Local Renaissance man resurrects 'Wisdom Seekers'

It is important to distinguish between wisdom and knowledge, said Steve Kilston, in an interview with the Sentinel. The Cottage Grove resident recently decided to resurrect the local public meetup group called the Wisdom Seekers Club, a space and time in which people are invited to come together to freely and respectfully discuss any of a myriad of topics.

Kilston is an ideal candidate to mediate a group created to foster Socratic debate. The term “renaissance man” and “renaissance woman” aptly describe both him and his wife, Vera. In their careers, working in the fields of engineering, astrophysics, and astronomy, the couple has become renowned for their achievements in enhancing the function of high-resolution satellite imagery; in their personal lives, the Kilstons’ affinity for chamber music has led them to share this connection with their children, accomplished musicians, and burgeoning young talent alike.

String Quartet Academy
This June, the Kilstons hosted the String Quartet Academy at their home for the fifth year running. Led by the esteemed musicians from Eugene’s Delgani String Quartet, 20 young musicians between the ages of 9 and 18 came from all over the state and from as far away as Illinois to attend the week-long school. Steve and Vera said they dabble with playing different musical instruments, but their home is often filled with the sounds of chamber music, played in an intimate space in front of a grateful audience. Steve has taught piano to students in the past and fondly remembers introducing the children his wife had during her first marriage to the joys of playing music.

“[Vera] had three children who I got started playing violins and cello,” Steve said, “and we used to have them playing in Los Angeles in the parks near the tar pits and other places where people would come and toss money into the cello cases while they were playing chamber music, and then they use that money they earned to go to summer camp.”

The String Quartet Academy traditionally concludes with a concert that the kids put on for family and friends, Steve shared. While that performance has taken place at the Kilston home in the past, this year Cottage Theatre offered its stage up for the occasion, free of charge. The concert took place on June 25.

Said Steve, “When [the kids] were practicing for their quartet, they often practice on their own individually and play outdoors. We have a little lake, and they play on that or sometimes they play on the island. There are a lot of outdoor places under the trees where they can play and quite a few rooms in the house where they can play. The house is set up with two dormitories in the attic of the garage and in the attic of the house so they can I have all the boys in one and all the girls in another.

“We have a piano and a performance area in the house, but it’s not quite large enough for the final concert… The [kids] want all their friends and parents to come and hear them. That's why we went to the College Theatre. This is the first time we've been in the theatre, and it was a very nice place to have a lot of people hear them.”

A Houseguest from Russia
Steve and Vera recently invited this reporter to their home to meet another musical talent: Russian pianist Andrei Andreev.

Said Steve, “Andrei is one of the finest pianists in what I consider current environment of music. He's a Russian who studied at the University of Oregon and went back to St. Petersburg [in Russia]. He won a competition to play in Carnegie Hall.”

Andrei recently escaped Russia after it became apparent that he would be forcibly conscripted into the Russian military forces to fight against Ukraine were he to stay in the county. A young man, quick to smile and share his musical talent even with an audience of two or three people, said he was fortunate for his circumstances. Because of his musical talents and American contacts, Andrei had found a pathway to reach the United States. He said he was lucky that he had some savings put aside when he made the decision to leave Russia. Many of his family members and friends – several of them talented youths that had been entrenched in their academic pursuits – have not been so lucky.

It has come to the point in Russia, Andrei shared, that it is illegal to speak against the government’s actions against Ukraine. “You are either for the war or contra,” he said, and by not explicitly vocalizing approval for Russian aggression, it is perceived by the government that you are against the government itself.

Andrei spoke of an increasing number of Russian musicians – of the musicians that have escaped the country – that are holding concerts to raise money for the Ukrainian people. Andrei will soon count himself among them, as he is scheduled to play a concert this fall in Washington state. Proceeds from the concert will provide go towards providing some relief to Ukrainians experiencing the devastation of war.

This act, this speaking out against the Russian government – what may seem like such a simple thing to an American – means Andrei will not be able to return to his home country without being arrested. Steve and Vera, thankfully, stand in his corner and have opened their home to him during this difficult transition.

Wisdom Seeking: A Humanitarian Endeavor?
In a letter Steve sent out announcing the revival of the Wisdom Seekers Club this July, he mentioned how wisdom has felt especially “elusive” during the last few years with all of the “changes, challenges, and disagreements” that people have experienced. He also hinted that the answer to the “knowing what to do” question is likely more obvious than what people might first think: that the approach he takes to life is that influenced by the “melioristic” perspective, the belief that the circumstances of our world can be improved through human effort.

After spending an afternoon with Steve and Vera, it was apparent from what they had shared about their lives and the unexhausted admiration they showed for art and humanity that they knew how to transform “knowledge” into the “wisdom” that Steve had mentioned before in his letter to fellow Wisdom Seekers: they knew that it was by sharing knowledge that this was done.

The Wisdom Seekers Club will be meeting at the Community Center on the first Thursday of the month at 7 p.m. All are welcome.