Top musician realises debt to Christchurch

MUSICAL FAIRYTALE: Mark Walton teaches a pupil living in Woolgoolga in New South Wales using the internet.
MUSICAL FAIRYTALE: Mark Walton teaches a pupil living in Woolgoolga in New South Wales using the internet.

From a childhood "at the wrong end of Worcester Street", to universal acclaim, Mark Walton's life is a musical fairytale story.

In his latest book, How Did That Happen?, the Christchurch-born musician who has lived in Sydney since 1985, writes of growing up in working-class Linwood in the 1960s. The family had no car. Walton and his brothers were sure they were "the last family in Christchurch to get a TV set" and the last "in the Southern Hemisphere to get a telephone".

But they had each other and a backyard big enough to accommodate their tree climbing, hole digging and war games without trespassing on their fathers' precious vegetable garden.

Walton recalls dinners of vegetables "boiled to distraction" and fruit that their mother had bottled, from their own trees. He remembers the butcher shop with sawdust on the floor, being bashed by a girl on his first day at Linwood North School and Nana from England coming to stay for a year.

He does not mention music in his early childhood memories. There was no money for that. But he sums up early life in Linwood as "sweetly simple".

As he progressed through primary and secondary education, the doors of the Christchurch School of Music (CSM) opened a new world to him. Today the name Mark Walton is familiar to Radio NZ Concert listeners and all lovers of serious music. His mastery of the clarinet and saxophone in classical and jazz genres has been noted around the world.

Press music reviewer Patrick Shepherd wrote in 2001: "Mark Walton is one of our finest musical exports . . . demonstrating consummate mastery of both the saxophone and the clarinet . . . Walton's technical skill is admirable".

An export, yes, but always a Christchurch man. Walton has made many visits to Christchurch to perform, conduct, teach and adjudicate competitions in the last 30 years. He said in 2006: "I left Christchurch when I was 18 and travelled to New York. It was nine years before I returned to New Zealand. I later moved away but Christchurch is still home. There's always a bond with the place you are born in".

There is also a feeling of owing something to the CSM. Walton has repaid his perceived debt through service to the school as its musical director, founder of its support foundation and is a generous benefactor.

The CSM's outreach to young musicians sparked his interest in teaching children with restricted access to music.

He established video conferencing tutorials for children in remote parts of Australia. The CSM adopted this teaching method, which involves also texting, emailing and blogging, in 2008 to help New Zealand children far afield as Karamea and the Chatham Islands.

Walton will be back in Christchurch this month. He will perform in a concert, Mark Walton and Friends, at St Augustine's Church, Cashmere, at 3pm on Sunday, September 21. Copies of his book, How Did That Happen?, will be available there. Proceeds from tickets and book sales will go to the Christchurch School of Music.

The Press