Obituary: William ‘Bill’ Kaplan

William “Bill” Kaplan, professor emeritus in the UIC School of Theatre and Music, died July 7, 2023.

Kaplan began teaching at the University of Illinois Chicago in 1966, after playing bassoon for eight years with the Denver and Detroit symphony orchestras. At UIC, Bill taught courses in music theory, counterpoint, analytic techniques, ear training, music literature and music appreciation. He also served as chair of the music department from 1979 until 1992, and he was instrumental in starting and building the bachelor’s in music program at UIC.

After a school and department reorganization in 1993, Kaplan was music area coordinator in the performing arts department until his retirement in the early 2000s. However, his love for teaching and music brought him back to teach courses in theory and ear training part time until 2013, when he was 83.

UIC faculty members remember Kaplan with love and admiration.

For Professor Emeritus of Music Gene Collerd, Kaplan was not only a mentor but a friend that he could rely on for counsel as a musician, teacher and administrator.

“He was a gifted, meticulous teacher and beloved by his students,” Collerd said. “He was a dedicated, wise leader of our music programs during periods of strength, peril and renewal. For me, he was at first counselor, and then mentor, and, at several times, a ‘guardian angel’ in my professional and personal life as I earned his friendship of 45 years. His warmth, generosity and dignity were just three of his traits that drew me to UIC in the first place.”

Tanera Marshall, associate professor of theatre, remembers Kaplan fondly.

“Professor Kaplan was a terrific musician, a kind mentor, and a patient and compassionate teacher,” Marshall said. “I got to know him best during my short time as chair of the department of performing arts. His calm demeanor reassured me. With Bill in the room, problems were solvable, and his keen intelligence and quick wit made faculty meetings both efficient and painless.

“I fondly remember his wry humor. Each year, Bill would dutifully inform me of his plans for the classes he would miss due to his observance of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, ‘the Day of Atonement of a years’ worth of sins,’ as he called it. ‘I hope one day will be enough,’ he’d add. This from a man who was the gentlest and kindest of souls. The worst of sins for him would be to arrive late or speak ill of another–neither of which he ever did.”

Longtime staff member Neal McCollam remembered a story about Kaplan’s generosity and musicianship.

“Bill Kaplan was always kind and so generous with his time when helping faculty and students,” McCollam said. “I had the pleasure of working with Bill in 2002 when he performed in the department of performing arts and Chicago Bar Association Fundraiser. Bill brought the house down accompanying a performance of ‘La Vie en Rose.’ Bill was an accomplished musician and a lovely presence on stage.”

Harris Saunders, associate professor of music, added, “Bill Kaplan was a stalwart in the music department. He was always full of energy and enthusiasm. Students attest he was a great teacher. I found him to be a wonderful colleague. Those who know him will feel his loss.”

This year the UIC School of Theatre and Music celebrates its 10 year anniversary and will be dedicating the 2023/2024 Theatre and Music season to Kaplan.(opens in new window)

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