Wednesday, June 24, 2015

James Kilik, 1950-2015

June 20, 2015
Art Alliance of Philadelphia

Thank you for being here with us this evening to celebrate the memory of Jim Kilik.

Early life

These thoughts are from Jim’s dad Gene:
In 1950 when Jim was born at the very tiny, now very large Overlook Hospital in Summit, the family was living in a newly built split level (built as one of the huge number to house the newly created families formed during and after WW2) in Florham Park, NJ.

His family, under the mistaken notion that children living in the cities and suburbs were deprived of the experience of country and farm living, decided when Jim was about five (his brother Michael was 4 years older) to move to a seventeen-acre Old MacDonald farm in Readington, NJ, where sheep, chicken (broilers and laying hens), ducks, a big vegetable garden, three dogs and about twenty odd cats shared the residence. (Literally: spring lambs usually were born during February snow storms and were kept in the kitchen with the mother for a couple of days. Nothing is dumber than sheep except the Shepherd who has moved from the city or suburb.) While Michael bought the whole idea of farm life, Jim ignored the whole adventure. He didn't move in a society centered around a barn. He was all business even then.

(And I’ll add in my own voice a story that I’ve heard Gene tell now and again that I really love, a little story about “Jimmy” as a kid – Jim was always a good baseball player, as borne out in more recent years by his enthusiasm for serious recreational softball. And the neighborhood kids – probably Young Gabe most of all – would ask Jim to come out to play ball. And Young Jimmy would say – “I can’t come out to play right now. I’m a busy kid!”)

Jim understood from the beginning that the family wasn't really cut out to be farmers, and eventually the rest of the family caught on, so next stop, the old house in Murray Hill, NJ, where Jim quickly got disillusioned with public schools and in about the third grade transferred to the Far Brook School -- a school that had the knack of bringing out the interests and talents, whatever they were, of the kids that accepted the freedoms allowed by the school, a move that changed his life.

The primary mover in the change of Jim's attitude was the music teacher, Eddie Finckel. Yes, and the old plastic clarinet that Jim's Uncle Allen had gathering dust since he put his musical talents with other discarded detritus in storage. There was no one like Eddie Finckel who could dig out the talents of every kid who came under his low-key but large expectations. So, naturally, when Eddie and his wife Helen started their Vermont summer camp, Jim was among the first to sign up. He was camper and then counselor and for at least one summer led a group of wonderful kids who performed under a charming but forgettable name. (Note: maybe someone here remembers what that group was called?) At camp there were a bunch of guys and girls like Hal Slapin who never lost touch with each other.

(And a nice other note on the Far Brook years comes from Jim’s classmate Lucy Marks, who remembers Jim performing a memorable Caliban in the Tempest production for their eighth-grade graduation: “every time I see that play I am reminded of how Jim growled, “I must eat my dinner. This island’s mine by Sycorax my mother. . .” Lucy also adds that her great love of the Mozart clarinet concerto is thanks to Jim, who would always oblige her by playing her favorite passage.)

After Far Brook came a short time at prestigious private high school in Morristown, a school that didn't suit Jim at all. He transferred to the public regional high school, Governor Livingston, where he played in the band and firmed up his wish to someday become a real musician. He also became friendly with boys in the neighborhood, mainly Gabe Allocco. He and Gabe, one summer, helped Gabe’s father, a first-class carpenter, tear off the multiples of rooves on the old house and install a new wood shingle roof that was closer to the original on the eighteenth century house.

In Jim’s life there were, as in most lives, ups and downs. In Jim’s there were plenty of ups but one terrible down: the death of his brother, Michael. Michael was on his way to do a good deed when he was in an accident that caused a coma that lasted a year before he died. Michael was 39.
Professional career

Jim graduated from the New School of Music in Philadelphia, where he studied clarinet and saxophone with Ronald Reuben of the Philadelphia Orchestra (he also worked with Loren Kitt and Kalmen Opperman). During a long and successful career as a freelance musician in the greater Philadelphia area, Jim played many different kinds of music; he was a member for 22 years of the Delaware Symphony, but also performed regularly with the Pennsylvania Ballet Orchestra, Peter Nero and the Philly Pops, Network for New Music, Relache and the Playhouse at the Hotel Dupont in Wilmington.

I have heard many funny tales of these years, some of them not perhaps suitable for this sort of occasion (much alcohol was clearly consumed – and it is still slightly a regret that we were not able to host this gathering at the Pen and Pencil Club, which would have been a suitable venue but which isn’t set up to accommodate so many people at once!). Just a glimpse of their flavor will come from Jim’s friend John Hall’s reminiscence of when he first moved to Philadelphia in 1971 – he met Jim when Jim’s roommate lent him a place in their apartment in the 900 block of Pine Street while John looked for housing of his own. This is how John describes it:
The Pine Street apartment was the place where friends gathered on Friday nights (the only night when we took time from studying and practicing to socialize) before going out to a Pine Street pizzeria for hoagies, cheese steaks, beer, and pizza. A noteworthy and now-famous feature of this apartment was its attic, which Jim thoughtfully lent (rent-free) to our friend Todd Hemenway and wittily dubbed “The Winter Palace” since it had no heat, no running water, and broken windows so that the snow fell inside as well as out. Todd lived there for two years.
The other terrible “down” in Jim’s life

Gene wrote of one terrible “down” in Jim’s life. There was another that it’s important to remember this evening. Many of you know that Jim had to give up playing professionally in the spring of 2001. He had been struck by hand-focal dystonia – dystonia is one of the horrible afflictions that can strike professional musicians and others (in the mouth and embouchure, often, for brass players, but in Jim’s case in his hand). He followed with great interest Leon Fleisher’s activism and research around the problem of dystonia, participated in interviews for a documentary about dystonia awareness and was a very active supporter of the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation. Among other treatments he tried, Jim traveled to New York for a splinting trial – the theory was that by immobilizing the dystonic hand for two months it might “learn” or find new neural pathways on coming out of the splint. The leader of that trial, Dr. Steven Frucht, wrote these words to my mother after hearing of Jim’s death:
I have very vivid memories of Jim’s participation in the splinting trial. He was so engaged and willing to participate to help other musicians. I remember how astute his observations were about his condition, and how he understood the challenges facing similarly affected musicians.

It was a great privilege to meet and care for him.
Two important things to remember about Jim

When I think of the legacy Jim left behind, I think of his selflessness and generosity in two very important different domains: teaching, family and friends.

First, then, some thoughts on Jim’s teaching.

Jim was a longtime faculty member at Settlement Music School, as well as being on the faculty at Widener University in Chester.

These words come from Jim’s student Bill, a retired psychology professor at Temple who came regularly for coaching on the pieces he was playing with a local amateur orchestra and for summer music camps. Bill wrote this letter to Jim in February:
I wanted you to know how much your teaching and coaching has meant to me over the years. You are the first clarinet teacher who said to me (at various points in time) that you had been thinking about what the previous lesson had been about and now you had some additional suggestions. They were always on the mark. That alone set you apart from the ordinary “what do we work on this week” approach. You either knew the music I needed to learn (I was continually amazed at the range of your repertoire) or you got the score and a recording and proceeded to help me figure out how to play the piece . . . or at least how to be a bit better at faking it. That’s another unique feature about your teaching style: being willing to learn something new. Of course, the result on the student, me, was to make me work all the harder without feeling discouraged. Any number of times with a concert coming up I would bring the passage at hand and you would give me the encouragement that I was playing it just fine. A typical Kilik quote: “I don’t want to say anything because I will ruin it. It’s just fine.” Boy, those words helped me more than you can imagine. You know the repertoire and the techniques for both E-flat and bass clarinet. My being able to play (or attempt to play!) those instruments gave me entree into a literature that I never could have imagined performing on the standard clarinet. Your knowledge of the instruments from mouthpiece to bell helped me to get a far better sound and to gain almost enough information to ask Mark J. intelligent questions. Well, maybe not quite yet.
And this comment is from Rosemary Banks, the mother of one of Jim’s absolute prize students, Nzinga, who is now in her third year studying jazz at William Paterson University, after hearing from some other students and colleagues of Jim’s at a gathering at Settlement Music School last weekend:
I had always thought Mr. Kilik treated my daughter Nzinga very special by how vigilantly he taught her, and the support he gave outside the classroom. But yesterday I learned he did that with all his students, his friends, his colleagues. That makes me respect and appreciate his integrity and heart even more.

Nzinga and I always said that when she played in New York when she became a famous musician, she would send airfare and front seat tickets to Mr. Kilik. That was our dream. We are still in shock and terribly hurt that he is gone, but for us he will always be there in that front seat—very reserved and thoughtful, but obviously supportive with a kind of suppressed pride.

We will never ever forget him and we miss him so much!
These were Nzinga’s own words:
He was not only a great teacher but a great caring person as well. I had only hoped for him to see me reach the apotheosis of my playing so he could witness all his hard work put into action. He was the best teacher I have ever had and I wouldn't be where I am without him. He was always committed, never late, always went overtime on lessons and always believed in me. I can go on and on about his greatness.
And really capturing the essence of Jim’s gift as a teacher are a few thoughts from Danielle, another of Jim’s prize students from over the years (my mother remembers going with Jim to hear her play Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps).
I really hope he knew what an important part of my life he was—a teacher and a mentor during such a significant part of my growing-up. I so clearly remember my first lessons with him in the basement of Jenkintown SMS. He taught me so much, including perhaps the most important lesson that I come back to so often in my teaching career: to take my own ego out of teaching. He was an amazing teacher and an amazing musician, but at some point he stopped playing at my lessons because he didn’t want me to pick up his own idiosyncrasies. When I went to college and had the option to continue studying with him, he told me it was time to get a different perspective. In my lifetime I don’t think I have ever seen a teacher who was able to make these kinds of decisions and I am so grateful to him. Not to mention the hours and hours of basically free lessons he gave me during summers whenever I needed help.
By emphasizing teaching, I don’t want to downplay Jim’s deep musicianship. I know many other friends and colleagues here who played with Jim over the years would say something similar, but in lieu of a complete roundup I will just share this comment from Mike Shaedel, pianist and Settlement teacher who played with Jim regularly, mostly through the Settlement Contemporary Players:
I enjoyed working with him so much. He was such a fine musician and a fine human being. He had a warm friendliness and seemed to operate completely outside the competitive spirit that often marks the music world. I appreciated that so much, it made working with him such pleasure!
Finally, there Jim’s legacy of generosity and warmth to friends and family. He was the partner my wonderful mother deserved her whole life and was lucky enough to find in the middle of both their lives.

I have many fond memories of Jim around the house – eating a banana for breakfast every day, on the rationale that the potassium in it was essential for heart health (when explaining this, he used to make a little gesture as of a creature keeling over dead like a canary in a coal mine); calling out “WHEEEEEE!” as he drove over a pothole, of which Philadelphia streets have very many (I should add, on the theme of generosity, that the reason I was so often in a car with Jim was that he was always eager to help my mom out by ferrying her visiting children around town as needed!); doing a 50-mile charity bicycle ride with me and my brother Michael and his lovely wife Jessi, who had a special connection with Jim (Jessi said recently that it was only in conversation with Jim that she learned that the “P&P” had an actual name, and that those letters stood for Pen and Pencil – they had both had stages of Philadelphia life, not at the same time, in which they regularly frequented that legendary joint). Jim had a huge amount of enthusiasm for softball, for bike-riding, for a whole host of errands and tasks that made my mother’s life easier.

Jim and my mother were devoted partners for twenty years, and in the wake of Jim’s cancer diagnosis in late December they got married officially in January. I wish we had had more time to celebrate that union. The final thing I want to tell you about, and I think it’s my favorite memory when I think of Jim, is just the way he used to say my mother’s name. “Caroline” – it was immensely fond, affectionate, yet it also had a tone of seriousness acknowledged her authority, and he definitely thought she had the final word on everything that mattered! My mother is all things that are excellent, but she is not eminently teasable, and I think Jim is really the only person who had license to tease her: as, for instance, about the habit that she and I share, of pouring a largish tumbler of whisky late at night before bed – Jim had a particular gesture that I really can’t reproduce, but that I categorize with the canary-in-a-coal-mine bananas-are-full-of-potassium motion, in which his eyes went very wide and his hands moved apart to signal the very massive nature of the tumblerful that tended to get poured!

And on that highly appropriate note, please get another drink and something to eat, and let us return to this excellent music and an evening of stories and reminiscences.

1 comment:

  1. What a lovely tribute! He was a special person.