Leila Alma Millicent van der Molen

1939 -

Leila van der Molen, a pianist and organist, has taught for over fifty years in three academies and one college in the Seventh-day Adventist educational system. Now retired, she continues to teach lessons at an academy and music in an elementary school.

Leila was born and raised in Rivonia, a suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa, the only daughter of Cornelius and Irene Smith van der Molen. While neither parent was a professional musician, they both enjoyed music, and hymn singing around the piano on Friday evenings was a memorable ritual for both Leila and her brother.

After an initial two-year experience in piano lessons for both children that was inadequate, they continued with a very good teacher, Lola Kaneman, who, though very young, had been well-trained and provided excellent instruction.

We didn't learn any hymns from her, but she was so good at teaching us theory and all the things you need to know that we were able teach ourselves to play them. We played in church for all the meetings, and when I got to Helderberg College, my piano teacher said, "I guess I'll give you some hymns to play," and I told her, "I know the hymns and can play them all."

Leila attended and completed high school at Helderberg College. She returned to the school for one more year, where she studied with June McManaman, and then left to attend the University of Witwatersrang in Johannesburg, where she completed a music degree with a major in piano in 1960. She then returned to HC in 1961 and taught music until 1970. She later talked about her experience as a teacher at HC:

In addition to teaching organ and some music classes, I also accompanied the choir for Wilhelmina Dunbar, head of the department and choir director, occasionally. South Africa is a bilingual country where both English and Afrikaans are spoken. At one stage at Helderberg, all of the teachers had to teach half the class in English and the other half in Afrikaans. The church service would be in English one week, and in the following week it would be in the second language.

I think I know why this happened. When I was taking my classes at Helderberg, public exams at the end of one's schooling at the high school level had to be successfully completed if one was to get jobs or go to college. While I was in the high school level, we had some American teachers who didn't bother to study the syllabus that would prepare the students for the exams. The result was that in my last year out of 25 students in math class only two passed the exams.

A similar thing happened in biology, which was also taught by an American teacher. Even though I had been getting straight A's from him, I did very poorly on the exam. I think that after that they made a rule that all the teachers must be bilingual, teach the class in both languages, and follow the syllabus.

While teaching there, van der Molen continued music study at nearby Stellenbosch University, where she passed examinations for licentiates from schools based in England and completed an Honors Bachelor's degree. She traveled to the U.S. in 1970 and graduated with an M.Mus. in organ from Boston University in 1971.

Following completion of her work at BU, van der Molen was hired to teach piano and organ at Campion Academy in Colorado, where she would teach for the next eight years. She then taught at Upper Columbia Academy in Washington state from 1979 to 1987. While teaching there, she also played the pipe organ in the Disciples of Christ Church in Spokane, a position she enjoyed because of the friendships she formed there.

In 1987 she accepted a full-time position at Great Lakes Academy in Michigan, where she continues as an adjunct teacher after retiring in 2006. She also teaches music classes in the nearby church school, an experience she particularly enjoys.


Source: Interview with Leila van der Molen, March 2011; Biography at Great Lakes Academy website (2011).