George Houle, Stanford professor of music emeritus and early music champion, dies at 89
Colleagues, friends and family will celebrate the life of George Houle at a memorial concert on Saturday, April 1.
George Houle, professor of music emeritus, died in Palo Alto on Jan. 7, 2017. The Stanford Department of Music will present a memorial concert in his honor in Memorial Church on Saturday, April 1, at 7:30 p.m. A reception will follow in Braun Music Center’s Braun Rehearsal Hall.
Houle will be remembered for championing early music through teaching and scholarship and for enriching the Bay Area’s musical life with frequent concerts of Baroque and Renaissance music. He was greatly appreciated by his talented and dedicated former students who are playing, teaching, studying and writing about music all over the world.
Houle was born Nov. 21, 1927, in Pasadena, California. From the age of 13, he studied oboe with the principal oboist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Henri de Busscher. He was a soloist with the Pasadena Civic Orchestra in high school and played oboe in the Army Ground Forces Band from 1946-48.
He arrived at Stanford in 1949 as the hired oboist for a Music Department opera and was offered a music scholarship in lieu of payment. Houle, who studied with noted professors Putnam Aldrich and Leonard Ratner, earned a bachelor’s degree in 1950, a master’s degree in 1951 and a doctorate in 1961.
Houle taught at Mills College, the University of Colorado and the University of Minnesota before returning to Stanford in 1962, where he helped to create the Doctor of Musical Arts degree program in the performance of early music.
Houle believed that for his students to truly understand music, they needed to immerse themselves in its history and theory as performers. For instance, to instill the rhythms of Renaissance and Baroque dances, Houle and his students learned those dances, which enhanced their abilities to play them well. Blending music performance with its cultural context was Houle’s foundation as a scholar and performer.
Houle took leave from Stanford from 1972 to 1974 to direct the early music ensemble New York Pro Musica, which toured the world. He returned to Stanford and taught there until his retirement in 1992.
In a memorial resolution for William Loran Crosten, the founder of the Stanford Music Department and chair when Houle arrived on campus, Houle wrote about being a music student at Stanford:
“I came as a student and found the intellectual stimulation of the Music Department to be constant, challenging, and transformative to a musician trained to be a professional performer. I received a secure foundation in analytic theory that opened a broad understanding of music history, styles, and structure, and was delighted to discover that musical performance had a history. This led to a fascination with music in history, its actual sound, the performer’s relationship to the composer’s score, and with music previously known only to historians.”
Houle authored numerous works, including Meter in Music 1600–1800; Doulce Memoire, A Study in Performance Practice; and Le Ballet des Facheux: Beauchamp’s Music for Molière’s Comedy. He was the editor, with his wife, Glenna, of The Music for Viola Bastarda by Jason Paras. In addition to his writing, Houle was enthusiastic and tireless in teaching students and presenting concerts.
Houle remained active in retirement and learned to play the viola da gamba. That interest led him to serve as the editor and publisher of the gamba sonatas of C. F. Abel and August Kühnel. He taught at the University of San Francisco’s Fromm Institute for 19 more years.
In 1999, he received the annual Howard Mayer Brown Award for lifetime achievement in the field of early music from Early Music America, a membership organization for the field of historical performance.
Houle is survived by his wife of 49 years, Glenna Mount Houle; sons David Houle and Alan Holiday; daughters Ann and Melissa Houle; grandson, Nathan Holiday; former wife, Constance Crawford; and sister, Jeanne Johnson.
Gifts designated for the George Houle Memorial Early Music Scholarship Fund should be noted as such, made payable to Stanford University, and sent to: Friends of Music, Braun Music Center, Stanford University, 541 Lasuen Mall, Stanford, CA 94305.