Ronald James Barnett

Ronald James Barnett, born Feb. 2, 1938, in Hellertown, Pennsylvania, passed on June 30, 2021, in Winchester, Virginia, in the presence of his wife, Pat Groff, and his children Kenny Barnett and Cindy Barnett Michel.

As a member of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, Rob played percussion for 57 summer seasons (1965-2016) and taught percussion to students at the Chautauqua School of Music from 1965 to 2013. His first wife, Joanne, enjoyed many summers at Chautauqua where his children enjoyed Boys’ and Girls’ Club. His second wife, Nora Davenport, also a percussionist, performed in the CSO and the Kennedy Center Opera and Ballet Orchestra until her untimely death. Pat Groff, his third wife, enjoyed visiting Chautauqua as a little girl, hearing the CSO and now participates in Artists at the Market and Art in the Park. 

Ron’s family continues to visit Chautauqua every summer and his granddaughter, Jenna, is getting married this fall at the Hall of Philosophy with a reception to follow at the Athenaeum Hotel — certainly a great reflection of the influence the love of Chautauqua has had on the entire family. 

Ron had full-time positions as tympanist at the Kennedy Center’s Opera and Ballet Orchestra from 1971 to 2000 and concurrently as a music professor teaching percussion at the University of Maryland, College Park from 1967 to 2002. He also performed at the Kennedy Center Honors and at various venues in the Washington, D.C, area with such notables as the Three Tenors, Johnny Mathis, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Pearl Bailey, and many others throughout his career. 

During his performing career he was privileged to play under the many illustrious conductors including Leonard Bernstein, Herbert von Karajam, Claudio Abbado, Zubin Mehta, Mstislav Rostropovich, Leopoid Stokowski, Arthur Fiedler, John Williams, and others. After retiring from the Kennedy Center and University of Maryland, he taught for one year at Shenandoah University in Winchester, while continuing to perform at his beloved Chautauqua during the summer. 

A veteran of the U.S. Navy, he served in the Navy Band as timpanist and marimba soloist from 1960 to 1964 and also in the funeral procession for  President John F. Kennedy. As a retiree, he performed with the Emeritus group of percussionists at the Percussive Arts Society.

Ron received his Bachelors in Music from the Eastman School of Music in 1960 where he was a member of the Marimba Masters. That group performed on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1958. Ron earned his Masters from the University of Maryland in 1973, where he taught for 35 years. Over the years, his many percussion students have indicated his great influence upon them not only in performing but in other ways that made their lives better. 

Known for his colorful stories of performing and great sense of humor, he was the consummate professional admired by his fellow musicians and his students. 

A memorial service is planned at the family’s church in Silver Spring, Maryland, in late fall and an event to commemorate him at Chautauqua next summer.

Tags : Milestones

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