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Remembrance: L. Wayne Batty, 1921-2016

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L. Wayne Batty, born in Bondville, Illinois, was a preacher’s kid. Because Methodists embrace singing, it’s unsurprising that he and his two brothers were musical and often harmonized.

While his siblings followed their father into the ministry, Wayne Batty took a different course. He studied music education and received a master’s degree in voice. After serving in the Army during World War II, he and his wife, Jane Ellis Batty — herself a musician — settled in Richmond.

Here he developed his own distinguished ministry — in music.

Batty, who died Sept. 4, joined the faculty at Richmond Professional Institute in 1949. RPI became part of Virginia Commonwealth University in 1968 when the nation was placing increased emphasis on the arts and he was at the center of that dynamic.

He served as chairman of the VCU music department from 1959 to 1970 and taught voice, conducted choral groups and established the school’s opera program. A special love was for the Madrigalists, a university a cappella group he founded and directed until his retirement in 2007.

Off-campus, Batty and his wife were involved with music programs at Seventh Street Christian Church and other congregations. He also directed scores of musicals and was instrumental in introducing Richmond audiences to contemporary opera.

From the mid-1950s until recently, the production of “Amahl and the Night Visitors” by the city’s department of recreation department found Batty in the orchestra pit. The opera was as much a holiday tradition as Santa at the Miller & Rhoads department store. And “Amahl” was one of the first local theatrical productions with a racially integrated cast — upon which Batty insisted.

Batty’s students respected and loved him for being as demanding as he was nurturing. His unwavering support and his energy were a marvel to those who knew him. Late in his career, one acolyte remarked that Batty may have been “120 years old,” but he still bounded up the steps faster than his students.

Batty died at age 94, but he was driving, reading the newspaper and receiving visitors up until his death. The final curtain fell as assuredly and gracefully as he lived.

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