oelkers is well-known for his extemporary skills and for his improvisations on familiar hymns. A past finalist in the American Guild of Organists National Competition in Organ Improvisation, he has performed throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. He currently lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and daughter.

Dan Benjamin, who studied organ under Dr. Daniel Tilford, coordinated Oelkers’ performance in the series. Benjamin was pivotal in the selection, purchase, and installation of the Osborne-Tilford Family Organ, as a dealer for the Rivierstad Organ Consultants company. Danny Tilford described Benjamin as “like a member of the family,” and he, wife Shirley and son Stephen all played at Benjamin’s wedding. Benjamin’s wife, Janie, was a student of Danny’s as well.

On Sept. 27 at 3 p.m., the series continues with Naomi Oliphant, piano, and Daniel Weeks, tenor. Professors in the U of L School of Music, they have performed in recitals together since 1999 and released a CD in 2008.

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.”

Weeks attended Florida State University, where he met Stephen and the two became friends.

On Oct. 11, four pianists – Michael Potapov, Ruth Reid Tompkins, Caleb Richie, and Elizabeth Wolfe – will perform the third concert of the series. Wolfe and Reid Tompkins were both classmates of Stephen’s, and Potapov ’05 and Richie were his students.

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.”

“I’m glad that this series will be happening and I hope it can become an annual thing,” he added.

Dr. Mami Hayashida, Assistant Professor of Music (piano) at Georgetown College, and her husband, Daniel Mason, Professor of Violin and Head of the String Department at the University of Kentucky, take the stage Nov. 8. Mason is also concertmaster of the Lexington Philharmonic.

The series finale is Nov. 15 with organist Glenna Armstrong Metcalfe ‘85, the current organist/choir director at Georgetown’s Faith Baptist Church. She also teaches music at Anne Mason Elementary School in Scott County.

All concerts will take place on Sunday afternoons at 3 p.m. in Hill Chapel. The entire series is being underwritten by James and Ruth Sharpe of Middlesboro, KY.

“I think he’d be tickled to know that this is happening,” said Dr. Oliphant of the concert series.

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.”

The Program for Chris Oelkers

September 20, 2009
3 pm in John L. Hill Chapel

  • Prelude and Fugue in E Minor, BWV 548……..Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
  • Nova Cyclopeias Harmonica………Georg Muffat (1653-1704)
    (Aria • Ad malleorum ictus allusion)
  • Improvisation on Lasst Uns Erfreuen
    (Theme and variations)
  • Intermission
  • Grand Choeur Dialogue………….Eugene Gigout (1844-1925)
  • Improvisation on Blessed Assurance
  • The Lord Will Make a Way……….Henry Sexton
    (Transcribed & edited by Raymond Henry)
  • Litanies………………Jehan Alain (1911-1940)