Honorary Board of Directors
Doriot Anthony Dwyer
William H. Grass, 79; flutist played with BSO, taught many
By Tom Long, Globe Staff | November 16, 2005
William Henry Grass Jr., a flutist who performed with the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops, took many talented young musicians under his wing. He was a wonderful flutist, but he was also a great teacher," his former student Elizabeth Mann, principal flutist of the Orchestra of St. Luke's and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in New York City, said yesterday.
''Music was his life," Robert E. Grass of Weston said of his father, who died of pancreatic and liver cancer Nov. 9 in his home in Wellesley. He was 79.
Mr. Grass taught at Boston Conservatory, New England Conservatory, and Boston University. ''He poured his heart and soul into his teaching," his son said. ''His students perform all over the world."
Mr. Grass also gave private lesson to talented young performers in his home in Wellesley, where he lived for 50 years. ''He taught in the living room," said his son. ''He taught anywhere you could put a music stand and some sheet music. '' Robert recalled spending many summers at the Boston Symphony's summer home at Tanglewood in Lenox. He remembered sitting in the back seat of his father's Volkswagen beetle as he drove conductor Arthur Fiedler home.
Mr. Grass, who was a freelancer, also performed with the Opera Company of Boston and the Boston Ballet. ''He had the most beautiful sound. He had a long, full career outside of New York City, and that's not so easy to do," said Mann.
Mr. Grass was remarkably unstuffy for a classical virtuoso. For many years he was a member of the Pro Arte Woodwind Quintet, which performed often at schools. ''He loved performing for children," his former wife, Sandra Van Dusen of Fairport, N.Y., said yesterday. ''Children asked him interesting questions like 'how long would a French horn be if you stretched it out straight?' or 'would a flute play if you stuck it out the window of a moving car?' ''
Mr. Grass was born and raised in Brazil, Ind. ''He came from an unmusical family. He learned music on his one and only," said Van Dusen, to whom he was married from 1953 to 1966. He began to learn on a wooden flute, because his family couldn't afford a more expensive model. Later in life, his gold flute was his trademark. A graduate of DePaul University in Chicago, Mr. Grass served in a musical unit in the Navy near the end of World War II. He performed in a Navy marching band during Franklin D. Roosevelt's funeral.
After his military service, Mr. Grass earned a master's degree at New England Conservatory of Music. ''He was a perfectionist, and he taught his students to be perfectionist as well," said his son. ''He was a tough teacher, but he was an incredibly warm man," said Mann. ''I haven't been his student for years, but he still called me each year on my birthday, just to see how I was doing."
In addition to his son and former wife, he leaves another ex-wife, Seta DerHohannesian of Newton; and two grandchildren.