McKellar was ‘my musical mother’

Opera singer Jonathan Lemalu pictured with Honor McKellar in May 2021. He said Miss McKellar, who...
Opera singer Jonathan Lemalu pictured with Honor McKellar in May 2021. He said Miss McKellar, who died on Friday, "saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself". PHOTO: ODT FILES
Celebrated opera singer Jonathan Lemalu has marked the death of his first singing teacher Honor McKellar, calling her his "musical mother".

Miss McKellar died in Alexandra on Friday. She was 103.

Born in Dunedin in 1920, she was celebrated as a teacher throughout her singing career and in 1971, she become the first lecturer in singing at the University of Otago — a post she held until her retirement in 1985, although she continued to teach subsequently.

She received a QSM in 1989, for services to music, and Lemalu paid tribute to her yesterday.

"I had my very first singing lesson with Honor in the late 1980s and was a pupil for 10 years before leaving to study in London. We have become synonymous with each other in many ways over the years, which I cherish," Lemalu said.

"Affectionately named my musical mother, she was present at Sandra and my wedding in Croatia, my graduation from the Royal College of Music, debuts at London’s Royal Opera House and the Sydney Opera House and was very much a member of the Lemalu household."

Lemalu, who won a Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording in 2010, said Miss McKellar "saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself".

"She taught me by making the complex and foreign simple, achievable and relatable.

"Her love of words and poetry and its connection with music was masterful and as I sing and teach almost 25 years later, I realise I am still a pupil of Honor, as many of her principles of fun, empowerment and confidence remain."

Miss McKellar’s career as a mezzo-soprano singer in her youth led her to the Royal Academy of Music in London, and she later was one of the original singers in the New Zealand Opera Company set up by Donald Munro in the 1950s.

In the 1960s, she returned to London and had a career as a session musician, she sang in the Glyndebourne Chorus and with the John Alldis Choir.

Other notable students of Miss McKellar included Patrick Power, Martin Snell and Matthew Landreth.

"Her influence on countless wonderful singers and teachers both here and abroad is a huge testament to her illustrious career and far-reaching influence and reputation.

"Her love for music, the arts and all in the Dunedin and wider community, her quick wit, infectious laugh and twinkling eyes will remain in our memories."

A service to celebrate her life will be held at St John’s Anglican Church, at 373 Highgate, Roslyn, Dunedin at 1.30pm on Saturday.