John Walton Reflects on the Journey So Far

Urban Craft magazine's own Godfrey Johnson (GJ) talks to prolific composer, conductor, arranger and producer John Walton (JW). B...

Urban Craft magazine's own Godfrey Johnson (GJ) talks to prolific composer, conductor, arranger and producer John Walton (JW).

Below is how the insightful conversation went.....

GJ: Hi John, it is a great honour to talk to you. Can you give as a brief history of just who John Walton is?

JW: Hello Godfrey! Thank you for the opportunity to chat - and as you know the respect is mutual. I grew up in Pinelands, Cape Town and received my first music lessons at five years old from my Dad who had picked up that I really loved classical music. He bought three recorders and “The School Recorder Book” and taught himself, my sister Janet and I how to play music.  After that I attended SACS and completed Matric with a field in study (2 subjects) in Music, followed by a B.Mus at UCT’s College of Music. I spent five years in the Senior Staff Band of the South African Navy followed by twenty years as an educator as Head of Music at SACS: 11 at the junior school and 9 at the senior school with a short break in between the two. During this time Rachel and I produced three wonderful children: Peter, Sarah-Jane and Amy – all of whom are extremely musical and each following a different career choice. All three are UCT graduates: Pete with a B.Com; Sarah-Jane holds two Masters Degrees and is about to graduate with a PhD in History & Amy who followed in my footsteps and holds a B.Mus degree. Amy is working in London lecturing at tertiary level and performing across the globe with her band: Bella and the Bourbon Boys. I currently reside in Durban, but a move back to Cape Town is imminent given that my new business – Cinemagic Scoring jointly founded with my business partner, Gavin Potter, is in association with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra. Whilst living in Durban since 2014 I had the privilege of being manager of the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra and was afforded the opportunity of meeting many fine musicians – both in the company, and also the visiting conductors and soloists.  But the most important person I met was Illa Thompson (my partner) who is the finest Arts Publicist I know and brings me joy and love in life, and through whom I got to know you and many other fine people in the SA arts community.

GJ: You are a performer, conductor, composer and a very good cook. How do you juggle all these remarkable gifts?

JW: I love that you describe these as gifts, for, this understanding of their nature echoes my own belief. John Walton, the public figure, is a projection quite far removed from my introverted nature and I had to learn over the years not to shy away from the opportunies afforded me and to be grateful for the chance to grow, both as a person and professionally; plus the need to accept life’s many lessons (some very hard and mostly self-inflicted) which are there to knock off the hard edges. I hope I am succeeding and am aware that this journey lasts a lifetime. So, when on this road of learning I try not to juggle too much, but rather to approach all things in a way described to me by my friend Clive Ridgway: “honour the process”.
Within that rather long-winded context I am mostly able to find fulfilment in whatever I find myself doing at any given time. Having been way too busy earlier in life trying to “make my mark”, I now rather value time to reflect upon matters. When I left the position of Orchestra Manager of the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra (which was often quite manic in its demands upon me) in August 2018, I was given the freedom to re-evaluate life at an easier pace, and this has afforded me the opportunity to concentrate on my personal creativity and to develop my new business venture. I have an insatiable curiosity about life and people - which drives me to explore opportunities and see what synergies may be developed, and thus I do have to multitask, but attempt to give whatever I am working on my full attention. As you can discern detail is extremely important to me and I can get quite caught up in things - so sticking to a schedule helps me in this regard. Having said this, I also believe in looking at the bigger picture of how things interrelate, and the web of relationships required to bring ideas to fruition. Thus, when I cook which is something I enjoy, I use it to relax and take my mind off other things - and so the simple act of kneading dough for pizza is extremely cathartic and therapeutic at times!

GJ: Would you mind sharing with us a few of your career highlights? 

JW: Regularly playing piano for one of my mentors, the late Gerry Bosman, in his Symphonic Pops concerts
Joining Mike Campbell’s - Professor of Jazz at UCT (retired) and one of South Africa’s pre-eminent musicians - commercial band Razzmatazz and enjoying 18 years of fun gigs with awesome colleagues who taught me so much about our trade.
Enabling many young people to discover their innate talents whilst teaching at SACS and I’m so proud to see many of them making their musical mark on the world
Creating Symphonic Pops cc in 1996 with Mike Campbell and Steve Robinson and co-writing and producing shows initially at the inaugural Spier Arts Festival and then moving this to the Bellville Velodrome in 1999 in partnership with Radio KFM
Meeting and working alongside maestro Bernhard Gueller.
Becoming Music Director of the Cape Town Concert Brass for a decade
Developing a multimedia version of Gustav Holts’ “The Planets” presented both at Ratanga Junction and in Nova Scotia, Canada. Writing orchestrations for international artists like Liz Calloway and Ronan Keating who seemed to approve of my scribblings, plus receiving commissions from across the world
Founding the Cape Town pops Orchestra to consolidate the freelance orchestral music scene in Cape Town and grateful thanks to my colleagues in this venture: Lucia di Blasio-Scott and Stuart Scott, Nick Green, Lucien Lewin.

Working with Andrew MacPherson of AMP Events as orchestrator and conductor of the Heineken Symphonic Rocks series of concerts. Meeting top international conductors and soloists during my tenure as Orchestra Manager of the KZN Philharmonic. Creating Cinemagic Scoring with Gavin Potter.

GJ: Can you list for us a few of your favourite composers, artists and writers?

JW: This is a constantly shifting landscape!  I love all great art and some is more apposite at time than others.  At the moment I adore Mahler and Bruckner plus Oscar Peterson; Hugo DeVilliers and Illse Nieman and their circle of artists at ArtB in Parrow plus all the greats of course and I’m a Terry Pratchett fan…

GJ: You have been composing film scores for a while now. Does your creative approach to writing for film differ to that of writing for the concert hall?

JW: I’m new to composing for films and yes - it is quite a different process. The music in the film must always underscore what’s happening in the story and provide emotional support to it. Concert hall music is a completely different approach and is art for art’s sake.

GJ: Where did you study and with whom?

JW: UCT’s College of Music where I was fortunate to have some amazing people help me shape my music. Pre-eminent amongst these is Peter Klatzow. Others who had a strong influence on me were Irmgard Haller, Reginald Clay, Stuart Reiner, Barry Smith and Shirley Gie. Then in the school of live music I have been privileged to work with many people who have shaped the way I approach my music and these include local conductors Richard Cock, George Michie and Gerry Bosman; foreign conductors Bernhard Gueller, Daniel Boico, Wolfram Christ and Thomas Sanderling; commercial musicians such as Mike Campbell, Steve Robinson, Willie van Zyl, Ian Smith, Willy Haubrich, Richard Pickett to name but a few.  Each has been generous of spirit and helped me learn my trade.

GJ: I see you as someone who is constantly celebrating artistic diversity, do you think that the snobbery attached to classical music is dissolving in the 21C?

JW: It most certainly is and I’m all for it if we don’t completely lose a sense of etiquette in formal concerts. People loving the arts is the best thing ever. If you will indulge me a little, I’ll recount an incident which changed my perspective completely: in 1999 when I was doing the KFM Symphonic Pops concerts at the Velodrome our “resident” conductor couldn’t do the job due to a schedule clash. I was extremely fortunate to secure Bernhard Gueller for the job who brought the same level of intensity and energy to a pops programme as he does to formal symphony concerts.  KFM indulged me and let me open the second half of the show with some Mozart (40th Symphony first movement). The 6,500 strong audience was not used to the concert hall repertoire comprising being almost exclusively commercial radio listeners and thus we were a little nervous about the reaction the’d have to Mozart. They were in a relaxed space by interval having listened to all their favourite hit songs being performed by the orchestra and when the orchestra played the first few notes of Mozart, the place absolutely erupted in a fashion not given the pop stuff. Afterwards Bernhard asked me as to what had happened in that Mozart caused the audience to go completely nuts, and when we analysed it a few days later over coffee it seemed to us that when a person is in a relaxed space and you give them sublime art then it bypasses all filters of the mind of any sort (cultural, artistic, self-imposed, etc…) and goes directly to the emotional centre of the being providing an almost transcendent experience; thus began our quest to see how we could develop projects to popularize serious art.

GJ: What advice would you give to young people who are keen on a career in the arts?

JW: If possible, learn wherever you can, surround yourself with people more proficient than you; work, work, work; don’t give up - and become an entrepreneur because nobody else is going to do it for you! Perhaps the most important thing to do is to network with able people who are generous of spirit.

GJ: What have you got up your sleeve for 2020?

JW: Cinemagic Scoring will be taking up a lot of my time, but I hope to keep arranging and writing.

GJ: How do you relax?

JW: I cook, watch interesting programmes, follow current affairs, stroll along the beach, go to shows and concerts, and sometime just chill. Time with friends and family is extremely important to me and I enjoy drinking good wine – particular thanks to one of my best friends, John Collins! We were in the navy together and a regular catch up and reminisce over a bottle or two of excellent wine and a nice meal is always just what the doctor orders…

GJ: Please give us your website details and various social media links.




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Urban Craft Magazine: John Walton Reflects on the Journey So Far
John Walton Reflects on the Journey So Far
Urban Craft Magazine
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