In the recent death of Jim Whittaker, the BCRS has lost a long-time member who actively supported the organisation for most of his adult life.
The BCRS was founded in 1963 by Dr Frank Gamble. A photograph taken at the time of a huge celebratory cake with Frank in the front clearly shows Jim’s smiling face in the background. Indeed, he was a founder member and played a large role in the activities of the organisation over its early decades. Jim’s wife Blodwen Myfanwy (known as Bronwen) was also an active member from the beginning.
In 1965, a summer recorder workshop was organised by the BCRS at St Clements Church, North Vancouver. On the programme of pieces to play the famous composers such as Praetorius and Susato were well represented, but there was also a piece called “Fiesta” by Jim Whittaker. We see that Jim was embarking on a career as a composer for the recorder, and he subsequently wrote many pieces for the BCRS to play. Jim was a math professor at UBC, so his musical interest was purely at the amateur level, but he developed a high level of proficiency in composition, and indeed playing.
On April 15, 1967, a meeting of the BCRS was held in Hut O16 at UBC (these were old army huts occupied by the military in WWII). The musical director for that evening was Jim Whittaker, and one of the featured numbers was his new composition “Elegy”.
At a BCRS Showcase on June 11, 1967, Jim conducted his musical version of the play “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder, including recorders, viols and voices. I have never seen the music for this but it would be great to perform it again if it survives. It seems that it must have been quite an ambitious undertaking.
In the BCRS Newsletter of Nov 29, 1967, there was an intriguing article on the fact that Dr and Mrs Whittaker were on a long stay in London, UK. This must have been a mathematics sabbatical for Jim because he was ensconced at University College, but the newsworthy items were that he was taking lessons on viols and “advanced recorders” in London. (Bronwen was taking lesson in French and pottery.)
By 1969, Jim had assumed the role of President of BCRS, which he carried out for several years. By 1997, the Whittakers were still paying members of BCRS. My main recollection of Jim in my early years at BCRS meetings (the 1980s and 1990s) was of Jim as a viola da gamba player, because he and several other members had pursued their parallel interest in this other major instrument of the early music repertoire, and they brought these instruments to the BCRS meetings.
Jim’s declining health kept him away from meetings until two years ago we invited him to a playing of “Fancy No. 2”, an SATB recorder composition in memory of the death of his friend Frank Gamble. Jim showed up but because of his health was not able to stay for the performance.
Jim also had a great interest in choral music and singing as a bass was a member of the Vancouver Bach Choir since its inception. Overall, he was a stalwart of the amateur music community in his chosen city of Vancouver (he was born in Los Angeles). He did not just love music, but he advanced his skills at every opportunity and in every way he could. His enthusiasm was boundless. And of course he made many selfless contributions to the instruments, the people and the music that we love. He was indeed a model for all of us. Jim Whittaker was definitely one of a kind, and the BCRS takes great pride in our association with him.
Jim's compositions for recorder are available from the BCRS Library. They are lightly jazzy, full of musical interest and not too hard to play.
Mexican Fancies - ST or AT
Childhood Fancies - ATB
Childhood Fancies SATB
Elegy (1967) SATB
Fancy # 2 SATB
Fantasia No. 2 SAAT
Fiesta: in honour of Frank Gamble (1965) SAAT
Golden Years: Fantasia SATB
Pavan Dixie Girl SATB
Three Elizabethan Psalm Tunes SATB
The Virgin's Song SATB
Pavan Corona Lachrymarum SAATB
Voyage SATB SATB
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