Kathleen Barnett

Pianist Struggled To Keep Honour Secret

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

A lifetime spent sharing a strong passion for music has led to Atawhai pianist and music teacher Kathleen Barnett receiving a Queen’s Service Medal.

The award, given for services to music, came as part of the annual Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

Speaking last Friday, Ms Barnett said she had been “overcome” when she received the news. “It’s a great honour.”

She received the letter announcing the award in mid-April, and had struggled to keep it a secret. Ms Barnett said she had always loved the repertoire of the piano.

“It’s so varied, there’s so much music written. I just love music. “I was good at it, everything came fairly easily, I had no trouble learning.”

Born in Christchurch, she began piano lessons at the age of 6, continuing until she was 16, before she went to university in Otago. She moved to Nelson to teach science at Nelson College for Girls.

At the same time she studied piano with Nelson tutors Harold Colombatti and Thelma Robinson, earning two diplomas. She then married a Nelson architect and had two children, teaching piano at home.

In 1960 she began teaching piano in the Nelson School of Music (NSOM), later moving to teach piano at Nelson College for Girls, and then School Certificate and University Entrance qualifications in music at Nayland College. As well as teaching, around the late 1960s, she also performed at the NSOM and on then-Radio 2RN in Nelson.

But a career highlight came in 1970, when she was invited to Wellington to play in a studio performance with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. She played Beethoven’s Concerto 1, and Mozart’s Symphony in G-major, K453.

“I couldn’t do it now.” Arthritis meant she eventually had to cut back on her performances. She gave her final public performance at the NSOM three years ago.

But she continues to teach and eight of her students have ended up being successful full-time musicians. One, Eugene Lavery, earned a scholarship to The Juilliard School, and is now the organist at a major New York church.


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