Monday, 20 October 2008

The late Bill Waterhouse

From this photograph of Bill that I took five years before his death (last Autumn), you might think he was a Master of Wine, or possibly even an alcoholic, but he was neither: we were sitting across the table from each other at a post-wedding party, and Bill was talking with habitual earnestness: the subject could have been anything, but was most likely not to have been that about which he knew best: Bill was a pre-eminent practitioner on the bassoon.

"A worthy fellow, Ratty, with many good qualities, but very little intelligence and absolutely no education." So says Toad (in The Wind in the Willows). Superficially, Bill Waterhouse might be said to resemble "dear good old Ratty", with his unmistakable physiognomy – though equally perhaps Moley, ceaselessly industrious; Badger (with his fancy waistcoats): even (dare I say) Toad himself, when kitted out in his leathers and astride his motor bike. What is certain is that Bill indeed had many good qualities – but (unlike Ratty) they included a very unusual intelligence and a continuing zest for education!

His bassoon (and wider musicological) prowess has been well recorded, but as a neighbour I chiefly recall his appetite for his community and his joie de vivre. Bill was a regular attender at the Sevenhampton Produce Show and also the Whittington Summer Show – since 1981, as he recorded in a learned article he wrote for the celebrated Whittington Press's Matrix 26.

Bill and Elisabeth's cottage was situated well apart from Sevenhampton itself, but everyone at all interested was welcome there for the Waterhouse musical afternoons - at Christmas, Easter or some other occasion dreamt up for celebration. On arrival Bill would be standing (in his fancy waistcoat) directing the traffic and getting splashed with mud. Inside the Musicbarn, we perched on garden chairs or just a cushion on the floor. We always emerged feasted.

A neighbouring village gave its name to a scratch group that used to put on an annual concert, with what might sometimes be described as uneven results. But when the Shipton Consort performed Mozart's Requiem, with its opening bassoon motif, we all gasped: it was Bill playing.

Never having been to Highgate before 23rd November last, the day of Bill's Memorial Service, I asked myself what he would have done to mark the occasion. Of course! Yes, after a magical remembrance of Bill in prayer and in music, I sought out Karl Marx's splendid tomb in Highgate Cemetery, and George Eliot's more modest one. The eclectic Bill would surely have approved.

Yesterday, visiting Elisabeth and having tea with her in Bill's beloved Musicbarn, I met the musicologist Jim Kopp and his wife Joanne. They are hard at work completing the book Bill had agreed to write on the bassoon for the authoritative Yale Musical Instrument Series. It will be a long task, but one that's clearly in good hands.

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