Ronald Lynton Lawson

1940 -

Ronald Lawson, an organist, pianist, singer, choir conductor, and composer, served as Professor of Sociology at a university in New York City until his retirement. From his earliest years he was and continues to be active in church music, serving in a number of positions.

Ronald was born in Sydney, NSW, Australia, and spent his childhood in the state of Queensland, one of two children of Harold James and Ruby Tasma Fraser Lawson. While neither of his parents was a musician, they enjoyed classical music and played it in the home on the radio.

He started piano lessons at age eleven with Mabel Higgins, a Seventh-day Adventist, who, when presented with a song he had composed at one of his lessons, requested he bring one to his lesson each week. At age fourteen he started organ lessons, studying with Walter Emmerson, organist at an Anglican Church. While most of his early education was taken through homeschooling, he eventually attended the Toowoomba Grammar School. He later wrote about his teenage years and his subsequent education and training and musical experiences in Australia:

From 1953 to 1957 I won first, second, or third place in a competition for young composers sponsored by the Australian Broadcasting Commission four years in a row. Although I did enter piano and violin pieces, my winning entries were always art songs, and I now realize that I had a real gift in that area. I was appointed Sabbath School organist of the Toowoomba, Queensland, SDA church in 1953 at age thirteen and started a church choir in 1955, which sang every week.

At the end of grade twelve I won a tertiary scholarship, giving me free education and a living allowance, and was admitted to both the University of Queensland and The Queensland Conservatorium of Music in Brisbane. Forced to choose between the two, a choice I resented, I reluctantly chose the university. Coming from what was then a small city, I had few ideas about possible careers after study at the conservatory.

My resentment led me to study at the conservatorium, though not as a degree student. While at the university for twelve years, where I received a B.A. Honors in history and Ph.D. in sociology and history, I trained in voice, piano, organ, and clarinet at the conservatory. I also sang extensively in choirs, singing for twelve years as a member in the Society for Renaissance Music (a madrigal choir) at the University. As I had arrived in Brisbane, I was invited by the Central SDA Brisbane Church, a congregation of 500, to form and lead a choir, one that became a highly respected group.

I lived at Emmanuel College at UQ, which served as residence hall and as the Presbyterian Seminary. At age 23 I was appointed chapel organist there, playing four services before dinner on weeknights and about that same time began singing as a paid member in the choir at the Anglican Cathedral of St. John, holding both positions for seven years. All of these choral experiences helped me refine my sight reading skills.

Lawson came to the U.S. in 1971 at age 31 to do post-doctoral work at Columbia University on a Fulbright Scholarship Award and decided to become a permanent resident. He became a member of the Adventist community at CU, which worshipped in CUís St. Paulís Chapel, and became a member of one of the first chapters of the Association of Adventist Forums, which was also held in that chapel.  He was appointed organist for the forum and played the famous Aeolian-Skinner organ there for several years.  He also became president and music director of that chapter, later renamed the Metro New York Adventist Forum, positions he still retains.

He missed working with choirs and in 1991 began serving as organist and choir director at several churches, spending most of his time in two Episcopal churches, Church of the Ascension in Mount Vernon, New York, a mostly West Indian Congregation where he served until 2003, and St. Peterís Episcopal Church, Westchester Square, in the Bronx. In both instances he enjoyed a musically satisfying experience, having fine organs on which to play and professional section leaders in his choirs. At the end of 2005, he retired from his work in Sunday churches. 

Through these years Lawson served as professor of sociology, Department of Urban Studies at Queens College, City University of New York, from 1977 through 2009. He found his teaching of sociology of religion informed by his involvement in churches of different denominations.

In 2010 he was persuaded to put thirteen of his songs on YouTube. They can be accessed through typing AustralianSongs and Ronald Lawson in combination.


Source: Information provided by Ronald Lawson, October and November 2012.