Lillian S. Helldorfer, 70, longtime Essex piano teacher

October 16, 1997|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

From the basement studio of her Essex home, Lillian S. Helldorfer taught piano to young novices and advanced pianists for 50 years. She guided hands through beginner's scales as well as the complicated music of classical composers.

She taught all students the same way -- by example and with diligence and patience.

"Patience was probably her best asset," said George Matysek, one of her students for 11 years. "She was always nice and calm."

Mrs. Helldorfer, 70, who died Oct. 9 of cancer at Franklin Wood Hospice in Rossville, taught piano from her eastern Baltimore County home from 1947 until this summer.

A kind woman with a keen ear and steady hand, Mrs. Helldorfer was regarded by her peers and students as a highly technical pianist, although patient and expressive.

"She was very demanding of herself and her students," said Arno Drucker, a friend and a former piano instructor at Essex Community College. "She was very competent and an inspiring teacher."

Mrs. Helldorfer made several records of her piano performances. As a concert pianist, she performed frequently with the Gettysburg Symphony Orchestra of Pennsylvania. She was organist and choir director for Holy Redeemer Chapel on Oldham Street in Southeast Baltimore.

But she was most remembered for her instruction. Her teaching schedule included as many as 50 students per week, and she held a year-end recital for as many as 30 students in one evening.

In her studio -- which had a view of Middle River -- she had two baby grand pianos and an organ. One piano was a gift from her mother; the other was a present from her teacher.

The one from the teacher is "an antique that the Smithsonian is after," said her daughter Jane Martin of Joppatowne. "It's at least 100 years old and probably a lot older."

Both pianos were kept well-tuned, and students were allowed to practice on either.

Mr. Matysek recalled how Mrs. Helldorfer never rushed a lesson -- even if it exceeded its 30-minute limit. "She was very generous and kept us there," he said.

Born Lillian Schmeiser in Baltimore and raised in East Baltimore, she graduated from old Patterson Park High School in 1945 and the Peabody Conservatory of Music with a teacher's certificate in 1947. In 1947, she married Francis Helldorfer.

She was an avid painter who made many portraits and still lifes. She also enjoyed sewing and needlepoint.

But her passion was piano, and she often told friends and relatives how she loved the instrument.

"I learned by osmosis," said her daughter, who plays the piano and organ and teaches music in Baltimore County schools. "Just listening to her play and students playing I learned to play, and I'm a pretty good musician now."

"I could teach the wall to play the piano," Ms. Martin recalled her mother saying, "if only it would practice."

No services are planned.

In addition to her husband and daughter, survivors include two other daughters, Linda Sloan of Middle River and Mary Ellen Martimbeau of Fort Smith, Ark.; four grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.

Pub Date: 10/16/97

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