Tribute to outstanding musician and teacher

The Arts
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ronnie-walker-cutoutA REMARKABLE tribute was paid on March 4 2009 to a Rosneath Peninsula man who had a huge impact in spreading the joy of music amongst people of all ages and abilities.

The Ronnie Walker Memorial Concert was held in a packed Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow in aid of the Musicians Benevolent Fund and Cancer Research UK.

It was organised by George Kelly of East Dunbartonshire Council as a mark of esteem for a colleague who died in May 2008 at the age of 65 after a lifetime of making music appeal to all.

The concert featured a 300-strong choir of primary school children from East and West Dunbartonshire and Argyll and Bute — the area Ronnie covered when he was a musical adviser. He used to produce an annual Christmas concert with massed choirs.

Children from Merklands special needs school were on the bill as he always included an item in his concerts performed by pupils with learning difficulties, and so was the choir of Fettes College in Edinburgh where his widow Joanne is head of the music department.

Helensburgh Dorian Choir, whom he conducted from 1984-92, also sang, and providing the accompaniment throughout were the East Dunbartonshire Schools Orchestra, augmented by professionals who worked with Ronnie and current tutors.

Only a very special person could be held in such respect, and Ronnie — a father of five who met his first wife Rosalind at school — certainly was that.

He was educated at John Neilson’s Institute in Paisley and was a boy chorister at Paisley Abbey. At the age of 15 he was appointed assistant organist at the Abbey.

He studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow from 1962-65, and in his final year won the prestigious Governors Composition Prize with a four movement string quartet. As a result, he studied composition in London with left wing composer Alan Bush.

He briefly returned to his old school as assistant music teacher before taking up the post of principal music teacher at Kilmarnock Academy in 1970. There his gifts as a teacher, conductor and composer came to full fruition. For a time he conducted the St James Orchestra in Paisley.

Twelve years later he was appointed music adviser for the Dunbarton Division of Strathclyde Region, and as a result he made his home in Kilcreggan.

A man of deep personal faith, he became organist and choirmaster at Craigrownie Parish Church, and later an elder as well, and for some years he was also organist and choirmaster at the linked St Modan’s Church at Rosneath.

Cath Kirk, a past president of the Dorian Choir and well known local singer, said: “Ronnie influenced hundreds of children and adults with his love of music, and encouraged participation at all levels. He also had a huge input in the development of the music curriculum in schools.’

On many occasions he was the course director for the West of Scotland Schools Symphony Orchestra and Concert Band at the annual courses at Castle Toward, leading to public performances. He also set up an orchestra based in the Kilcreggan area which catered for complete beginners right through to experienced players.

He served on a large number of curriculum development committees and working parties, and through these and the Examination Board he was a major contributor to the introduction of Standard Grade music and to various revisions of the Higher Music syllabus.

Ronnie was a composer throughout his life, and was commissioned to write a number of important works. After his early retirement he continued to compose, but also worked as a freelance consultant, lecturer at Strathclyde University, and conductor.

Dorian Choir members thoroughly appreciated the eight years he conducted them, not just for the quality of music under his baton but also the enjoyment had by all. Cath Kirk added: “He is still fondly remembered for his hilarious rehearsals and his great sense of fun whilst bringing the best out of his singers.”

Everybody taking part in the memorial concert — including pupils from Hermitage, John Logie Baird, St Joseph’s, Colgrain, Rhu, Garelochhead, Kilcreggan, Luss and Arrochar Primary Schools — and in the audience enjoying it remembered with a smile an outstanding musician and teacher.

George Kelly, who also conducted the concert, wrote in the programme: “Ronnie was endowed with great gifts which he shared freely with all who came into contact with him. Blessed with an enormous capacity to spread joy amongst those around him, his own life was touched by deep tragedy.”