Leila Birnbaum arrived at Reed in the fall of 1969 with the rank of Visiting Instructor, fresh from the graduate program in musicology at Brandeis, where she was working on a dissertation on the medieval troubadours. She had done her undergraduate work at Mills College, where she studied with, among others, the composer Darius Milhaud. At Reed she joined long-time faculty member Herbert Gladstone, and they remained a two-person department for a number of years.
Leila continued up the academic ladder, progressing to Assistant Professor in 1971, Associate Professor in 1975, and Professor in 1984. Along the way she became Leila Falk, and she and Ted produced three children, all of whom grew up to be incredible string players. (I vividly remember one occasion when her youngest, Phillip, then about age 9, shared a stand in the Reed orchestra’s violin section with Robert Knapp—I wish I had a photograph.) For many years Leila taught most of our music history courses; she also did yeoman service on many of the college’s important committees. She was an enthusiastic coach of student chamber music groups, devoting countless volunteer hours until we decided to make it part of her regular teaching load.
I joined the faculty in 1991, and since then Leila, David Schiff, and I have been colleagues, working together on a number of significant projects. For the last two years, during Leila’s phased retirement, we have also had the pleasure of working with her successor, Mark Burford.
The process is now complete, and Leila finishes her journey up the academic ladder to the rank of emerita. We wish her well.
—Virginia Hancock ’62
I have the great honor of saying a few words about my friend and colleague Pat Wong. Before she joined the faculty at Reed in the mid-1970s, Pat was founding member of the Portland Dance Theater which was this city’s first contemporary dance company and quite influential. Their early work was rather broad, however. Pat recalls that the company’s first performance included a piece titled Much AEIOU About Nothing, which parodied the phenomena of dance teams and in which the performers would yell out vowels at the audience. “E gives me an E!” The company’s later work and especially Pat’s work evinced a much more nuanced and mediated humanity mixed with an elegant orchestration of dancers in space.
Many of the members of Portland Dance Theater went on to teach at various colleges and universities; Reed was lucky enough to snag Pat—lucky in part because one of Pat’s most striking qualities is what critic Martha Ullman West describes as “an attitude of freedom about what ‘dance’ rightly can be.”
That attitude has really permeated Pat’s teaching. Students have been attracted to Pat’s classes not only because of the subject matter and the excellent framework she provides but because she includes them as partners and encourages to them to move beyond the framework, and even beyond their own preconceptions about dance is and what they can do as dance artists themselves.
Students have also flocked to Pat as an adviser and mentor. Probably many of you have known Pat as someone who freely lends her support, warmth and plain good sense. Pat has a rare capacity to meet new ideas with sincere enthusiasm. Time after time, I have seen students bring a proposal to Pat, and the first words out of her mouth are, “What a good idea.” Because Pat is a discerning person and because not every idea is really all that good, after that initial response she helps students think things through and test their ideas and perhaps reject it in favor of a better one. Through that process I have seen Pat help countless students to learn to think freely as well as critically.
—Carla Mann ’81