Lillian Tan, the daughter of Chinese parents was born in 1941 in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia. She came to the United States in 1959 to attend Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota where she graduated magna cum laude with a B.M. degree in 1963. Two years later she received the M.M. with distinction from Indiana University in Bloomington. In the summers of 1965 and 1966 she did post-graduate studies at Indiana University. During the summers of 1979 and 1981, she studied in Paris with Aline van Barentzen of the Paris Conservatory. It was then that her love affair with Paris began, especially when she first entered Fauchon, the most elegant and scrumptious deli in the world. During the summer of 1984 she studied with Detlef Kraus in Essen, Germany.
Lillian began a tradition that continues until today. Each summer she travels widely to study and to experience the settings and surroundings associated with music history, to understand the history, the literature, the theater, and the cuisines, all of which relate to music. She spent nineteen consecutive January semester breaks in London with her partner Howard in pursuit of concerts, operas, ballets, the theater, and art museums. They went to at least one performance per day and sometimes two. The Royal Shakespeare Theater, the Barbican, the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Wigmore Hall, the National Theater, Covent Garden, the many theaters of the West End, and the many art galleries in London became as familiar as their hometown.
In 1997 Lillian traveled to Fort Worth, TX and spent two weeks attending the Van Cliburn Piano Competition, listening to dozens of recitals and concerts. She has attended other world piano competitions at the University of Maryland and the Marguerite Long competition in Paris. Twice in recent years she has spent a week in Seattle, WA, attending the four operas of Wagner's "Ring Cycle."
When she arrived in River Falls in 1966, Lillian taught piano lessons in Hathorn Cottage for seven years and shared a telephone with five others, before the Fine Arts Building was completed. At UW-RF she taught Piano, Piano Ensemble, Keyboard Literature, Piano Pedagogy, and Class Piano. Lillian became interested in art history, particularly the Renaissance era because she embarked on several Art History tours led by History & Art Dept. Chair Dr. John Buschen. This led to her taking on the department's Music History course, especially since she gratefully received many splendid recordings and scores for this early period of music from the late Robert Samarotto who was famous and revered for teaching this course.
Lillian was noted for taking her students into the Twin Cities to hear the finest musicians and ensembles and be inspired by them. She was extremely generous with her time and financial support. For many students, their first experiences with professional musicians, the Minnesota Orchestra, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and many of the world's greatest artists was through a trip with her.
Lillian was a very dedicated teacher, shaping the learning experience to each individual student. The Piano Ensemble Program each year was a showcase for Lillian’s and Carolyn Britton's students, and they all always worked very hard to make it the best possible.
In River Falls, because there were no real restaurants in 1966 when she arrived, Lillian began to explore the possibilities of fine cuisine, and her parties and dinners were always memorable occasions. Her kitchen gradually acquired the most complete and exotic collection of cooking utensils in town. Her "Oysters Rockefeller" and her shrimp curry were dishes she was noted for serving to friends and students.
As a special honor, Lillian was invited in 1981 to Taiwan to give a recital there. She performed as soloist in Schumann's Piano Concerto with the Taipei Century Orchestra in Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Concert Hall in Taipei, Taiwan. She taught master classes at Taipei National Normal University in 1981 and at Tunghai University in Taichung in 1988. She served as Associate Director for the Center for Pacific Rim Studies established by Dr. Charles Kao at UW-RF. She was Vice President for Conventions of the Wisconsin Music Teachers Association. And she was Chair of the Music Department from 1986-1991.
Lillian has performed in a variety of venues, including UW-Madison, UW-RF, Thursday Musical at the Walker Art Center, the University of Texas at El Paso, and at the Chamber Music Festival at St. Cloud State University. When the Fine Arts Building was about to open in 1973, the Recital Hall was not yet completed so Lillian and her late sister Lily gave the first duo-piano concert on the new Steinway grand pianos in the Band Room with the audience filling up the room and the hallway to the lobby.
An important part of her role as teacher has been to serve as adjudicator in competitions: YPSCA at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, the Schubert Club, Thursday Musical, WMTA, WSMA, UW-Madison Concerto Competition, MMTA, MMTF, and the St. Paul Piano Teachers Association. She has also published articles in Clavier Magazine, the American Music Teacher, Keyboard Magazine, (interviews with Alberto Ginastera and Frederic Rzewski) and the Chopin Society Journal. During her career, Lillian has received several faculty renewal grants and a UW-RF Foundation Classroom Instruction Grant. She was named an "Outstanding and Most influential Teacher" in the River Falls High School awards; she was nominated by an honor student in 2002.
Lillian retired in 2006 and lives today on the west side of River Falls. For many years, she and Howard enjoyed particularly the plays and concerts in the Twin Cities, the Schubert Club, the Chopin Society, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Minnesota Orchestra. They attended plays at the Guthrie, the Park Square Theatre, the Jungle Theatre, plays by different companies at the Garage Theatre, the Minnesota History Theater, Gremlin Theater, and the other theaters in the Twin Cities. They became well versed on dramatic presentations in the Twin Cities and London. Lillian also has become an aficionado of opera, and enjoys the productions locally of the Minnesota Opera Company and the Metropolitan Opera productions in HD at theaters, but also travels to enjoy the Lyric Opera in Chicago, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the San Francisco Opera, the Santa Fe Opera, the Seattle Opera, the Los Angeles Opera, and others. And she is still very much interested in the Music Department at UW-RF and attends concerts in Recital Hall regularly.