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Roger Smalley 1943 – 2015

HILLS pianist and composer Roger Smalley has been remembered fondly by former students for his contributions to the local musical landscape. Born in Lancashire, England on July 26, 1943, he studied at the Royal College of Music in London.

In 1969 Mr Smalley formed the live-electronic group Intermodulation with his colleague Tim Souster and during the next six years the group toured widely in the UK, West Germany, Poland, France and Iran.

It was 1974 when he was invited to take up a three-month residency at the University of Western Australia.

He returned two years later to take up a permanent position at the university’s music school. Cathie Travers, who studied and performed with Mr Smalley, said from day one as a student in the School of Music in 1980, he stood out from other faculty members.

“For his mode of dress which was borderline hippie, his manner of speaking which was slightly British plummy and a tiny bit formal and at odds with his clothing, the obvious curiosity with which he observed a room full of new undergraduates, and quite simply the way he occupied his own space with a relaxed confidence.”

Ms Travers said many people remarked on his seemingly extraordinary sight-reading ability.

“And it was very good indeed,” she said.

“I believe it was a function of his obsession with musical form and the many hours he spent poring over musical scores by other composers from all historical periods.”

Ms Travers said just as comedians were not necessarily funny when they were not on the job, Roger was not given to having music as a constant background soundscape.

“Mostly, recorded music was listened to just like a concert: giving his full attention he would sit in the lounge with the stereo cranked up and usually following a music score – unless the piece was so new that he didn’t have access to a score.”

Former student Margaret Jones first met him at university in 1979.

“When I first met him Roger’s sight-reading at the piano was mind-boggling,” she said.

“It’s a cliché I know, but so true of Roger, that he always sought beauty in music.

“Aside from assessing student works I never heard Roger say a bad word about any composer or any genre of music.

“He could tell the great music from the ordinary and could have told you why, but didn’t.

“He wasn’t about to tell you what you should like or dislike.”

Mr Smalley took Australian citizenship in 1990 and was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 2011. In 2007 he moved to Sydney where he lived until his death on August 18.

About Sarah Brookes

Sarah is an award-winning journalist (2016 WA Media Awards - Best Three Suburban Newspaper Stories) who has covered our Mundaring and Kalamunda editions since 2011. She went to Eastern Hills Senior High School before studying chemistry and biology at university. Staring down a microscope two years into her degree she realised a future in science wasn’t for her – journalism was. Sarah lived in Europe before re-settling in Darlington, where her family has lived for three generations, with her two children. She has worked for various government agencies and Media Monitors. Sarah is a media junkie who loves talkback radio and devours the weekend papers.

One comment

  1. Great story, Sarah! Very nice to have some more personal things being written about Roger. Mostly the other sources just have rehashed lists of commissions & awards (which in themselves certainly were quite special), so it is good to see a bit more about the person who was also such a musician’s musican. Roger lived in Mount Helena & Parkerville for many years and was the patron of the Mundaring Performing Arts Society for its entire existance from 1998 to 2006. And he performed at the Mundaring Weir Hotel. There is an ever-growing list of other links about Roger at the bottom of my blog about him at http://mixmargaret.com/blog/2015/08/19/vale-roger-smalley-a-great-australian-musical-intellect/

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