An exquisitely rare musician whose compositional style was “unique, recognizable and all coated with his deliciously dry wit”; a kindhearted,
humble and delightful teacher; a prolific creator of music and word; and a gentle friend to the world, Professor Emeritus of Theory, Piano and Composition and retired Composer-in-Residence, Dr. William Timberlake Allen died December 29, 2016, at Olean General Hospital in Olean, New York. He was 90 years old.
When Charles Finney, the chair of the division of fine arts at Houghton College, asked 27-year-old William T. Allen to join the music faculty in 1953, Allen had to ask him several times where the college was located. Fresh from working on his Ph.D. at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, his first impression of Houghton was that it “seemed staid and overly practical.” Unfamiliar with the lifestyle and culture of the Wesleyan Church, Allen remembered that, as a young faculty member, “people would come to my studio because they thought I was far out and talk to me.” Doc Jo affectionately called him “Tall Boy.”
As Allen settled into life at Houghton, he realized that there was something special about this place. The first time he heard the Houghton College orchestra play under the direction of Professor John Andrews, Allen recalled thinking, “What? No puffed-up performers here? … I asked myself: is it possible that self-promotion is not of the first priority at the school? Are these players giving glory where it belongs—to their Creator? If the answer is yes, then I say, ‘May it ever be so.’” Bill’s life and faith were shaped by the influence of the faithful people he worked with every day. In a 1997 interview, he offered: “I learned my philosophy, my religion, my attitude toward learning here because there were so many people who were truly humble and educated…. They literally wanted to go on in the Lord, and I’d never come across anything like that.”
Dr. Allen served Houghton College for 38 years before his retirement in 1991, and during that time, he was named one of the Houghton 100 in 1983, held the Mabel Barnum Davidson Endowed Chair of Fine Arts and received an honorary doctor of fine arts degree at the Founder’s Day convocation in 1991. He wrote for orchestral instruments, piano, organ, voice and chorus—and his piano recitals frequently ended with a few minutes of improvisation. He especially enjoyed creating musical comedies based on campus life and cultural issues. Some memorable compositions include The Coffee Machine, The Coffee Machine Revisited, Damascus Road and Young John Wesley.
“William T. Allen was a giant of a man whose positive, ever-creative and inspiring influence on me and countless other students and members of the Houghton College community cannot be measured,” recalled Daniel J. Fortune ’88.
“He was so witty and had such a gentle spirit,” remembers Timothy Schwartz ’76. “I still can see him bouncing into class, looking at us and saying with a wry smile, ‘Oh, many have come.’”
He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Jane (McMahon ’61) Allen, and children Elisabeth (Allen ’86) Algarin and her husband, Eleazar Algarin; Rev. Dr. William “Bill” A. Allen ’89 and his wife, Rev. Kristen (Roth ’90) Allen; and Rebecca (Allen ’03) Reyes and her husband, Jose Reyes as well as four grandchildren, Emily Allen ’20, Katherine Allen, William R. Allen and Antonio Reyes, and step-grandchildren, Jose, Kevin and Manuel Reyes ’20.