Martin Outram’s Tribute to John White

I will always remember John as an incredibly generous, loyal and supportive friend and colleague. I first met him in about 1975 and began to have viola lessons with him in the summer of 1976. Here was someone who had an inexhaustible knowledge of all things relating to the viola – its history, personalities and repertoire. John possessed an absolutely encyclopedic knowledge of the subject, the likes of which I have not found equalled. As a teenager it became something of a game for me to burrow away to find what seemed to be the most obscure pieces and mention them in my next lesson in the hope that John might not have heard of them. However, I was always thwarted as I never managed to catch him out and on many occasions he had played the pieces himself, had a recording of them and ALWAYS copies of the music in his vast library. It really seemed as though there was no viola piece with which John did not have an acquaintance!

John was a brilliant teacher who possessed in huge measure one of the most inspiring qualities of any great pedagogue – infectious enthusiasm. Lessons with him could be tough but one always went home feeling fired up to work. He had a great gift in knowing how to lift his pupils, how to set the right height for the bar and, equally important, he knew when to stop. As a colleague at the Royal Academy of Music and fellow examiner I was always struck by how thoroughly well-prepared John’s students were – and to this day in my own teaching the question ‘how might John have approached this?’ is a frequent refrain for me. John’s presence at the RAM was one which bound people together – he seemed to know everyone and very much believed in a sense of heritage and the ongoing tradition associated with the institution. It is no surprise that he was elected President of the RAM Club for its alumni- a role he fulfilled most effectively.

John had a wonderful sense of humour and was often the focus of social gatherings as a result. He had some great stories up his sleeve and could be self-depracating to a fault, especially when speaking of his own playing. He was the dedicatee of a large number of new works and on one occasion as a teenager I arrived at his recital to be asked by John to turn pages for the pianist in a premiere performance. It was a terrifying experience as the music was so fast and the handwritten musical script so spidery that I could barely keep up with the pianist! I have to confess that I can’t remember a note of what John played, so utterly consumed was I by my task!

John was definitely of the old school when it came to communication, preferring pen and paper to e mail, although he did use this in his last chapter. However, he was always an extremely prompt and courteous correspondent, anxious to reply at the earliest opportunity and frequently devoting his early mornings to his post before setting out for the day’s teaching. John corresponded widely all the time with violists and musicians from across the world. He was someone to whom so many turned for advice or off whom they bounced ideas – his feet were always on the ground and his opinions always valued.

John’s energy and desire to forge ahead with new projects was remarkable. As an indefatigable collector throughout his life, he was able to benefit us all thanks to producing a number of magnificent books and articles relating to the viola and his other great passion, cricket. Together with the beautiful editions of a wide variety of viola music, these were the perfect vehicles for John’s lifelong generosity in sharing his knowledge and possessions. They are also an abiding testimony to his wife Carol, without whose selfless support and dedication John was the first to say none of these would have been possible.

John was a great inspiration in so many ways. A man who never forgot where he came from, able confidently to speak to anyone and able to put anyone at their ease. Being a Yorkshireman, naturally he had strong views and was not averse to expressing them, but there was always room for an opposing view and John welcomed fair discussion. He had no time for superficiality and found some recent trends in the music business alien to his beliefs. He was always a tremendous supporter of young musicians and in all his dealings he demanded the highest standards of conduct, commitment and dedication to the music. All of us who had the privilege to know him were inspired and affected by his love, loyalty and support.

Martin Outram.

18th February 2014