Echoes of a Distant Music, by John Crothers

Book Launch – Save The Date!

If you happen to be anywhere near Belfast, N Ireland, on 22nd November, feel free to pop into the Cathedral in Donegall Street for 7.30pm. And tell your friends who may not be on Facebook!

The Official Launch of “Echoes of a Distant Music, a Biography of Ronnie Lee (1929-1992)” by John Crothers, with a Foreword specially contributed by Yan Pascal Tortelier, will take place in St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast, on Friday 22nd November at 7.30pm.

The Cathedral is a place which Ronnie Lee especially loved and where he was a parishioner in the latter part of his life. Many still alive today will not have forgotten his Funeral Service which took place there: it was an occasion which arguably brought together a greater number of musicians from Northern Ireland and beyond than any other, before or since.

The two choirs, Grosvenor (conducted by Edward Craig) and Renaissance (conducted by Ian Mills), both of which perpetuate Ronnie’s memory, will be singing some of the works associated with the legendary Belfast conductor. Some of the recordings he made with his singers will be played, and there will be an opportunity to have copies of the book dedicated during refreshments.

Ronnie Lee was unique, in that he blazed a trail for the choral directors who would come after him. The fact that he was a personal friend of, and admired by, such musicians as David Willcocks, John Rutter and Yan Pascal Tortelier, speaks for itself.

He was not someone who had the advantage of coming from a musical family or benefiting from a middle-class upbringing. Indeed, his less-than-perfect vision, left-handedness and lack of self-confidence were potential disadvantages which he overcame by sheer will-power, convinced that his destiny lay in passing on to others the sounds of glorious music which he himself could hear. He mastered piano, organ, clarinet and trombone, and astonished accomplished performers on these instruments. His life’s work took him to St Matthew’s Parish Church, St Bartholomew’s Parish Church and Grosvenor High School, where his singers covered themselves with glory, both at national and international level. His recordings on the Chandos label with the Ulster Orchestra have become the stuff of legend.

The book traces the life and character of this remarkable, yet intensely private man, with his successes and (rare) failures. The affection and loyalty he engendered in his singers are still evident today. Over eighty contributors give revealing glimpses into his dealings with them and others, allowing the reader to walk alongside Ronnie Lee and understand more about what made him ‘tick’. The final chapters examine his love for the music of the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, which inspired so much of his own work, and, by describing his techniques of rehearsal, seek to understand how he achieved what he did.

At his death, Gramophone magazine described him as “Northern Ireland’s most famous choral conductor”. Today, the story of his life deserves to be retold, so that future generations can appreciate something of “what we had in Ronnie Lee” (Canon Charles Kenny, Funeral Address).