national Arts Festival Banner

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


(Dr Robin Walton. Pic by John Tungay)

Dr Robin Walton, Musical Director of Pietermaritzburg Amateur Musical Society (PAMS) Choir from 2007 to 2016, has retired.

Dr Walton has played a prominent role in maintaining the tradition of the regular performances of classical choral music through PAMS concerts in PMB over the past ten years. Many choristers have benefited from his profound knowledge and the concerts have also given the opportunity for many young singers and musicians to perform in public.

Robin Walton was born in England where his early years were spent as a chorister at Manchester Cathedral while learning to play the piano, violin and organ. He studied music at Cambridge University and subsequently taught music in England and Kenya where he also conducted choirs and the Nairobi Orchestra in major works, adjudicated music festivals and obtained an organ diploma.

In the 1970s, Robin Walton lectured at the University of the Witwatersrand until his retirement. He taught most of the disciplines, obtained his doctorate specializing in 17th Century Italian opera and directed the Wits Choir. When asked to take over as choirmaster of the JHB Bach Choir his friendly disposition, musical knowledge and easy authority made him quickly acceptable to the singers. He held this position from 1978 to 1981. He also assisted with the foundation of South Africa's first musicological journals and was its editor for many years.

A lengthy parallel career as organist/choirmaster at a prominent Anglican Church inevitably drew him into the activites of the Royal School of Church Music. His contribution to this organisation was recognised when he was awarded an honorary Associateship of the RSCM in 2007.

For retirement, Dr Walton and his wife Bridget chose Pietermaritzburg and the KZN Midlands. The Pietermaritzburg Amateur Music Society offered Dr Walton the position of Musical Director in 2007. This choir performs concerts of classical choral music and offers performing opportunities to young singers and musicians. Dr Walton established an extensive repertoire. In addition the choir has maintained the tradition of an annual performance of Handel's Messiah which has continued virtually unbroken apart from a few years at the end of the 19th century since the first full performance in Pietermaritzburg in 1864.

Extracts from the reviews of the past few years show how fortunate the singers, musicians and audiences are to have had a musician of Dr Walton's calibre which led to comments such as "one must never underestimate the importance of the conductor in researching and analysing the music before inspiring the musicians and leading them through it. Robin Walton's passion for the music shines through".

For the first time in many years Messiah returned to the PMB City Hall in 2014 to celebrate the 150 years of Messiah performances in PMB. There was a massed choir of 150 singers and a large orchestra. Reviewer Mary-Ann Hartley wrote "This was an event that from the first note to the last exuded passion, energy and enjoyment on the part of musicians and singers. The real star of the show was Robin Walton whose dedication to music in PMB has helped to keep alive a tradition which means a great deal to many people." The lengthy standing ovation from a beyond-capacity audience of over 1200 people proved the truth of this statement.

Dr Walton came to Pietermaritzburg to retire after his extremely busy musical career. His tireless efforts on the part of PAMS choir has meant endless activity and very little chance for relaxing. Having recently celebrated his 80th birthday amongst his family and many friends, he has finally decided to lay down his baton and have more time to spend with them and also on his annual musical pilgrimage to Italy, other European countries and England.

“His dedication and commitment to the PAMS choir was far beyond that which could ever have been expected for which we are very grateful as well as for the memories of so many years of happy singing,” says a PAMS representative.