Remembering Harriet Risk Woldt

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Harriet Risk Woldt, TCU Emeritus Associate Professor of Cello and Theory, cellist and teacher

May 10, 1925 – May 19, 2021

Harriet Risk Woldt passed away peacefully of natural causes on the evening of May 19 at her home in Fort Worth, Texas, with family by her side.

Harriet’s music career spanned decades, but the latter half was devoted almost entirely to the viola da gamba and early music. She was Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director of Fort Worth Early Music. She served on the faculty of many workshops, among them the Conclave of the Viola da Gamba Society of America, Texas Toot, Viols West and Tampa Bay Viols. She performed extensively with the Dallas and Denton Bach Societies, Texas Baroque Ensemble, Dallas’ Orchestra of New Spain, and was a featured performer with the Houston Opera and Houston Oratorio Society.

She herself was the constant pupil, seeking out training at Oberlin’s Baroque Performance Institute (over a twelve-year period), Amherst Early Music, Vancouver Early Music, and Aston Magna (Great Barrington, MA). Principal gamba instructors included August Wenzinger, Hannelore Mueller, and Catherina Meintz, with additional training in the master classes of Jordi Savall and Wieland Kuijken.

Before giving herself up to early music, she had followed a more traditional path as cellist, in the course of which she earned various degrees from the University of Michigan, in 1954 won a Fulbright scholarship to Vienna, Austria, where she was “blessed” to take instruction from one of the solo cellists of the Vienna Philharmonic, and spent a semester in Basel, Switzerland. Career opportunities allowed her to pass along her knowledge of cello as instructor at the National Music Camp in Interlochen, MI (twelve summers) and as member of the faculties of Baylor University, Waco, TX (six years) and Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, TX (36 years).

Having joined the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra in 1957 (which ultimately included the FW Opera and Ballet), Harriet was faced with the choice in the 1970s of either continuing her orchestral career or teaching at Texas Christian University. She opted for the latter, though she continued as part-time, and later full-time member of the three orchestras until her retirement from them in 2008.

A niece wrote about her: “She was the embodiment of unconditional love.” As teacher she was the embodiment of selflessness. She took every opportunity to pack her students off to summer music camp (“it will be an eye-opener”) or to prepare them for competitions (“forget the pain of losing, if it so be, benefit from the feed-back of jury and fellow competitors”). While TCU was engaging solo cellists for concerts, Harriet would go the next step to engage them for master classes. In the few years of my own experience as her pupil my student colleagues and I were blessed either to attend or perform in master classes of Senta Benesch, Leonard Rose and Janos Starker.

When she was not teaching or performing, she was enjoying cribbage, big-boat fishing, tennis or – preferably – golf. Just weeks before her 90th birthday she shot a hole-in-one as first ball of the day. When asked how she felt, she quipped, never able to resist a pun, “I took it in stride.”

Around the time of her 91st birthday, her former pupil and long-time friend Tom Morehouse, as orchardist at Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, came upon an uncatalogued apple variety among the trees he was examining: a pippin. It would need to be registered, but it would first need to be named. The choice was obvious. And so it was that on Harriet’s 91st birthday on May 10, 2016 the International Registry of Fruit Trees recorded the new apple variety “Harriet’s Pippin”, thereby establishing it and registering it as “a unique Apple.”

Contributed by Linda Ferguson BM ’69, MM ’73