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In memoriam: musicologist Philip F. Nelson

Philip F. Nelson was the Dean of Yale School of Music from 1970 to 1980
June 11, 2016
Philip Nelson

Philip Nelson | Photo by Eugene Cook, 1974

Musicologist and a former Dean of the Yale School of Music Philip F. Nelson died yesterday, June 10, 2016 at the age of 88. A native of Waseca, Minnesota, Nelson graduated with a B.A. degree in music composition from Grinnell College in Iowa in 1950, and an A.M. (1956) and Ph.D. (1958) in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He also received the Diplôme of the Université de Paris in 1957, and studied conducting with M. Louis Forestier at the Conservatorie National de Paris at the time as a Fulbright Scholar.

Nelson was Chair of the music department at SUNY Binghamton from 1963, until his appointment as the Dean of Yale School of Music in 1970. Under Philip Nelson’s visionary leadership, the Yale School of Music began its transformation as a major professional music school. Among his distinguished faculty appointments were, Krzysztof Penderecki, Otto-Werner Mueller, Phyllis Curtin, and Claude Frank. The Tokyo String Quartet was named the artists-in-residence in 1976, and the quartet remained an integral part of the life and development of the School until its retirement from the international concert stage in 2013.

Nelson is also credited for pioneering the overarching concept of “Music at Yale,” which advances the intersection of the School of Music, Department of Music, and Yale College. He supported the activities and growth of the Yale Glee Club, Yale Symphony, Yale Band, and other undergraduate music ensembles. Furthermore, it was during his tenure that the Yale Institute of Sacred Music was established with a major gift from the Irwin Sweeney Miller Foundation.

Philip Nelson | Photo by Eugene Cook, 1974

Philip Nelson | Photo by Eugene Cook, 1974

In addition to enhancing the faculty of the School and administrative infrastructure of the University, Philip Nelson expanded the School’s resources and reach by establishing programs like the Duke Ellington Fellowship and the Sanford Visiting Artist Fellowship. He also established strategic alliances with most prominent music schools in the nation through the organization of Seven Springs Group.

Phil remained passionately devoted to the Yale School of Music throughout his life. His infectious warmth and enthusiasm for the work of our students only intensified with the passing years,” said Robert Blocker, Dean of the Yale School of Music. Among his accomplishments is a roster of “his” students who became cultural leaders and artists across the globe. His work as a mentor to students was inspiring, and he opened new musical horizons for those who were not inclined to pursue appointments in the traditional pathways of professorships, orchestra musicians, and administrators. The Philip Nelson Prize for Musical Entrepreneurship [at the School] exemplifies his broad view of the profession, and it is awarded annually to a graduating student who has demonstrated his values.” 



Dean Nelson was very interested in advising students on how to succeed in the field of Music. He had a commitment to the safety and security of the women students at the school which I will never forget. May his soul rest in eternal peace.

September 7th, 2016 | Nina Deutsch

“Remembrances of Phil” were invited at the Celebration of his life and work, held at Sudler Hall on April 21st. This is mine:

My name is Sara Bloom and I am the widow of Robert Bloom, who taught the oboe and chamber music here at the Yale School of Music from 1957 until his retirement in 1976, so his final years overlapped with Phil Nelson’s tenure as Dean. Those of you who knew Bob [1908-1994] know that no one spoke for Robert Bloom! But I think that he would want me to make an exception today to pay tribute to Phil and also to Georgia for their contributions to the School and to say how much it meant to him to be working under Phil’s brilliant leadership. Each day Bob would come home exhausted from teaching and narrate practically every minute of every lesson and coaching–a heady time for a young bride to be learning in detail how he built oboe technique, musicianship, and careers. But always there was a report on what Phil said to him as he passed by the Dean’s office, and appreciation for the joy there was in that office on a daily basis. Phil, Anne Marie, and Rita worked hard every day to make things happen but always with such high spirits that Bob’s fatigue was lightened by the time he left Stoeckel. It was, he said, an atmosphere in which everyone took their work very seriously but not themselves. He also loved running into Phil at the Yale Club in New York on an almost weekly basis when each established a home away from home there, Phil in the city to raise money and Bob to raise even more oboists and chamber musicians at the Juilliard School. I never heard Bob complain of a single weakness when commenting on Phil’s leadership; he used adjectives like “perceptive” and “courageous” to describe him. Loving Yale as he did, Bob considered Phil a blessing. I’m happy to say that I had the joy of keeping in touch with Phil and Georgia over the past decade or so. When they began taking a summer cottage on the coast of Maine I would gather friends and make an annual trip from my home in Southern Maine each August to visit with them over lunch and walk the nearby Botanical Gardens in Boothbay Harbor–one of Maine’s most gorgeous spots which I recommend to everyone. And now Georgia has moved to Falmouth, Maine, which is even closer to my home, making possible even more frequent visits. So, for Bob, I want to say that it meant so much to him to have Phil’s support for those final years of his teaching career at Yale. And now to speak for myself, I want to say how much I miss Phil and how much I appreciate his support for my own work and how much it means to me to stay in touch with Georgia and her beautiful family.

April 29th, 2017 | Sara Lambert Bloom