Profiles of the Directors of Music
Commander John Imrie, S.M.,
Commander John Imrie was born in 1911. His first
introduction to the world of music came in those days when home
entertainment and musical evenings were the forerunners of radio and
cinema. His mother was something of a singer and John tried
his hand at accompanying her on an old fashioned harmonium.
This led him to take piano lessons to improve his musical knowledge
Later, however, he was browsing through an old catalogue and was
intrigued by an instrument which seemed to have more keys to
manipulate than there were fingers to operate them. This turned
out to be a clarinet and so began a long association of a man and an
At the age of 12 John joined the Bloemfontein Willows Band
eventually becoming the principal clarinetist of this band.
In 1934 John joined the newly established Permanent Force Band of the South
African Defence Force becoming the first Band-sergeant of that band.
During WW2 he served in North Africa and Italy. On his
return home in 1946, John resumed his musical studies, which had
been somewhat curtailed during the war. In that same year John
was appointed Bandmaster of No. 3 Cape Corps Band and it was with
this band that he showed sterling qualities of leadership, training
and running of the band. In June 1946 John was appointed as
deputy to the Director of Music of the newly formed South African
Air Force Band.
In 1955 John was appointed Director of Music of the newly formed
South African Navy Band, thereby becoming the first South African
born director of music to be appointed to the Permanent Force.
Furthermore, he became the first Director of Music of the South
African Navy Band. Cdr Imrie served in this capacity with
distinction and finally retired in 1973. He died in 1992.
Ron Marlow, S.M., MMM,
L.T.C.L., L.R.S.M. (1973-1989)
Commander Ron Marlow’s musical activities started at a tender age
of 12 years when he played in a Salvation Army Brass Band. He
joined the Regimental Army Band in Pretoria in 1948 and met Captain E.H. Kealey, Director of Music of the South African Army Band.
Under his influence, Commander Ron Marlow decided to become a
professional military musician and joined the SA Army Band in 1954.
Ron transferred to the SA Navy Band in Simon’s Town. His
rise through the ranks was rapid: Assistant Director of Music
of the SA Navy Band with the naval rank of Lieutenant in 1970,
Director of Music in 1973 and promotion to Commander in 1977.
Commander Marlow, who held licentiates with the Trinity College
of London and the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music,
was a multi-talented instrumentalist having played euphonium for
many years, thereafter moving on to trumpet and trombone. He
had also worked with the then Cape Town Symphony Orchestra as an
Ron retired form the SA Navy Band in 1989. He died in 2009.
Mike Oldham, MMM, L.T.C.L. (1989-2004)
Born into a family of musicians, Commander Mike Oldham studied
music from the age of seven, eventually qualifying at both Trinity
College of Music and London University.
As a multi-instrumentalist and conductor he has performed with
many groups in England and has toured extensively, including Europe,
the Middle East, Iceland and various places in Southern Africa.
His first professional engagements were as a member of the famous
Grenadier Guards Band, performing all the ceremonial duties in
London and playing with the resident orchestras. Since 1979
Mike has been involved with teaching programmes throughout South
Africa and was invited to teach for the National Youth Orchestra
Course. During this period he also performed at the
International Music Festival in Vienna and was the South African
Mike was appointed as Director of Music in 1989, a position he
held till his retirement in 2004.