Barry Williams

While still a student at the Teachers College I met Bunty Johnson, music teacher at Lincoln High School where I was sent “on section”. She felt rather remote from musical civilisation and pounced on anyone who might share her interest in music. She had already pounced on Barry Williams and so through her I met him. Later I found that he was a good friend of the Woollaston family and so our connection to Philip and Chan Woollaston and to his parents, Toss and Edith was reinforced. Barry had been appointed lecturer in charge of Extension Studies at the University of Canterbury which as far as I could see meant: Adult Education. Apart from organisation of courses in all possible fields he also found time to offer some music lectures which he himself gave. One of these was on Haydn. Up till this point I had not been a special Haydn fan but because Barry was giving it I went along. There was a class of 5 people: Bunty and her daughter signed up and I took with me two people from Linwood: Marie Lockey and Graeme Humphrey, a pupil who was in my class and later went on to study piano in London at the Royal Academy and has stayed there as a teacher ever since. For the next month or so every Saturday morning was devoted to Haydn and it was so good that I was not only turned into a Haydn fan but I even felt I was something of a Haydn specialist. I certainly wanted to visit the Esterházy Palace in Eisenstadt, something which I sadly have not yet achieved.

As I got to know Barry better it was clear that he was not just interested in the classical period but was keenly interested in New Music and has been ever since a faithful supporter of my work.

Maureen and Barry Williams at their home in Paekakariki (Dec. 2005)
Maureen and Barry Williams at their home in Paekakariki (Dec. 2005)

In 2005 after the NZSO reading of Rothko Variations we stayed with Barry and Maureen Williams at Paekakariki. The high point of this short stay was a visit to Kapiti Island with its wonderful birdlife. Although Barry organised the trip he could not take part because of his lung problems. Philip and Chan Woollaston however did come and also Maureen, Barry's wife. The island owes something of its status as a bird sanctuary to Philip’s work while Minister of the Environment in the Labour Government during the early 90s.

Later in conversation with Barry I heard about the Festival of Piano Music run every two years in Waikanae (neighbouring village to Paekakariki) and how each time the organisers had commissioned a piano piece from a NZ composer (starting with Jenny McLeod. I expressed interest in writing a piece for them – I already had ideas for a Kapiti Piece – and he promised to speak to the man in charge, which he did, but nothing happened.

Shortly afterwards I heard that the Festival was not to take place anymore.

Barry died in January 2014. At his funeral they played a work by Ross Harris and my Kapiti which was dedicated to him.