Recollections of a radiant soul…
Yesterday I, and an army of my friends and musical colleagues, learned that our friend and fellow musician, Luster William “Bill” Brewer, had died. Following the initial impact of this news, there was a flurry of text messages, e-mails and posts on social media. My own Facebook page exploded with tributes, expressions of sadness, shock and later on, many pictures of our friend from healthier days gone by.
Bill had been diagnosed with throat cancer about a year and a half ago. As a singer myself, I cannot fathom the horror of such a thing. Throughout his treatment, he continued to teach at Pellissippi State Community College, where he had found a home as the head of their music department for the last 15 years. Just last week, after his cancer had returned and he had undergone another treatment, he had gone on a tour of Portugal with his choir, having been medically cleared to travel, but not well when the trip started. He had to return home before the tour was finished, going into the hospital where he eventually died.
It was typical Bill to have gone on with his students even though he was ill. He loved making music and he especially loved the people he made music with, students and peers alike. He was a longtime fixture in Knoxville Choral Society and Chamber Chorale, having served as KCS President and director of Chorale for a number of years.
It was in this capacity that I got to know him. In 2009, after an 11-year absence, I re-auditioned for Knoxville Choral Society with great fear and trembling. I had hardly sung at all in those years and I was afraid my voice might be so far gone that there was no hope of recovery. Enter Bill Brewer, who heard my audition and not only recommended my re-admission to the chorus but chose me as a soloist for the Christmas portion of Handel’s “Messiah” which we performed that fall.
He was thrilled to conduct “Messiah” with KCS for the first time and wanted his score and baton in the picture I asked for with him. (The remainder of the program was Bach, which “Doc” Eric Thorson prepared, conducted and chose his soloists for.)
Following my weight loss surgery in June 2012, I experienced a lot more pain during recovery and for a longer time than I had expected, so I missed some early outings with chamber chorale as they performed portions of “Chronicles of Blue and Gray” in advance of its world premiere that November. I e-mailed Bill explaining my situation and told him that if he needed to replace me in chorale, I would totally understand. He was gracious and kind, telling me that when I was able to return my spot would be waiting for me.
And what a return it was! The first rehearsal for the whole chorus arrived, and I got to the church where we practice feeling insecure about my appearance, wondering if the pounds I had lost since surgery would be noticeable. I looked and felt peaked and pale and…vulnerable. When I walked into the vestibule there were a dozen or so of my fellow chorus members milling around, paying dues and purchasing music. And there was Bill, who squealed at my arrival and began a round of applause, making it a triumphal entry for me. He came over to hug me, and then very tenderly cupped my face in his hands, saying, “Oh, LOOK at you! Look at your little face! How do you feel?”
That was always Bill, caring about the other person. He was a Southern gentleman in the finest tradition, dedicated to Jesus, to his wife Sharon and to the music and musicians he loved so greatly. He was also a total goofball, with a mischievous sense of humor, a twinkle in his eye and a laugh that could crack glass.
We have all heard the question, “What’s in a name?”. Bill’s given name was Luster William, Luster after his father. In Bill’s case, he indeed possessed a luster, a glow and radiance of heart and soul from which everyone who ever met him benefited. I want to keep the Luster alive, remembering Bill, his laugh, the music we made together and his tender touch cradling my face in his hands.