The Official Launch of Echoes of a Distant Music, a Biography of Ronnie Lee (1929-1992) by John Crothers, with a Foreward by Yan Pascal Tortelier, will take place in St Anne's Cathedral, Belfast. The Cathedral is a place which Ronnie Lee especially loved and where he was a parishioner in the latter part of his life. Those who were there are unlikely to have forgotten his Funeral Service which took place on a dull December morning: it was an occasion which filled the nave and arguably brought together a greater number of musicians from Northern Ireland and beyond than any other, before or since.
This November, 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. 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).
A proportion of any profits from the sale of this book will go to the David Willcocks Trust, set up by the late musician to offer support and encouragement of singing, especially among young people.