Primary Education News

14 Mar '13

News John Railton obituary

My friend and colleague John Railton, who has died aged 83, was an extraordinary musician, composer, conductor and teacher. He wanted musicians to perform beyond their comfort zones, believed profoundly in everyone's ability and engaged with individuals, groups and communities throughout Britain and overseas, particularly enjoying working with young musicians.

He was born in Streatham, south London, and educated at Battersea grammar school and Cranleigh school, Surrey. He studied organ and piano at the Royal Academy of Music. In 1947 he joined the London Bach Society and for many years assisted Paul Steinitz, its founder, as rehearsal pianist and assistant conductor. He took a teaching post at Ealing grammar school, where his choirs became much in demand by the BBC Symphony Chorus and Orchestra; they performed music outside the normal scope of secondary schools with conductors such as Charles Mackerras, Antal Doráti, Colin Davis, Constantin Silvestri and Pierre Boulez.

In his mid-30s he lost his left arm to cancer, but this did not affect his work at Ealing, where he steadfastly refused to see himself as disabled.

For 21 years he conducted the Ernest Read Music Association's Christmas concerts at the Royal Albert Hall and the Royal Festival Hall. As a music adviser in Hertfordshire he established the Hertfordshire County Youth Choir and Orpheus Youth Choir and in Hitchin he formed the North Herts Guild of Singers and the Orpheus Choir. With fellow pianist, Kate Elmitt, he formed a professional three-handed piano partnership, giving recitals in London, Australia and Singapore.

In his last years in the West Country he taught at Dartington College of Arts, directed the Dartington Community Choir, taught adult music appreciation groups and worked with the East Cornwall Bach festival, the Exeter University Singers and the Exeter Chamber Choir.

He founded and directed the Devon Guild of Singers and Players and was organist and choirmaster at St Andrew's Church, Ashburton. Of the many pieces he transcribed for one hand, the Bach violin Chaconne was his favourite.

In 1959 he founded the Ealing Youth Orchestra, which has produced many professional musicians. To mark his 80th birthday, and the 50th anniversary of the orchestra, he conducted two performances of the Verdi Requiem, giving these young musicians their first opportunity to accompany a major sacred choral work.

He became a fellow of the Royal Academy of Music in 1968 and was appointed MBE in 2012.

He married and divorced twice and had three sons with his first wife, Kathleen, and two sons and a daughter with his second wife, Elizabeth. They all survive him. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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