Talented musician leaves rich legacy

When Isabella Ballantyne, Isabel as she was known, died this month, aged 77, it was as though a soft tuneful bell was stopped.

Her whole life was about music, playing a dozen instruments, teaching as many, an accomplished musician and accompanist who played the organ at St Andrew's church in Ohai for more than 60 years, and taught in schools throughout western Southland for nearly as long.

Born the only child of Ted and Nancy Dalkie in Ohai, she was to live the whole of her life there, apart from four teenage years at Southland Girls' High School in Invercargill.

It was those years at SGHS, boarding at Enwood House, studying music with May Jones at the O'Byrne School of Music, that set her on a path clear and joyful, teaching music and playing on stage at weddings and funerals, Sunday church services and in concerts all over.

Right from the beginning she was a skilled musician and had the ability to teach.

Mrs Jones found the teenager a joy and encouraged her to study for her Letters in the curriculum of both the Royal College of London and Trinity College of Dublin.

She achieved her Letters in both by the time she was nearly 18, ready to finish school, returning home to her parents and Ohai.

There she began to teach and continued throughout her life, until over the past couple of years ill health prevented her playing.

At 19 she married Norman Ballantyne, living next door to her parents in Hasting St, appreciative of her mother's before and after-school help with her six children, most music teaching done when the family was at home.

Isabel's only daughter, Susan Harris, of Gore, said: "It was lovely having Nanna and Granddad next door.

"They played a huge part in our lives. We would spend a lot of time next door and it meant we were all of us extremely close to our grandparents."

Mrs Harris thought her mother taught half the population of Ohai - and others in Nightcaps, Wairio and surrounding towns through three generations.

"Mum could fit in two pupils in the morning before school, another one at lunch time and from 3.15 to 7pm there would be a steady stream of music pupils through the house, five days a week.

"And every year there would be a break-up at the Institute hall and all the pupils played, some several instruments, making up a little orchestra."

Mrs Ballantyne, ATCL, LRSM, played the piano, the piano accordion, organ, guitar, violin, harp, clarinet, cornet, flute, recorder, and the chanter.

She played the organ at St Andrew's Church for much of her life, after starting as a schoolgirl. She played for funerals, weddings, at concerts and at the marae.

Over decades she played for Highland dance and ballet classes and exams, earning life membership of these dance groups as well as of the Tuatapere Operatic group. She also played for the Waiau College annual productions.

After her children had grown up and left home Mrs Ballantyne started teaching music in secondary schools, Nightcaps, Central Southland, Tuatapere, and primary classes at Ohai and Clifden.

She belonged to everything in Ohai, joining Senior Citizens a long time before she was old enough, to play at their sing-songs.

At every school concert or choral festival Mrs Ballantyne was there, playing for years at production rehearsals in Otautau, at Anzac Day and Christmas Day services, for the women's institute, Girls Brigade and the marae.

She played the piano accompaniment when three friends from Ohai regularly sang at retirement homes around Invercargill.

She was loved as a teacher and as a performer, her gentle smiling ways a blessing.

As illness took over she spent time with her children, who all live in the south.

Pre-deceased by her husband Norman, Isabel leaves sons Allan, Riverton; Trevor, Lorneville; Rex, Mataura; and Russell, Riverton, daughter Susan Harris of Gore, 15 grandchildren and 16 great grandchildren.

And she leaves a legacy of music that lives on in generations of families throughout western Southland and now spread further afield.

The Southland Times