Obituary: Margot Cruft, inspirational oboist and teacher who loved to play music with others

Margot Cruft
Margot Cruft
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Margot Cruft, oboist. Born: 23 January, 1936, in Belmont, Surrey. Died: 8 February, 2018, in Inverness, aged 82.

Margot Cruft, a much-loved and highly respected oboist and oboe teacher, spent most of her professional career based in Edinburgh. I first met her in the late 1970s, by which time she was very well established on the ­classical music scene, teaching in numerous different schools and playing in a wide variety of orchestras and chamber groups.

Family was always very important to Margot and her children (Martin, Julian, and Gail) have fond memories of being allowed to listen to rehearsals, no doubt carefully chosen by Margot to be child-friendly both in terms of the music – they particularly remember the colourful and tuneful Gilbert & Sullivan dress rehearsals – and in terms of the performers’ attitude to children who may not yet have grasped the concept of being still and quiet.

Margot had a wonderfully down-to-earth and practical approach to life, with a warm, positive and encouraging attitude that brought out the best in others. Problems would be turned into opportunities if at all possible; advice was always well-considered and wise; other people’s foibles were patiently accepted; time wasn’t wasted on unnecessary chores.

In the early days of bringing up a young family, her children remember that she felt vacuuming was only worthwhile if you heard the odd thing (usually Lego) rattling up the pipe. One of her favourite quotes was Goethe’s “Whatever you can do, begin it; boldness has genius, power and magic”. It is often said of people, in rather general terms, that they never spoke ill of anyone, but in Margot’s case it was absolutely true; she never raised her voice and was never, ever unkind.

Margaret Joan Dunstall, always known as Margot, was born in Surrey, moving to Edinburgh with her ­parents and two older sisters at the age of two. She was educated at St. George’s School for Girls and, on her beloved father’s insistence in case “the music thing” didn’t work out, she spent a year at secretarial ­college before being allowed to ­follow her passion and study music at Edinburgh University, graduating with a B.Mus degree in 1958. Marriage happened before graduation and children appeared a perfectly-spaced two, four and six years later. Margot’s children were always her main priority when they were young, but very soon she was being asked to teach and to play, and the balance in her life gradually changed as the children grew up.

Her teaching commitments included Mary Erskine’s, Stewart’s Melville College, George Watson’s College, Edinburgh Academy and Cargilfield School as well as tutoring on Scottish Schools Orchestra Trust courses. Hundreds, if not thousands, of young ­oboists will have reason to be grateful for her help and ­support over the years.

For many years Margot was principal oboe of Scottish Sinfonia, an Edinburgh-based orchestra which performs mainly large-scale symphonic repertoire; she also took a major part in running the orchestra.

She had always wanted to play Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture with the orchestra, but somehow it never happened, until her final concert before leaving Edinburgh, when the orchestra surprised her by giving an ad hoc performance in her honour. Showing her typically dry sense of humour, she was heard to mutter: “I should’ve asked for Mahler 2.”

Other highlights of her playing career include the Reid Orchestra, Edinburgh Grand Opera, Edinburgh Gilbert & Sullivan Society, Edinburgh Bach Society, the Winds of Edinburgh, Herrick Bunney’s annual performances of the St. Matthew Passion and her dearly-beloved wind quintet, the North Winds. With the North Winds, whose members remained lifelong friends, she toured for well over two ­decades to many remote and not-so-remote parts of Scotland and England and recorded for the BBC.

In 1998, Margot, then 62, decided to retire to Inverness, where her daughter Gail, a vet and mother of two daughters then aged five and two, had told her “you could be terribly useful”. Useful she certainly was, and she found being an integral part of the family unit infinitely rewarding, but she had a strange notion of retirement. Shortly after settling in Inverness, she found herself teaching oboe at Gordonstoun School, playing for choral and operatic societies in Forres, Dingwall, Buckie and Inverness and, having found a few like-minded souls, co-founding two new ensembles, The Merlewood Ensemble and the Highland Chamber Orchestra.

She played a major part in running these groups for many years, drawing on the vast experience she had accumulated by then. The Highland Chamber Orchestra’s next concerts in Grantown and Strathpeffer on May 26 and 27 will be dedicated to her memory.

As the years passed, ­Margot found oboe playing was becoming increasingly hard work and, with her usual pragmatic and thoughtful approach, decided to learn the recorder, as it would need less physical stamina. This soon became a major interest and she was a member of the Scottish Recorder Orchestra for over 10 years, as well as playing with smaller local groups.

Margot’s non-musical interests included ornithology and languages, and latterly she gained enormous pleasure from her participation in the University of the Third Age. Her interest in life ­never waned; her final Christmas cards told friends which interesting birds she had ­spotted from her window and how they were behaving.

Margot died peacefully in the Highland Hospice, where she had spent most of her last month tended with the greatest kindness and care, having been diagnosed with cancer seventeen months earlier.

She is survived by her sons Martin and Julian, daughter Gail and grandchildren Kirsten, Laura, Heidi, Heather and Rowan.

JEAN MURRAY