David Nelson remembered for nurturing Elgin's musical legacy

  • David Nelson was skilled pianist and talented teacher who spent his latter years documenting the legacies of the notable musicians who came before him in his hometown of Elgin. Nelson died Dec. 22 at 83 years old.

    David Nelson was skilled pianist and talented teacher who spent his latter years documenting the legacies of the notable musicians who came before him in his hometown of Elgin. Nelson died Dec. 22 at 83 years old. Courtesy of Elizabeth Marston

  • David Nelson

    David Nelson Courtesy of Elizabeth Marston

 
Updated 12/30/2019 6:40 AM

Music, teaching and Elgin history were David Nelson's passions.

He blended all three as an instructor at Judson College and Elgin Community College and board member and program chair for the Elgin History Museum.

 

Nelson died Sunday, Dec. 22, at age 83, but leaves behind a legacy as a talented pianist and teacher who helped preserve the memories of the city's musical forefathers.

Born and raised in Elgin, Nelson from an early age showed an interest in the piano, at times pulling a chair up to a radiator at home and pretending to play. His parents bought him his first piano at an estate sale when he was 6 years old, and his talent took off from there.

After graduating from Elgin High School in 1954, he studied at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, earning a bachelor's degree in music in 1959 and a master's in 1961.

His notable performances included a 1962 appearance on the "Artists Showcase," playing "Hungarian Fantasy" with the NBC Symphony in Chicago.

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After settling back in Elgin with his wife Dolores, whom he married in 1967, he embarked on a career that included teaching piano and music theory from his home for 53 years. He also taught piano and music theory at Judson College for 11 years and piano at Elgin Community College for 17 years.

"I love teaching; taking talented students willing to work, molding them, and giving them as much as I can," Nelson was quoted as saying in 1975.

He also distinguished himself as a solo performer with the Elgin Musicians Club, Elgin Symphony Orchestra and Elgin Choral Union.

For the last 20 years of his life, Nelson spent considerable time at the history museum documenting Elgin musicians such as Jane Chipman and Charlo Byars Bohl, who were familiar to him but unknown to newer residents.

"We had a lot on (better known musical figures like) Joseph Hecker and some of the earlier ones, but we didn't have a lot on people who were active in the '20s, '30s, '40s," said Elizabeth Marston, director of the Elgin History Museum. "That's the kind of information that he brought out in front of people today."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

He distilled this knowledge when he wrote "My Life's Musical Career as a Musician, Teacher and Pianist."

As program chair for the museum, Nelson "set the tone" for much of the programming at the museum and was the guiding figure behind the evolution of its annual benefit gala.

"He really took us up a level in terms of organization and leadership," Marston said. "He was a very disciplined person. Very particular. Very thorough. That's what we needed. He helped the museum develop into a better organization."

Nelson's efforts twice earned him the Elgin Mayor's Award, as well as the Elgin Area Art Council's Community Spirit Achievement Award.

Nelson is survived by his wife, Dolores, nieces Cindy Rowley and Sharon Atkins, and six great-nieces and nephews.

Visitation will be held at 10:30 a.m. Monday, Dec. 30, at Symonds-Madison Funeral Home, 30W730 US-20 in Elgin, followed by services at 12:30 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to The Elgin History Museum for the Nancy Kimball House Restoration Project, the Elgin Symphony Orchestra, or a charity of choice.

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