Remembering Washington McClain

From Gwyn Richards, Dean:


It is with sadness that I report the unexpected and sudden death (Feb. 24) of the Early Music Institute’s esteemed colleague and baroque oboe teacher, Washington McClain.

Washington McClain was a former member of Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and principal oboist of l’Ensemble Arion (Montreal) and Apollo’s Fire Baroque Orchestra (Cleveland, Ohio). He performed with many other baroque orchestras in the United States and in Canada. Washington was appointed Adjunct Assistant Professor of Music (Baroque Oboe) in the Jacobs School of Music in 2001.

Professor McClain’s extensive teaching and performing experience in workshops and festivals in North America included The Amherst Early Music Festival, Albuquerque Baroque Music Festival, the Madison Early Music Festival, The International Baroque Institute at Longy (Boston), Festival International de Musique Baroque de Lamèque (New Brunswick, Canada), The Staunton Music Festival (Virginia), and the Boston Early Music Festival. He was also the first period instrument performer to be featured in an article in Windplayer Magazine.

Professor McClain made recordings for Sony Classical Vivarte, ATMA Records, Analekta Records, and Centaur Records.  One of McClain’s last recordings, of French baroque music by François Chauvon, a pupil of Couperin, issued on (Montreal), is reviewed in the Spring 2013 issue of Early Music America magazine.

Wash, as he was known to his colleagues, was not only a brilliant musician and teacher but his unfailingly cheerful, sunny disposition and deep, hearty chuckle lightened most of the fleeting moments we spent with him, which makes his untimely passing all the harder to bear.

In the EMI, Wash was much loved by all of the faculty and he will be greatly missed.

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26 Responses to Remembering Washington McClain

  1. Mary Trask says:

    My condolences go out to his family. His fleeting appearances at the Mailroom was always a bright moment in my day.

  2. Anne M.C.Kool says:


  3. Dimitra says:

    Eternal memory dear friend and precious soul. I’ll never forget the chance to play an oboe-flute duet together. We remember Washington’s inspiring presence, his gift of language, and his wonderful contributions to worship and music at Sts. Peter & Paul Greek Orthodox Church in Glenview, Illinois.

  4. Massimo Ossi says:

    Dear Colleagues and Students in the EMI,

    I am shocked and saddened by this news–as you all must be as well.

    All my sympathy,
    Massimo Ossi

  5. Barbara Kallaur says:

    Besides our mutual love of baroque winds, Wash and I shared a connection with Eastern Orthodoxy and often spoke of this. A prayer for Wash from the Eastern Byzantine Rite:

    Give rest, O Lord, to your servant with your saints
    Where sorrow and pain are no more,
    neither sighing but life ever lasting.

    You only are immortal,
    the creator and maker of all;
    and we are mortal,
    formed of the earth,
    and to earth shall we return.

    For so did you ordain when you created me, saying;
    “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
    All of us go down to the dust;
    yet even at the grave we make our song:

    Alleluia, Alleluia

  6. David Gilmore says:

    Deep sadness and great memories of my friend. Especially of you playing the recorder for the ensemble on my graduate voice recital and singing in choir at NLU and at WMHS. RIP my friend.

  7. Over years of hosting many visiting opera singers and instrumental musicians who had come to perform in Cleveland, Wash became one of my very favorite house guests. His delightful sense of humor and unfailing warmth and humanity made him a delight to have in my home. I will miss his cheery calls that gave me a “heads up” to ask if his favorite room was available.

    His fabulous musicianship inspired both awe and pleasure in those of us who were blessed in having heard him perform.

    My fiance and I had hoped to get together with Wash when he next played in New York, and are greatly saddened by the news of his passing. Our hearts go out to Wash’s family and to his students who must bear the heaviest burden of this loss.

  8. Sue says:

    Wash was such a wonderful and inspiring presence at Amherst. I will never forget playing bassoon in his oboe band and pulling together a fine performance. When he played in the faculty concerts it was always a treat. I am grateful to have met him.

  9. Rachel Brown says:

    How incredibly sad! I so enjoyed the one week we played together. What a lovely man, beautiful musician and gorgeous nutty sound. Very glad to have known him briefly…

  10. Jenny Essers says:

    Washington was a dear friend and colleague. That he will be remembered with love in the mailroom and on the concert stage says everything you need to know about his personality.

  11. Janet Scott & David Jensen says:

    For the past 2 years Wash stayed with us whenever he would teach at the EMI. After a long day of teaching (and reed making), we would be treated to having great conversations, with topics ranging from politics to Greece to early music stories to literature and history. He would often be amazed and entertained by one of our cats, Woody, who could open almost any cabinet or door. Wash’s suggestion during his last visit in February was that Woody needed a girlfriend to keep him occupied and out of trouble.

    Thanksgiving this past November will always be in our memories. Wash decided to spend it with us in Bloomington, so we invited several EMI friends and students. As the evening drew to a close, we all sat around him as he discussed this and that, or told one of his amazing stories.

    Now we walk by the guestroom door, first thinking—when will Wash be coming next? Are the sheets changed? Towels laid out? And then we remember.

    Wash was a gentleman and a gentle man, a lover of life and people, and a precious gift to everyone who knew him.

    Wash, you will always be in our hearts.

  12. Ann says:

    Washington sang Tenor in the choir at SS Peter & Paul Greek Orthodox Church in Glenview, IL after graduating from Northwestern with his Masters degree. He also worked in the church office. His use of the Greek language was amazing. May his Memory be Eternal!

  13. Pamela Winn says:

    I can’t believe that I am leaving such a message as this my dear dear cousin.
    For the first time I am trying to decribe through so many tears that seem to flow from this empty hole in my heart my feelings of loss. The phone calls just about everyday, the thoughtful text’s, emails and cards. I loved the way you smiled and made me think of our Aunt Callie when something tickled you deep inside. I shall cherish every story you told about most of your falls in the snow and ice :?) Now when I get off in the morning there is a quiet moment for you where there once was a phone call but I remember to smile and thank GOD for our time together. I loved the way you squeezed into my car :?)
    We would lock a look at each other, you would lay the seatbelt accross your belly and smile and off we went laughing all the way. I know that each one of you that have left messages have taken the same deep breath that I take now.
    Loving you for the rest of my days in this life and never having to say good bye in the next is comforting right now, but I am still trying to rap my head around this. I know, I know, I know…

  14. Jeff Todd says:

    I did not stay connected with Wash. So sad that we did not.We went to NLU over 30 years ago.
    I will never forget the fun times and how Wash could laugh. I know he will be dearly missed. Never forget the day you decided to trade in the Baritone for the oboe. It was the right thing. Is there a recording out there to be purchased of Wash’s oboe playing?

    • steve davis says:

      Hello Jeff, I’m not sure but I know that he has a CD by the title of CHAUVON, Les Nouveaux Bijoux, that we found in his apartment in Canada. I believe that you can go to early~music. com and find it. Bless you and thank you for your remarks.

  15. Tyrone Dyvonn Burton says:

    My heartaches at the very thought of not being able to talk to you anymore, though brief our conversations may have been. I will always have fond memoires of our times and adventures as music majors and fellow sinfonians at NLU. You were my inspiration when I didnt want to practice and my motivation when I thought I had mastered a new skill on an instrument or vocal piece and you would wihout any musical effort just blow me away, as you did most of us. I will always cherish our unspoken bond of brotherhood and pray that the I will leave as wonderful a legacy as you have to the world. Until we meet again. Hail Sinfonia!

  16. felton.ivey1 says:

    I only learned recently of the death of Professor Washington McClain, affectionately known as Wash to all of us from our former neighborhood in Louisiana. He grew up next door to me along with his brothers and played piano for the church Sunday School and Choir as did I in the early days. I had a second hand trumpet that I played in the university band that I gave them when I moved away. I am truly saddened by his passing and would like to express my condolences to his family and friends.

  17. steve davis says:

    Well, this past weekend was quite challenging for Washington’s family. We laid him to rest in West Monroe, Louisiand with other family members. I am Steve, an older brother of Wash. I thought that laying his remains to rest would make it seems a bit more real but, it didn’t. I will reveal something to each of you that may seem quite odd. Wash and I were very close, we talk mostly every week. If he came across my mind I would hear from him and likewise when he thought of me I would seem to call each time. We talked about everything, family, travel, food, faith and yes, the next time we might see eachother. What I didn’t know about my brother was how he was able to live to very demanding lives as one person. The phone calls, emails and posting in so many media forms have been truly overwhelming to say the least. I have heard stories that warm the heart to it’s deepest parts. I have been to many of his performances and talked to many his colleagues, still not knowing how many people that he touched around the world with oneness in thought and belief. That Wash was so loving, fun, caring, wonderful, passionate and driven. Thank you all, your words and deeds will live on just as him memories will live on in each of us. I thank you with all my heart.



  19. Washington McClain Memorial Concert
    Saturday, September 7, 8PM, Auer Hall, Indiana University, Bloomington

    As a part of this event we are going to print, in some form, memories of Wash. If you would like to contribute please send me by next Tuesday a memory of Wash you would like to share. You can email me at or post your memory directly on this blog post.

    Thank you,

    Sung Lee
    Administrative Assistant

    Early Music Institute
    Jacobs School of Music
    Indiana University, Bloomington
    812.855.4088 office

  20. My memory of Wash was that he always seemed cheerful, even in adversity, and even when talking about things not going well, and he made me cheerful and hopeful, too. It is a little harder without his cheeriness, but the memory of it still gives hope.

  21. Allison Edberg says:

    The first time I heard Wash play we were in Apollo’s Fire in an orchestra pit and I actually stood up and turned around to see who was making that heavenly, sweet, rich sound. It turns out it was a man who was just as sweet, heavenly and rich in all the important ways as his sound. I am grateful for the time we had with him.

  22. Linda Shortridge says:

    Wash’s playing and teaching reputation was so impeccable and he was such a guiding light for his students, how could anybody not miss him. We love you, Wash. Linda Shortridge

  23. Martha McGaughey says:

    Wash was my very favorite oboist. It was an honor to play several times with such a great musician, and always a pleasure to hear him; I have tremendous respect and admiration for him. It is as a friend that I will miss him most, however. I loved hearing his stories of the family he clearly loved so much, and I loved talking to him, about anything and everything. What a generous soul he was, with such a rare combination of keen intelligence and deep compassion for just about everyone.

  24. Washisms from my dearly departed mentor–
    — Better make sure you practice enough, or you’ll be stuck singin’ “come to Jesus” in whole notes.
    — Fold it into the batter — on eggwhites and ornaments

  25. Brian Lassiter says:

    Somehow missed that Wash had passed. So many memories from high school and college days. He was truly selfless, and will remain an,inspiration to me, as to so many others.

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