VINCENT B. ALLISON, the retired director of music at North Shore Country Day School in Winnetka, Ill., and an accomplished musician and music educator, died Feb. 16, 2009, at age 87. He was the son of V. Blake Allison of the class of 1914 and the nephew of Foster J. Allison of the class of 1916. A member of Delta Tau Delta, he was elected to Sigma Xi. After receiving his degree with honors and with distinction in chemistry, he served in the U.S. Army during World War II and then returned to Wesleyan, where he received a master’s degree in chemistry. Then, following his passion for music, which he had also pursued while at Wesleyan, he received a B.A. in music from Yale University and a master’s in music from Harvard University. During his 35-year tenure at North Shore Country Day as well as after his retirement, he had a large impact on music in the Chicago area. He conducted, taught, and performed, often as a baritone soloist or a clarinetist, and his greatest pleasure was to hear from former students about the appreciation of music that he had instilled in them. His wife, Zelda Lackey Allison, predeceased him. Among those who survive are four children, including V. Blake Allison III ’72 and Taber D. Allison ’74; 10 grandchildren, including Emma Allison ’08; and four great-grandchildren.
VINCENT B. ALLISON: A LIFE IN MUSIC
As Vincent B. Allison prepared to begin his freshman year at Connecticut’s Wesleyan University in the fall of 1939, his mother encouraged him to pursue a career in chemistry, a profession that she thought would be relatively immune to economic turmoil such as the family had experienced during the Great Depression. Allison heeded his mother’s wishes and received a B.S. in Chemistry from Wesleyan when he graduated in 1943.
After returning from serving in the Army during World War II — now married to his college sweetheart, the former Zelda Lackey — Allison resumed his chemistry studies earning an M.S. from Wesleyan in 1946. But his heart wasn’t in it. His skill in chemistry not withstanding, Allison’s real love was music; a passion he pursued not only as an accomplished singer and student conductor in Wesleyan’s renowned glee club but as a clarinetist and occasional ringer of the University’s carillon. Fortunately, Wesleyan’s then music department chair Professor Joseph Daltry recognized Allison’s considerable musical talents and prevailed upon him to forgo chemistry and follow his heart’s desire.
Vin Allison did just that, and when he died in Lake Forest, IL on Monday, February 16th, 2009, after a 10-year struggle with Parkinson’s Disease he left a legacy of musical performance and instruction that spanned seven decades enriching the lives of countless students, choristers and audiences the length of Chicago’s north shore.
The road to a life in music was not easily traveled. Vin and Zelda had two young daughters and very limited financial resources, but he earned a B.A. in music from Yale University and then went to Harvard University where in 1951 he received an M.A. in music. It was during his time at Harvard that Vin’s talents came to the attention of noted educator Perry Dunlap Smith who had founded the North Shore Country Day School in Winnetka, Illinois. Smith was in need of a music director and had learned about Vin through a friend on Harvard’s faculty. Allison accepted Smith’s job offer, and he and Zelda moved the family — now numbering three with the addition of a son in 1949 and Zelda pregnant with their fourth child — to Chicago’s north shore in the fall of 1952.
Vin would remain at North Shore Country Day until his retirement 35 years later in 1986.
At North Shore, Allison taught high school-level, music appreciation, gave voice lessons, directed the school’s famed annual Gilbert & Sullivan productions and conducted the school chorus and numerous small vocal ensembles.
His impact on the area’s musical life was not limited solely to North Shore, however. Throughout the ’50s and ’60s, Vin directed the choirs of The Union Church of Lake Bluff; joined the first decade by Zelda ?- an accomplished pianist in her own right — who played the organ. During that time he also assumed directorship of the North Shore Choral Society. Through the Choral Society and other venues he helped introduce local audiences to major works that are now mainstays of the choral repertoire such as Johann Sebastian Bach?s “B Minor Mass,” “The Saint Matthew’s Passion” and “A German Requiem” by Johannes Brahms. In addition to conducting, he put his distinguished baritone voice to work appearing as a soloist in numerous local performances.
In 1972, Vin assumed directorship of music for Lake Forest?s Church of the Holy Spirit Episcopal Church making several recordings with the choir and taking it on tour to England. In 1978 he started the church’s “Music in the Nave,” a concert series that continues to this day. During this time he also prepared choruses for performances of choral works by the Lake Forest Symphony.
Allison retired from the church position in 1992 but remained active in music teaching voice to high school students in Libertyville and Lake Forest. In addition he kept his clarinet skills active playing on occasion with the local musicians union’s marching band in Lake Bluff’s annual 4th of July parade.
Vin’s accomplishments as a director and performer are well documented, but it was his work teaching the art of singing to young students that gave him the most pleasure. Over the years numbers of his students have recounted the debt of gratitude they owed Vin for the teaching expertise and encouragement he imparted. To the end of his life, former students spanning the length of his career remained in contact. Singing madrigals with alumni young and old or receiving a former pupil’s newest recital tape was always an occasion of great personal satisfaction for Vin. Passing on that pleasure to other generations is no doubt the greatest part of his considerable contribution to the musical life of Chicago’s north shore.
Current North Shore headmaster Tom Doar III said recently of Vin’s accomplishments and achievements, “He was a powerful educator, a gentle man and a gentleman whose passion for music coupled with his remarkable abilities as a teacher and a person.” Alumni always wanted ‘to thank him for his impact on their development as people and for the appreciation of music he instilled in them,” said Doar.
Vin was pre-deceased by his wife Zelda in August 2002. He is survived by daughter June (Robert) Irvine of Maine, daughter Linda (Robert) Haslach of Washington, D.C., son V. Blake (Nancy) Allison of New Hampshire and son Taber (Pamela Hathaway) Allison of Massachusetts. Further descendants include ten grand children and four great grandchildren.
A memorial service to celebrate Vin Allison’s life in music was held at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, March 21st, 2009 at Lake Forest’s Church of the Holy Spirit.
In lieu of flowers contributions may be made to 98.7 WFMT, 5400 St. Louis Ave., Chicago, IL 60625.