Odessa lost a treasure on Thursday when Ronald Bennett died at age 88 in Midland.
Bennett was a fixture on Odessa’s arts scene for more than six decades. He was a local piano teacher extraordinaire teaching thousands during his years beside the piano.
In 2019, he was honored with the Friends of the Arts Award during the Black & White Ball. At the time he told the audience (after a standing ovation) that if you give to Odessa it will give back to you.
That was Ronald Bennett. He was always working to improve Odessa and the talents of young musicians. He didn’t care who got the credit for doing great things as long as great things were done.
During that 2019 Ball he was called a “founding father” of the arts in Odessa. His passion for the arts led him to have a hand in most all things art in Odessa for 60 plus years including the Permian Playhouse, the Odessa Music Teachers Association, the Globe Theatre, the Cultural Council and many others.
Bennett told the audience that day he was humbled by “this wonderful thing.”
He said one of his favorite times was bringing the Texas Music Teachers Association convention to Odessa in 1987. He said it was a pivotal moment for the arts in Odessa as it helped form the Odessa Cultural Council. “People took notice after that convention that the arts could bring tourism to our city.”
Bennett was always modest about his role in shaping the roots of Odessa’s arts community.
“I just came to town not knowing anybody and met a lot of wonderful people in the arts,” he said.
Bennett is a Jonesboro, Ark., native who came to Odessa in 1959 after earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, and his teaching career has now reached the third generations of some families. He was choir director at the First Christian Church (now Connection Christian), and at St. Luke’s United Methodist and Westminster Presbyterian churches.
Bennett wrote numerous pieces for local school choirs and 50 exercises to teach various techniques that are nationally published.
His opera “Glowena” was performed in 1993 by the Globe of the Great Southwest and in 2016 by the Permian Playhouse, where he was vocal director for 37 years. He also wrote the opera, “Anna Green,” based on a strange story he saw on a back page of the Dallas Morning News “20 or 25 years ago,” he said at the time.
Bennett always loved to tell the background of how he came to inspiration for “Anna Green.”
“It’s about this woman in a mid-European country like Romania whose boyfriend had broken up with her, and she threw herself out the window of a hotel,” said Bennett in 2019. “The boyfriend happened to be walking by, and he broke her fall and broke his neck. I thought, there is an opera in there somewhere.”
At the peak of his career, Bennett was instructing 75-80 6-year-old through high school students each week. He continued to teach well into 2019.
Many of Bennett’s graduates became professionals, like noted Dallas songwriter Timothy Brown, Gayle Bizzell and others who play in churches and other settings.
Published by companies in Van Nuys, Calif., Milwaukee, Wis., and Florence, Ky., Bennett’s two- to three-minute solos for elementary, mid-elementary, later elementary, early intermediate and intermediate pianists include “Toccatina Tag,” “Desert by Night,” “What Color Were the Dinosaurs?” “The Stars Are Dancing,” “Awesome!” “Laser Show,” “Moonlit Ripples,” “Can You Imagine?” and the early intermediates’ “Shooting the Rapids,” which sells 300 copies of sheet music annually.
In 1974, at the request of the late Texas Secretary of State John Ben Shepperd of Odessa, Bennett wrote a ballet, “The Spirit of Odessa,” that was choreographed by Southern Methodist University Professor Nikita Talin and performed at the Globe. He wrote an original composition for the Hood Junior High Choir, which his sister-in-law Barbara Shinn directed, every year from 1974-91.
Odessa Chamber of Commerce CEO/President Renee Earls said he was a joy to know.
“He shined a light on the arts and culture in our community for many decades. I can’t even begin to imagine the number of students (young and old) he impacted over the many years, providing voice and piano lessons and lending his talent to many events and organizations.
Ronald Bennett’s wife of 53 years, Dortha, died in 2016. He is survived by his son, Ron, and his husband, Jim Ring, of California.
Ron Bennett said Friday a memorial for his father is scheduled at 2 p.m. Jan. 13 at Connection Christian Church, 4241 Tanglewood Lane in Odessa.