Obituary of Hilary Tann
Hilary Tann,75, a Welsh-born composer known for the lyricism and spirituality of her music and for her devotion to students over four decades of teaching at Union College in Schenectady, died suddenly Wednesday, February 8, 2023, at her home in Schuylerville.
She was born February 2, 1947, in Rhondda, Wales, to the late Ray and Jennie (Todd) Tann.
Hilary was a prolific composer whose work is represented on more than 60 CDs, including three solo discs of vocal, chamber and orchestral music, Tann wrote music that was performed worldwide, from Bangkok and Beijing to Cardiff in her native Wales and across the United States as well as locally. She was commissioned by festivals, ensembles and artists as varied as the North American Welsh Choir, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, North Carolina Symphony, Empire State Youth Orchestra and pianist Max Lifchitz, a University at Albany professor and fellow composer.
Hilary’s music is influenced by a strong identification with the natural world. She is a published haiku poet and a deep interest in the traditional music of Japan has led to private study of the shakuhachi and guest visits to Japan, Korea, and China. A review published in the Times Union on her string quartet, And the Snow Did Lie, states “Tann’s music is shimmering and weightless, effective, and moving ... it reinforces the grounded spiritual ecstasy that is Tann’s distinctive musical outlook.
She was for many years a member of a Saratoga County haiku group, whose monthly meetings lasted five or six hours, with members reading aloud a dozen or more new haiku that were then discussed. She coordinated Union's 2015 hosting of the Haiku North America, the largest and oldest gathering of haiku poets. More than 100 people attended from around the world.
"Haiku keeps me in the moment," Tann told the Times Union in 2005. "With composing, one is always projecting ahead. (Haiku) pulls me back to the ‘A-ha!’ of the day."
Tann's most frequent source of inspiration was nature and its scenery. "I can't write if I don't have the image. That's the seed," she told the Times Union in 2005. Her large catalog of works includes orchestra pieces with titles such as "Adirondack Light," "The Open Field" and "Through the Echoing Timber."
A 2005 piece titled "From the Feather to the Mountain," commissioned and premiered by ESYO, was inspired by pen-and-ink drawings by the late local artist Arnold Bittleman; that same year, Lifchitz premiered her piano work "Light from the Cliffs." Reviewing a 2010 concert in Manhattan by the Lifchitz-led North/South Chamber Orchestra that featured Tann's “The Walls of Morlais Castle,” Steve Smith of The New York Times called it "a handsome piece for string orchestra, with dusky melodies and bracing, rustic rhythms."
She was born in a coal-mining village in South Wales after the end of World War II, Tann received her undergraduate degree in musical composition from the University of Wales at Cardiff and went on to earn master's and doctoral degrees at Princeton University. She started at Union College in 1980, bringing a compositional bent to a department she would later chair for 15 years. She retired in 2019, retaining the title of an endowed chair, the John Howard Payne Professor of Music Emerita.
She met the love of her life David Bullard some 20 years ago at a church in Halfmoon. They both were parishioners at church, and one Sunday she wore a unique Happi coat with Japanese inscriptions on it. As she was walking out of church, he read the inscriptions and thus 20 years of marriage ensued. Together they shared a love of Japanese history, and both enjoyed musical works, they truly completed each other.
Hilary’s faith in Christ was strong, she was a devoted member of the St. David’s Anglican Church in Poultney, Vermont. Hilary was well-known and highly successful, she had a loving aura, a beautiful smile, and the talents she brought to this world, will be missed by many.
She is survived by her loving husband David Bullard of Schuylerville; brother, Martin Tann, and sister Helen Tann both United Kingdom; nieces and nephews, Emily Elizabeth, and Connor James Tann; stepchildren, Spring Bullard of Idaho, and Alpheus (Christie) Bullard of Alaska.
A private memorial service will be held at the family home, “The Marshall House” in Schuylerville.
Online condolences and messages to the family may be made at www.flynnbrosinc.com.