The Wilson family story started with a dropped penny.
Like Each Other
Sophomore music education major Inga-Lill (rhymes with "sing-a-li'l") Rosander '52 was dating Frank Lockwood '50. They weren't particularly serious, though; Inga-Lill actually had her eye on Frank's roommate, James Wilson Jr. '50.
The two men, both ex-GIs and also music ed majors, lived in a barracks down by the lake. Inga-Lill was trying to figure out how to attract Jim's attention without being too obvious. One day she and a friend were walking across DeWitt Park and happened to glimpse Jim and a friend of his. "This is so corny," laughs Inga-Lill, "but I threw a penny on the sidewalk. Jim picked it up and invited me for an ice cream sundae."
Just like that. Maybe she was more than a little obvious, but it was also obvious that Jim had had his eye on her. They were engaged by her senior year. They married at Christmas 1952 and moved to Jim's home town of Elmira, New York. Jim, a trumpet player, started his career teaching and directing bands in the Horseheads, New York, school system, where he would work his entire career. An innovator and tireless advocate for music education, he cofounded the Chemung County Band and the Chemung County School Musical Festival, and was long involved with the New York State School Music Association's annual solo competition.
Inga-Lill got a job teaching music. She absolutely hated it. She felt inadequate. "I was literally sick to my stomach every morning; it was awful," she says.
Determined as ever, she kept trying to figure out a way to get over her fear. One day an opportunity presented itself. "They wanted to put on an operetta, The Pied Piper of Pan. That was the same one I'd performed in when I was in sixth grade in Elizabeth, New Jersey," she says. She did the music for the show. "It was the best thing that ever happened to me. You never know what you can do until you do it."
Right after this success she became a stay-at-home mom. She and Jim couple had three girls in rapid succession -- Adrienne, Jeannette, and Louise. Inga-Lill continued to accompany Jim's students and give private lessons, and soon she was cast in several musicals. "I loved being on stage," she says. "It turned out to be my real medium."
She didn't push music on her own children, but as they grew up Jim would bring home different instruments for them to sample. Adrienne, the eldest, started out on piano and then tried clarinet but didn't like it. She also fell in love with dance. Louise, the youngest, first tried the French horn when she was about 8 years old and was hooked. Jeannette began playing piano at age 6 with Maria Fortunata Rapaczynski in Horseheads. "But I wanted to do music with my dad," she says. "We all wanted to be with him because he was such an amazing teacher." She picked up the flute at age 10 and fell instantly in love with it.
All the girls joined marching band in high school, but Jim discouraged them. "He wanted us to take up the violin or cello because strings are always in demand," says Louise, who was bitten by the musical theater bug early. She and her mother both appeared in Sound of Music. "I was 35, playing a nun," recalls her mother. "Louise was the littlest Von Trapp child, Gretl."
"I got to sing 'do' in 'Do-Re-Mi'!" adds Louise, who would later break family tradition to major in drama at IC.
The sisters came of age in the 1970s, the heyday of rock-and-roll. "I was a musical geek," recalls Jeannette Wilson '79. "I didn't listen to the Beatles; I thought pop music was too simplistic. I always loved the colors, the sounds, and the variety of classical music." Nevertheless, for four years at IC Jeannette was in a top-40 band, Horizon, and Louise was its lead singer for a time.
For some years Jeannette and Adrienne Wilson '78, M.M. '80, also worked together professionally as the Wilson Sisters, performing piano-piano, flute-piano, and piano-dance duets. "We have that wordless chemistry where we can just work together," says Jeannette. Now busy with their families and careers, and living far apart, the two would like to work together again someday.
Adrienne is now based in Horseheads, New York, with her sons, James, 17, and Gregory, a student at Brandeis University. She teaches jazz, tap, and modern dance and is earning her M.F.A. in dance and choreography at SUNY Brockport.
Jeannette Wilson '79 has recently remarried and relocated. She lives with her husband, Michael Spillane, and sons, Ryan, 3, and Alexander, 13, halfway between Providence and Boston. She works for a Boston medical center, has a few private music students, and plays flute occasionally with local chamber groups. "In a heartbeat," she answers when asked if she'd like to be a full-time musician again. "But my father was right, it's tough financially. Strings are where the money is." She hopes to do more teaching and ensemble work after Ryan starts school.
Michael Furstoss '04, son of Louise Wilson Furstoss '81 and her husband, Ron, was the first of the third generation to attend IC. A star diver on the IC men's swimming and diving team, he was a music education major, studying saxophone with Steven Mauk and working in the instrument repair shop with Doug Blakely. "There was no pressure to attend IC," he says, "but it did feel nice to know that my two aunts, my mother, and my grandparents went there."
As anyone who ever spent time at Ithaca College knows, music majors and intercollegiate athletes work very hard. There's little time for other activities. "There was not a whole lot of partying," agrees Mike. Just a few months after graduating, he's still busy, coaching the boys swimming team and doing a long-term substitute teaching gig at Watkins Glen High School, not far from his parents. "Playing music is hitting the back burner," says Mike. He hopes the job turns permanent; if it does, Mike says he'd like to come back to Ithaca for the summer graduate program music program.
His younger brother, Ron '06, is majoring in organizational communication, learning, and design in the Park School, and has two letters for his own performance as a 400-meter butterfly competitor on the men's swimming and diving team. Ron is considering joining the Peace Corps after graduation.
Two younger Furstoss brothers, Anthony, a sophomore at the University of Rochester, and Matthew, a high school senior, are in a rock cover band with Ron. "Mike doesn't play with us," notes Ron, "but he is our reference guy. Since he got his education in music, if we have questions on chromatics or putting a song together, we ask him." The Furstoss boys say they are not competitive with one another. Instead, says Ron, "We build each other up."
Their grandmother is glad her three daughters and all eight of her grandsons are interested in music, even if it is not each one's life calling. "The arts are so important," says Inga-Lill. "Singing or playing the flute or dancing or whatever helps children to be better students. And you can still play your instrument when you are well over 80."
-- Maura Stephens