Tilly Was Here: Music and Stories from the Former Home of Prof. Frederic Tillotson

Peter Simmons '78

Peter Simmons '78

 

Peter Simmons ’78, executive director of the Bowdoin International Music Festival, writes of the recent experience of having a visit from Clive Tillotson, son of Professor Frederic “Tilly” Tillotson, chair of the music department from 1936-1963. Clive was visiting at the urging of his wife, whom Simmons had met by chance last fall at Brunswick’s Curtis Memorial Library.

May 22, 2012

The Bowdoin International Music Festival office is located on the second floor of 181 Park Row, the building that served as Professor Tillotson’s home during his tenure at Bowdoin. Clive related that the first floor parlor, now a conference room and an office, was once home to two grand pianos and was often full of students, faculty and visiting musical luminaries. Students often took their lessons in the parlor, and many an evening was given over to cocktail parties and musical soirees.

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Clive authenticated the oft-rumored story of the founding of the Meddibempsters: his father, along with Dean Kendrick, who lived two doors up on Park Row and was a regular cocktail-hour visitor to the Tillotson household, were in a quandary over what to name the new a cappella singing group.

The solution, which must have seemed as logical as any at the time, was to toss a dart at a nearby Maine map in hope of inspiration. As the dart came to rest on the tiny hamlet of Meddibemps in downeast Maine, one can only wonder, had the dart landed much farther east, might the Meddibempsters have ended up named after a Canadian town — say, the Chamcooks?

The house itself is reputed to have been one of the Brunswick stops along the underground railroad. Clive relates that his family believed an attic room that was only accessible by a well-hidden staircase was the hiding place for the freedom-seekers who came through. Those attic rooms were rented out to college students when Clive was a boy in the ‘30s and ‘40s.

The family kept goats and geese in addition to the usual assortment of pets on the large lot behind the house. Clive says his mother was an easy mark for tramps and hobos who traveled along the railroad that runs just north of the house. They were always fed and allowed to bed down in the big, beautiful barn behind the house.

Unfortunately, her largess was repaid by the tramps in the form of a fire that cost the family most of their stored possessions, including family papers, photographs and records. That put an end to the hospitality afforded to the hobos.

Professor Tillotson himself was a renowned concert pianist, and he used his connections in the world of music to attract important classical musicians to the College.

We take great comfort in thinking that the use of the house has come full circle, and that the important musicians who have visited in our time – composers like George Crumb and performers such as Yefim Bronfman, Midori and others – are treading the same turf as the past greats who Clive recalls visiting his boyhood home, like Aaron Copland and Sergey Prokofiev.

Comments

  1. Charlie Graham '59 says:

    I was a co-renter in the attic of the Tillotsons’ house during the Bowdoin term of 1957-58, and my roommates and I were occasionally invited down for hot cocoa soirees and musicales by the Tillotsons. Mrs. T. used to wear a cape around the house during the chilly winter days, prompting us callow college boys to refer to her as “Super Frau”. I fell out of favor with “Tilly” himself over an assessment of my singing voice. He had complimented my voice at one of the above-mentioned musicales and invited me to join the Glee Club. At the audition he kept insisting that I was a tenor at a time when I considered myself a bass-baritone. After one throat-wrenching rehearsal as a tenor, I bowed out, claiming a pressing need to give more time to my studies. After this “betrayal”, I was invited to no more musicales.

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