William Hull, born in Buffalo, passed away March 6, 2018.
At Oberlin College and Conservatory, he studied both chemistry and piano. As an honors student in chemistry, he calculated electronic wave functions; as a music student, he trained for two semesters as a piano technician. He went on to pursue both fields.
First, he earned a doctorate at Harvard in 1975 (dissertation: Biophysical studies of alkaline phosphatase from Escherichia coli using 19F and 31P Nuclear Magnetic Resonance). Moving to Rheinzabern, Germany, in 1978, he joined the Central Spectroscopy group at the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in 1985 and soon became department head.
Then in 2012 Dr. Hull retired. He explained, Nach 36 Jahre Tätigkeit als Wissenschaftler, verfolge ich jetzt mein Hobby Klavierstimmen und Reparatur als zweiten Beruf. “After 36 years working as a scientist, I’m now following my hobby --- piano tuning and repair --- as a second career.” He even performed as a solo pianist and in chamber ensembles, in venues including the Sydney Opera House. He often accompanied soprano Marta Schmidt. Although very ill, he had planned a final concert with Marta for May 2018 but passed away two months before.
We haven’t located an obituary notice, but below is his LinkedIn page.
Bill, as I knew my Freshman year roommate, was very private. I only encountered him in our room where he spent his time studying chemistry and other subjects related to his major. I am totally surprised at his interest in the piano, but it adds dimension to the person I barely knew. I realized that his Spartan discipline would drive his success, so I am not surprised to read of his achievements.
I would return in the evening during hockey season and Bill would be listening to the Blackhawks hockey broadcast if there were a game(the Sabres didn't exist at the time) and commenting on the prowess of the coincidental namesake who played for them, Bobbie Hull, the Golden Jet. Probably the longest conversations of our times in that room, the ones in which he was a lively participant, were about hockey. Oddly, hockey is an interest that seems explicable through his interest in chemistry and mathematics: humans careening about on ic as atoms subject to the laws of physics, force and leverage, an almost Brownian motion shooting pucks like particles in an accelerator.
I honor his spirit: a passion for knowledge, a love for music, and in both an understanding of mathematics and his discipline which never failed him.
Thanks Ray for commenting on Bill Hull's page. I knew Bill briefly during the summer after my junior year at Oberlin while I was working at the computer center. I met him at the computer center but he also invited me to listen to him play the piano in one of the Con's practice rooms. I remember that he played his own composition that sounded a bit like Eric Satie. The combination of chemistry and music seemed really unusual to me at that time but it makes sense at a place like Oberlin. I'm delighted to learn that he had a productive scientific career and that he was able to return to music after he retired.
Having tried to contact Bill a number of times over the years, including most recently for our 50th, I was very sad to see that he had died. From reading Ray's memories and from my experience, I had perhaps an unusual level of interaction and friendship with Bill. We were both chemistry majors and both took music theory so we wouldn't have to pay for our applied studies in the Con (Bill piano and me voice). He was definitely better in both subjects and helped me with chemistry and math some, but music theory in particular. I also would go listen to him play in a Con practice room (as I had one of my high school swimming buddies who was an amazing pianist.) At times he would play for me and help me improve my rather feeble attempts at whatever bit of composition we were to do for class. I enjoyed his compositions much more than mine and I agree they were often Satie-like in nature.
I, too, went on in chemistry but at one point, looking for something else to do, I worked with and started training with a local piano technician. My great disadvantage there was that I didn't know how to play the piano and still don't! One of my plans post our 50th is to finally learn to play the piano, on the Yamaha baby grand we're keeping for one of our granddaughters. I always have a good time talking to the technician as he tunes and plays the piano a little, and I will always think of Bill in those practice rooms as I hopefully develop some facility with the piano -- which will be nothing compared to his!