The airy sounds hummed through the house, climbing scales and spearing tricky rhythms until the woodwind player began to fumble.
“Blow!” the teacher said. “Blow!”
Such was the scene at the Sioux Falls home of Leland Lillehaug when he taught private lessons.
“I wouldn’t say [he was] yelling, but exclaiming forcefully,” his son David Lillehaug said, laughing. “You’d hear the student’s tone and pitch improve.”
Thousands of students experienced that same intensity, whether whipping through a Sousa march or gliding along to the second movement of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto.
“He was convinced you could have excellence on the plains of South Dakota,” David Lillehaug, a Minnesota Supreme Court justice, said.
Leland Lillehaug, a musician and educator who spent 35 years steering Augustana University’s music program, died July 9 after a series of stroke-like events. He was 91.
Lillehaug was born in South Dakota on Feb. 11, 1927. The youngest of three, he lived on the family farm near the small town of Lane and graduated valedictorian of his seven-member high school class.
He played clarinet in school, but he didn’t become serious about music until he enlisted in the Army in 1944. During rehearsals, Lillehaug gazed out the windows as ships slipped through the Panama Canal. “That was quite a sight to behold,” he told Edina Patch, an online publication, in 2012.
After returning to the United States, he graduated from Augustana then traveled to Vienna, Austria, with his wife, Ardis. There he studied with top players as Augustana’s first Fulbright scholar.
Lillehaug furthered his education at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., earning master’s and doctorate degrees. He taught high school band in Waverly, Iowa, for three years before joining Augustana as a professor in 1956. During his tenure he held many roles — director of bands, chairman of the music department and bandleader — and earned national recognition before retiring in 1991.
Lillehaug left an indelible mark on Augustana, in part because of his commitment to the community that raised him.
“I think it is that tie to the land,” said university President Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. “I think it is the appreciation for history and tradition that you’re brought up with when you’re raised in rural South Dakota.”
Lillehaug also conducted the Sioux Falls Municipal Band and was named to the American Bandmasters Association and the South Dakota Bandmasters Hall of Fame. He received Augustana’s Alumni Achievement Award and the Association of Concert Bands President’s Award, which was renamed for him.
In 2007, he and his wife moved to Edina to be closer to their children. There he passed days watching Twins baseball and playing pool at the Edina Senior Center.
While none of his kids went into music, David Lillehaug said they emulated his morals.
“He never cut corners and never shaded the truth,” his son said. “I try to live up to that every day.”
But music was still the common thread. As the family gathered in Leland Lillehaug’s final moments, his daughter played the second movement of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto.
“I don’t know if he could hear it or not, but that’s what happened,” David Lillehaug said. “My sister started playing that and he breathed his last.”
Lillehaug is survived by his wife, Ardis Lillehaug, of Edina; children, David Lillehaug of Minneapolis, Steven Lillehaug of Minneapolis, and Laurie Anderson of Edina; three grandchildren and one great-grandson. Services have been held.