At Sydney University Ralph Middenway majored in Music and Anthropology, developing his ideas about music in our own and other cultures.
Two major influences were Peter Platt and Donald Peart, and he remembered with pleasure Peter’s conducting his first première in the University’s Great Hall, a pilot for a big piece for a capella choir, Missa omnibus sanctis, influenced to some extent by the School of Notre Dame de Paris, ca 1200.
He sang a lot in choirs, notably those conducted by Vincent Shepherd and Norman Johnstone.
He studied various aspects of composition with Raymond Hanson, friend and neighbour, and with another friend, Eric Gross.
Later he passed Durham BMus exams, but work (including writing play-music, teaching music and drama, singing and conducting, writing) kept him busy and he never completed the degree.
With Pro Musica, he took part by invitation in two UNESCO seminars run in conjunction with Adelaide Festivals, a Composers Seminar in 1960, and a Seminar on Sound and Film in 1964.
In 1983 he started working as a full-time freelance composer. For five years in the late 1980s the South Australian College of Advanced Education described him as Composer to the College. He produced less during the 1990s, being busy with other things.
As a composer, there were several people to whom he felt particularly indebted.
Peter Platt kick-started him:
“Would you like to write us a piece?”
“They want to hear the words!”
“We shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously.”
Eric Gross, most thorough of teachers.
Raymond Hanson remained his guru:
“Pattern-making isn’t enough.”
“The stuff of music is the building and release of tension.”
“Music is for performers and audiences, not just the composer.”
“Style and substance matter; passing fashion doesn’t.”
Patrick Thomas sponsored and realised several of his pieces, with his usual verve and polish.
Brian Chatterton did the same, with his perennial enthusiasm and dedication.
In August 2015 he graduated PhD from the Hobart Conservatorium within the University of Tasmania, with a substantial folio of compositions and an exegesis If music and sweet poetry agree: The marriage of two art-forms, with particular emphasis on speech rhythm and inflection, dramatic intensity and musical coherence.