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Newfoundland Musical Pioneerby Will Hilliard
Copyright © 2001 Will HilliardThe Telegram
Mack Furlong, Don Wherry's accomplice in Sound Symposium and other adventures, has submitted the following obituary/appreciation by writer Will Hilliard of The Telegram
Don Wherry, gifted composer, percussionist, builder of unusual musical instruments, and visual artist, died Saturday night of a heart attack while leading several hundred people in a parade during the inaugural Victoria Park Lantern Festival.
He was said to be in his late 50s
A recipient of the 1996 Canadian League of Composers Award for his contributions in encouraging the creation of new Canadian music works, Wherry moved from his native Toronto to Newfoundland in 1973 after already establishing himself as a percussionist and versatile musician and performer of many hats.
During his illustrious career, he was principal percussionist with the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra, co-founder of the contemporary music group Fusion, faculty member of Memorial University School of Music, and creator and artistic director of the Sound Symposium which attracts musical sound artists from around the world.
He was a former percussionist with the Toronto Symphony, the CBC Festival Orchestra, 10th Century Series Orchestra, the Canadian Opera Company, the Toronto Dance Theatre and the National Ballet.
Known to make musical instruments out of farm machinery and score music for ships' horns and church bells, Wherry once rowed a dingy in a flume tank while playing a steel bowl and timed his performances to coincide with the full moon at midnight at Cape Spear.
"His impact has been tremendous," said Peter Gardner, artistic director for the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra, from Alberta on Sunday. "I think it was 1973 when I first met him. He came and lived in Tors Cove then. For many years he's been associated with the symphony as its principal percussionist, but his influence goes way beyond music.
"Don has been involved with artists, dancers. Everybody in the arts community knows of Don Wherry and I think it's because of his generosity of spirit. He gave freely of himself to everybody.
"Even more remarkable is his work as a teacher," added Gardner. "Don was an absolute leader in passing on his considerable percussion knowledge to his students. His students all get work and are well known across the country."
Gardner said Wherry had been in poor health for some time.
Also to his credit, Wherry developed the percussion ensemble, The Scruncheons, and help found the Black Auks ensemble, which has performed in visual art exhibits by Harold Klunder, Gerald Squires, Sharon Puddester, Cecil Day and Mary Dryburgh.
Among his numerous compositions, Wherry co-composed a special harbour symphony called Growlers and Ballycatters, with Paul Steffler for the Museum of Archeology and History in Montreal in 1995, and a year later he composed a harbour symphony for San Francisco's Sound Culture festival.
In an interview with The Telegram last year, Wherry summed up his reluctance to push Sound Symposium 2000 onto the millennium bandwagon when everybody and his god seemed to be riding the hype.
"We could have gone the Viking route but we avoided that because we feel that what we do is really about now and tomorrow, the future of arts, not the past," Wherry commented.
Will Hilliard is a writer on The Telgram in Newfoundland.