Sunday, August 11, 2013

In memoriam: John Grimes

John prepares for action.
I regret I must pause today to note the passing of a musician and a friend: John Ernest Grimes (at left), timpanist of the Handel and Haydn Society and Boston Baroque, a long-time faculty member at Boston Conservatory and Vice President of the Boston Musicians Association, as well as a frequent performer with many local orchestras, left this world after a long battle with various ailments on Thursday, August 8.  

John was only an acquaintance of mine, I suppose, but it was hard - given his warm personality - not to feel I was a friend, particularly as he was one of the last avatars of a vanishing breed: that dapper, eternal bachelor who knows everyone and everything, and is always happy to perform the part of perfect dinner partner.

He was also, of course, a terrifically talented percussionist, and dedicated not just to the advance of music, but to the economic and social interests of musicians, too.  The list of organizations and stars with whom he has performed is a long one (running from Sarah Caldwell, Leonard Bernstein and Colin Davis to El Sistema in Venezuela), but  I only became really familiar with his work toward the end of his career, when he was focused on baroque timpani.  

John in his Key West high school band.
I soon became infatuated, I admit, with the sparkling lyricism of his style. I can't tell you how many times a wave of pleasure seemed to surge through the audience as John wrapped a precisely syncopated roll on the timpani - but at least two dazzling performances stand out in my mind: his brilliant evocation of the summer storm of Beethoven's Sixth, performed under Sir Roger Norrington, and his delightful attack on a full kitchen of percussion in a dazzling obscurity, Jean-Féry Rebel's Les Elémens, under the baton of Jean-Marie Zeitouni.

Now, of course, there is only silence - but there are those memories (a memorial service will be announced at a later date). I admit I will miss being able to look forward to his performances - just as the musicians of Boston will miss his advocacy. And of course we'll all just miss him, too. 

Good-bye, John.


  1. A musical - even lyrical - timpanist! How often can we say that? The musical community has been hit hard this year with the loss of friends and colleagues = Mary Ruth Ray, Rick Menaul and now John. As a friend said: no more death, please. Thank you for this lovely tribute. We loved John because of his playing; we loved his playing because we loved John.

  2. thank you, mr. garvey!
    john was indeed a most wonderful person, musician and friend! AND dinner partner!! :-)

  3. I should have mentioned in the post that John received his first diagnosis some years ago. Yet he continued to play - and play brilliantly - throughout his travails. Just another way in which he was inspiring.

  4. Thank you, Mr. Garvey, for your tribute to John Grimes. I sang with H&H for nearly ten years, and part of the pleasure of that experience was getting to know John, and of course seeing and experiencing his virtuosic playing. I learned that he was originally from Key West, of all places, and that we had shared acquaintances there. John's sharp intellect, his tart sense of humor, his passion for music-making...all this and much more will be missed by so many.