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Old 14-03-17, 10:16 AM
sriyanj sriyanj is offline
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Default “Tribute to a Living Legend - Mr. Russell Bartholomeusz”

The original article entitled “Tribute to a Living Legend - Mr. Russell Bartholomeusz” was published in 2004 whilst “Sir” was still a teacher. This addendum was prompted after seeing the living legend in 2013.

The running of the STC choir had been passed on to the prodigious chorister Vinodh Senadheera who is excelling the benchmark standards of his predecessors. I had the good fortune of attending a Sunday Chapel service with a few ex-choristers and our retired choir master graciously accepted the invitation to join us and obliged by staying after the service for a chat. Even in retirement he is elusive as ever, so it was a special treat having him sit with us on the chapel steps. It was like spending time with an “Old Uncle” this time. While our teacher regaled us with school stories and recounted anecdotes, we reflected on everything he had taught us and we continued to idolize his dedication to college. There were a few more life lessons and a couple more admonitions left for his brood of ex-choristers who were hanging on every word he uttered. No one dared tell him though that sentences in English could end in prepositions or drums in churches are accepted music accompaniment these days. Frail, aged and skinnier than what he used to be, his single-mindedness on some issues are still unshakeable. This prompted us to recall an incident when as students we were invited to sing at the Mutuwal church with a girls’ school choir. The other choir teacher felt that only her choristers should be singing the soprano part, much to the annoyance of RB. To paraphrase, his response went something like this - “My boys are as good as or better than any female soprano (his face turning Red by this stage) and if you are not happy with this arrangement you can kindly leave, end of discussion”! “Sir” never minced words reprimanding us privately in the choir stalls but in public we were his pride and joy. Never one to draw attention to himself, he derived immense satisfaction from his personal commitment and gained pleasure in seeing his students succeed. I’m tempted at this stage to mention the names of some of his successful students who command respect within and outside the choral circle today. However I have chosen to instead dedicate this little piece of appreciation and focus on our unselfish, passion-driven ‘educator’ who gave his heart to STC. Anyone can teach but it takes a special skill to be an educator and RB did precisely that - he possessed the soul and spirit to engage, inspire and bring out the passion within his students.
Our “Dear Batho” in retirement has allowed himself the luxury of a cell phone…or should that be phones plural! I am told that several of these phones have been dashed to the ground or thrown against the wall through sheer frustration. More recently, he expressed an interest in a laptop too. I dread to ask how many laptops have suffered the same fate as the cell phones. I can picture him in the confines of his Mount Lavinia room piled with manuscripts and books, trawling through the internet for classical music (muttering curses at slow internet speeds)! Incidentally this is not the same residence with the spiral staircase he shared with his mother and brother before moving into college boarding in the early 80’s. Choristers from that era will recall visiting RB’s home one ‘carolling’ evening, singing ‘Silent Night’. We deliberately chose to sing it because we knew he simply did not like (his words) “3 chord rubbish”! Our way of getting back at him for subjecting us to the harmony singing of ‘Adam lay i-bowndyn’.
I’m told that college is now home to a new state of the art organ. Thus it seems pertinent to briefly mention the old rat-infested Hammond organ which RB graced until the mid-80s. He would spend hours in the organ loft, late into the evenings and on weekends living the example he would expound to his students “Practice makes perfect”. The joke was, the rats would come out of their hiding places, sit on the organ lid and enjoy listening to “Batho”!
Some of the younger generation Thomians may have an image of “Sir” as having a somewhat unkempt appearance. This may be a trait of our beloved musical genius in his advancing years. Those who came under his tutelage in the 70s and 80s would however remember him immaculately dressed in “pressed” trousers, neatly ironed shirts, polished Black shoes and sporting an exquisite Swiss pocket watch. These days, appearance is the furthest from his mind and he is quite happy “catching the bus” often being mistaken for a foreigner. Recently an unscrupulous bus conductor got a blasting, trying to over-charge him on his customary 154 Bus route from Mount to Borella. I’m guessing the words he used were “Whipper Snapper Blaggard” translated in Sinhala!
The reality of aging and gradually failing eye-sight is taking its toll on the servant heart that once served college with dedication, distinction and loyalty for several years. Sir’s streak of pride, familiar to his students will not allow him to ask for help or assistance openly. Thankfully we can count on the Thomian fraternity and College on such matters. Perhaps as suggested recently on the Choristers and Servers forum, the time is ripe for “To Sir with Love” (Part 2).
Written by Chitran Duraisamy with love and much respect to my Music, English and Choir master, Mr. Russell Bartholomeusz – many more years of happy retirement Sir!
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