Professional musicians play a vital role in enriching communities through their talent and dedication. Everyone I’ve met has been interested in music in some way. Most people listen to music for enjoyment. Some people play an instrument or sing. Others teach music at schools or give private lessons or public lectures. A few, like my father Christopher Slater, are music directors, working with professionals and amateurs to put on concerts or theatre shows. 

In this post I’m going to examine the critical role of musicians in fostering cultural richness in our communities, through a sentimental journey reflecting on the prolific career of the respected Christopher Slater, my father. The narrative will delve into his multi-faceted contributions as a music director, founder of the Reigate Philharmonic Society, and an organist-choir director. Beyond these roles, we will explore his contribution to academia as a respected faculty member at the Royal College of Music and his tireless dedication to fostering music appreciation via lectures and private piano lessons in Surrey.

The professional musicians of the London
Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Christopher Slater
Christopher Slater conducting the LPO at St. John’s, Smith Square

Christopher Slater: The Music Maestro behind Reigate Philharmonic Society

Back in 1970, my father, Christopher Slater, appeared in the Surrey newspaper discussing his plan for a music centre in the borough. He was 37 at the time.  Such is youth. His idea was for a centre where people could come to learn instruments, attend lectures, and participate in orchestras or choirs.

Unfortunately, it never happened exactly like that. Instead, he found various rooms in existing public buildings to deliver lectures, taught at his own piano at home, and created orchestras and choirs that amateurs could join. In addition, he put on professional concerts, founded the Reigate Philharmonic Society which promoted professional talent to perform locally, and led worship in churches as an organist and choir master. He also had a part-time position teaching at the Royal College of Music. 

My father went to Claysmore School, Dorset. A Fellow of the Trinity College of Music where he studied piano and an Associate of the Royal College of Music, he studied conducting under Julius Harrison and Herbert von Karajan. After the RCM he went to Germany as a repetiteur at Muenster Opera House. When he returned to England, his first professional appointment was as conductor for the South-East London Music Association and he became the musical director of the East Surrey Operatic Society in 1956 and took up several positions as church organist, training the choirs.

Christopher Slater conducted orchestras in Capetown, South Africa and toured with shows such as Snow White on Ice as musical director. He revived concerts at Dorking Halls, Surrey, and conducted the London Philharmonic Orchestra there in 1960. He founded the Reigate Chamber Orchestra, the New Chamber Orchestra, and the Reigate Philharmonic Society. He conducted the London Philharmonic again in 1991 for a charity concert at St. John’s, Smith Square, London, with the Princess Royal in attendance. He also created a European Orchestra that performed for Soka Gakkai President Daisaku Ikeda receiving a Cultural Award.

My father continued teaching, directing local shows, choirs, and conducting local concerts in Surrey throughout my childhood in the seventies, eighties, and nineties. He formed the Slater Symphony Orchestra in 1992 and other ensembles which performed concerts every year until he retired from conducting in 2012 at the age of 80. In 2021 he received an Honorary Award from the Royal School of Church Music for his lifetime of work supporting local choirs and training choristers.

What’s the difference between popular genres and classical music you may ask? Well, I’ve pondered that a long time too. I’ve been to a lot of concerts, bought albums, and listened to a lot of radio across all genres. People tend to express preferences for certain types of music. I have an aversion to the concept of taste. It says more about the person than the thing. Listening to music is like a muscle. You have to train it. And if you do, you can develop perspective and judgment as to standard.

We don’t have a problem using judgment to discern between Tolstoy’s War and Peace and a children’s bedtime book. Why do so many people dismiss music as good or bad, and label genres as a matter of taste? When I go for a run or to a club, I want music with a beat to move to. When I want to relax over a bottle of wine or have a dinner party, I prefer jazz. I recognize skill and art in Coldplay, the Blues, or Eddie van Halen.

Classical music is generally a much longer form than your average song. It requires attention for 20 minutes, an hour, or even more in some cases. So one thing is that listening to classical requires an investment of time that isn’t always practical.

Apart from the length, classical music has a lot more moving parts (counterpoint), a lot more independent instrumental lines, and a lot less music you can sing along to, dance or tap your feet. It asks of an audience to sit still, focus, and not busy themselves with something else while it plays in the background. I didn’t suddenly start liking classical music as a child. I had to be exposed to a lot of it over many years, ever-increasing my threshold for attention. Many were the pieces I had to listen to several times before I appreciated or liked them.

Furthermore, I learned classical cello and piano, and the pieces I had to learn had a lot more chords, dynamics, and technical challenges than songs in nearly every other genre. It takes a lot of effort to study and appreciate classical. The elite like it because they are well-educated, but it is not elitist. It’s quite accessible to anyone who makes an effort.

But when I think of the average person who loves listening to music, I know they listen to Taylor Swift, the Beatles, or Pink Floyd. If they have any interest at all to go beyond just listening, dancing, or singing in the shower, then it is understandable that they would want to know how that music works first or how they can play it on the guitar or the piano. If you are able to knock out a few well-known songs on the guitar at a party it is sure to make you popular among friends. 

A Music Centre: The Business Case

I think a music centre in any town has a much greater chance of success and getting off the ground if you target people who want to learn to play or compose popular music. Indeed I’ve met a few entrepreneurs who decided to do just that, and they have thriving businesses.

From the press article it is clear my father’s attention was firmly fixed upon what we inaccurately refer to as classical music. He specifically mentions “bored” housewives, who he imagines might have the time to attend the afternoon lectures he was proposing.

From my own life experience, I put interest in Bach or Bartok at no more than 1 in 20 persons, or 5% of the population. While some parents encourage children to learn an instrument like the violin or piano, most children give it up when it is no longer forced upon them. This can be for many reasons, but one of them is certainly that people are more drawn to popular genres.

That’s not to say my father wasn’t successful with what he did. Many people are interested in classical music, playing classical instruments, and learning more about it. Also since his musical education didn’t lend itself to be interested in popular music there is no reason why he shouldn’t have pursued what he was passionate about. In reality, I believe most of his audience for music appreciation lectures came from among the retired population.

When it comes to my own feelings as a teacher, I want people to have a chance to enjoy music in any genre and follow their curiosity as to why it sounds good. My judgment is relative compared to what musicians have written over the last 400 years. A developed ear can listen to anything with attention. All genres have their merits and occasionally the lyrics have deep things to say about life. Classical is such a varied genre it’s really not fair to compare it to modern genres. What French composers wrote in the 16th Century is very different from what Russian composers wrote in the 20th Century.

Music as a Tool for Community Building: Impact of Professional Musicians

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.”


Just as the classic quote infers, music does indeed breathe life into the ordinary. It aids in community development by infiltrating all areas of life. From schools to retirement homes, music filled atmospheres spark joy, calm, and inspiration. 

Participation in creating music can be incredibly therapeutic, providing a healthy outlet for expression and emotion management. You don’t have to be a Mozart or a van Halen to experience these benefits! From group sing-alongs to drum circles, these experiences can alleviate stress and promote overall mental well-being. 

Additionally, music brings opportunities for intergenerational interaction. It bridges the gap between generations. Youngsters learning valuable life lessons from experienced, venerable musicians, whilst older folk absorb the zest and vitality of younger generations, create dynamics that transcend the usual barriers of age. 

Participation in music making not only enriches individual lives with joy and learning, but it also knits the social fabric closer, fostering unity, respect, and a better understanding for each other. This transformative journey cascades into a happier and harmonious society, resonating the age-old wisdom that indeed, music is the universal language of mankind. The lasting legacy of my father, Christopher Slater, pays testament to this very perspective. 

In conclusion, countless individuals benefited from my father’s effort to introduce and encourage their participation in music making. The focus was Beethoven and Brahms, not Queen or Madonna, but there was a demand for it nonetheless. The family survived. I went to Oxford. I experienced the joy of performing many times. I became a composer and conducted the London Symphony Orchestra. My own life in music has had great rewards because I had a training in classical music. 

Legacy of the Reigate Philharmonic Society

Through the establishment of the Reigate Philharmonic Society, Christopher Slater created a platform for talented musicians to come together and share their love for music with the local community. The society’s regular performances provided a source of cultural enrichment and entertainment for the residents of Reigate and the surrounding areas.

Slater’s vision extended beyond just showcasing musical talent. He recognized the importance of music education and actively worked to provide opportunities for aspiring musicians. Under his guidance, the Reigate Philharmonic Society initiated various outreach programs, offering workshops and masterclasses to young musicians in the community.

The impact of Slater’s efforts can be seen in the growth and development of the Reigate Philharmonic Society. Over the years, the society became a cornerstone of the local music scene, attracting both professional musicians and music enthusiasts alike. Its concerts were eagerly anticipated events that bring people together and foster a sense of community.

Furthermore, the society’s outreach programs have helped nurture the next generation of musicians, providing them with valuable guidance and mentorship. Many young musicians who have benefited from these programs have gone on to pursue successful careers in music, thanks to Slater’s dedication and support.

Christopher Slater’s legacy as the founder of the Reigate Philharmonic Society serves as a powerful reminder of the profound impact that professional musicians can have on communities. Through their talent, passion, and commitment, they bring people together, inspire creativity, and create lasting cultural legacies.


No comments yet. Why don’t you start the discussion?

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *