13 January 1921, Hamtramck, MI – 18 February 2009, Los Angeles, CA
- Director, Polish Music Reference Center (1987-1996)
- Honorary Director, Polish Music Center (1996-2009)
- President, Friends of Polish Music (1981-2009)
An Extraordinary Life Dedicated to Polish Music
With deep sadness we note the passing of Wanda Wilk, a great patron of Polish music, magnificent philanthropist, and dedicated educator. She died in her Los Angeles home on 18 February 2009, after a long illness. A person of many talents and great organizational skills, Wanda Wilk will be remembered chiefly for her extraordinary vision in service to Polish music that led to the creation of the Polish Music Center at her alma mater, University of Southern California. Thanks to the endowment jointly made with her husband, Dr. Stefan P. Wilk (1917-2008), the Polish Music Center has operated on the USC campus under the auspices of the Thornton School of Music since 1985.
Founding of the Polish Music Center
Appointed by the USC Dean of Music, Wanda Wilk served as Director of the Polish Music Center for the first ten years of its operations. After retiring in 1996, she continued as the Center’s Honorary Director, advising and supporting the two subsequent Polish Music Center directors and the staff. Wanda Wilk’s extensive contacts with many of the most prominent Polish musicians of the twentieth century led to numerous concerts she organized at USC and throughout Southern California. Thanks to her generous support and outreach, artists like Witold Lutosławski, Henryk Górecki, Stanisław Skrowaczewski, Krystian Zimerman, and Piotr Anderszewski, performed and lectured for local audiences.
The Center continues to serve as an important Southern California library with its extensive holdings of Polish music scores, books, periodicals, sound recordings, and other reference materials. With the initial gift of five manuscripts of large-scale orchestral works from Lutosławski and three manuscripts from Skrowaczewski in 1985, the Polish Music Center’s Manuscript Collection grew to currently include well over 100 manuscripts by such composers as Grażyna Bacewicz, Tadeusz Baird, Joanna Bruzdowicz, Krzesimir Dębski, Zygmunt Krauze, Hanna Kulenty, Szymon Laks, Krzysztof Meyer, Roman Palester, Krzysztof Penderecki, Marta Ptaszyńska, Bogusław Schaeffer, Romuald Twardowski, and Lidia Zielińska, among others. Most recently, Wanda Wilk’s efforts led to the donation of manuscripts, correspondence and memorabilia of Zygmunt Stojowski and Henry Vars.
In addition to devoting her boundless energy and considerable resources to expanding the Center to a world-class institution, Wanda Wilk, an active and gifted writer, also wielded her elegant pen in praise of Polish music. Thinking big was her preferred modus operandi, and a series of books on the history of Polish music was introduced with Wanda Wilk’s concise volume commemorating Karol Szymanowski’s centenary in 1982. Since then the book cycle launched and inspired by Wanda Wilk has grown to include ten volumes on such composers as Grażyna Bacewicz, Frederic Chopin, two more volumes on Karol Szymanowski, as well as monographs on Józef Koffler, Maria Szymanowska, and Zygmunt Stojowski. Although experts from all over the world were engaged as authors, Wanda Wilk presided as Editor-in-Chief, keeping the style and substance of the Polish Music History Series at the highest academic level. This she did for the first six volumes and, at the same time authored numerous articles about Polish women composers and other subjects pertaining to the history of Polish music for various Polish-American media.
An early pioneer and believer in disseminating information over the World Wide Web, Wanda Wilk launched the Polish Music Center Website in 1994. Countless visitors who have used this popular site since its inception found comprehensive information on composers, history of concert and folk music, competitions, festivals, and other items of interest to anyone researching Polish musical culture. An online Newsletter—another web-based project that Wanda Wilk initiated that same year—has appeared on the Polish Music Center website on a monthly basis for the past fifteen years.
In 1992, together with her husband, Stefan, Wanda Wilk established Ars Musica Poloniae, a charitable foundation that facilitates a variety of projects in Polish music from publishing and recording to scholarships for Polish students in Los Angeles. The most recent success of the Foundation was its successful partnership in providing grants for author Joseph A. Herter, and publishing his Zygmunt Stojowski—Life and Music, the latest volume of the Polish Music History series. The Wilks were also benefactors of the Kosciuszko Foundation, where they endowed the “Wanda Wilk Polish Music Fund.” The purpose of the fund is “to provide stipends to music scholars regardless of their ethnic background who are interested in doing research in Polish music with preference given to Polish art song and its promotion.”
For her extraordinary service to Polish music Wanda Wilk was awarded the highest state award of Poland, the Polonia Restituta medal in 1996. Her enthusiasm and far-reaching achievements have encouraged the awareness and appreciation of Polish music throughout the world, and will continue to be an inspiration for generations. Wanda Wilk’s ever-present smile and boundless goodwill towards mankind will chart the course for others to follow her footsteps.
Brief Biography of Wanda Wilk
Born in Hamtramck, Michigan, on 13 January 1921, Wanda (Harasimowicz) Wilk graduated from Wayne State University in Detroit in 1943 with a Bachelor of Music Degree, specializing in Music Education. After teaching in Detroit public schools for several years, she moved with her parents to California in 1949. She enrolled in a Master’s Degree program at the University of Southern California, but interrupted her studies to teach in conjunction with the UCLA Teacher’s Education Program, while continuing to perform as a pianist at various charity benefits and Polish functions. In 1952 she married Dr. Stefan P. Wilk, and in 1955 became a full-time mother and homemaker.
In 1974, Mrs. Wilk returned to the USC School of Music to finish her Master’s degree, alongside her daughter Diane, who was enrolled at USC in the School of Architecture. Wanda Wilk’s thesis, a bibliography on Polish music, led to a summer session at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. In 1976 Mrs. Wilk completed her thesis and graduated from USC with a Master of Music degree, but the lack of reference materials on Polish music at USC had planted the seed of an idea that would eventually become the Polish Music Center.
In 1980 Mrs. Wilk received the Mayor’s Certificate of Appreciation for her participation in the Polish Cultural Exhibit at the California Museum of Science and Industry in Los Angeles, for which she organized the music section and presented seventeen musical programs. In 1981 she secured the sponsorship of the USC School of Music for a Szymanowski Centennial. There she established the Friends of Polish Music and organized a week-long series of symphonic concerts, recitals, lectures, discussions, a banquet and an outdoor festival with the participation of artists, musicologists and students from England, Poland and various parts of the United States. Between 1983 and 1984 she prepared a travelling exhibit on Szymanowski which was shown in twenty-four university libraries throughout the U.S. and Canada. In 1983, she received the Perspectives’ Award from Perspectives Magazine in Washington, DC.
In 1988 Wanda Wilk and her husband were awarded the Polonia Award from the Southern California chapter of the Polish American Congress, and a Gold Medal from the Polish Composers’ Union (ZKP), an organization of which Mrs. Wilk is an honorary member. The American Council of Polish Clubs honored Wanda Wilk in 2004. In that same year, she was named an honorary member of the Polish Singers Alliance of America, the oldest cultural organization of Polonia in North America. Mrs. Wilk’s efforts at USC have been lauded by the University on numerous occasions, including the Director’s Award from the USC School of Music (1982), the Torchbearers’ Award (1992), and the President’s Commendation (2005). In 2004, she was made an honorary citizen of her hometown, Hamtramck, Michigan, where she also served as valedictorian of the Hamtramck High School Class of 1938.
Upon her death in February 2009, Wanda Wilk was survived by her daughter, Diane Wilk-Burch and her spouse, Michael Burch, their three children, numerous cousins and other relatives in Southern California. Funeral services and burial were held on February 28, 2009 at the Church of the Hills at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, immediately followed by a reception and celebration of Wanda Wilk’s life at the Lakeside Golf Club in Burbank. The 2009 PMC Spring Concert, held on March 28 at Newman Recital hall on the USC campus, was dedicated to Wanda Wilk’s memory.