Martyn Smith, writing about Wesley College


(April, 2017, for 'Lion' magazine)
(Published with permission of his family)

“It’s just about the music.”  These 2006 words of Steve McKenna’s well may have been his mantra.

When boarding at Wesley in the mid-70s he was inseparable from his guitar.  Many mornings, Steve could be found on his bedside, bent over his guitar delaying till the very last his departure for breakfast in the Dining Hall.  Ultimately this passion found its fullest adolescent expression in a scintillating solo at the 1976 Speech Night, breathlessly remembered, still, by contemporary schoolmates.

After a lifetime of performing and teaching music, Steve died in February, 2017, aged fifty-eight, whereupon personal tributes flowed.  Steve’s worldwide admirers flooded social media, lovingly remembering his collaborations, lessons and forthright critiques, deeply touching the hearts of his family.

After early grounding under Melbourne jazz guitarist Bruce Clarke OAM, Steve took lessons at Los Angeles’ Guitar Institute of Technology in the early ‘80s that culminated in important teaching positions at Wollongong University, Sydney Conservatorium, Germany’s Weimar Conservatorium, Australian Institute of Music and London’s Guitar Institute of Music. 

Beyond teaching though, Steve fundamentally was a performer, composer and musical director, with much of his work recorded on disc.  He performed live in Australia, Asia and, between 1994 and 2002, throughout Europe whilst his wife Liz taught in Germany, and the cherished Erin and Jacob were born. 

Steve’s respectful knowledge of the roots of his art and the gifts of his peers richly informed his career, driving him to imbue his students and audiences with this quality.   He valued culture.

At Wesley, Steve was not academically inclined and completed his Year 12 exams without much hope of conventional success.  After his last exam, he quietly told his Housemaster that he couldn’t prove his knowledge in writing, but had attended all classes and knew that he had been educated. 

Such is his legacy.


Footnote:-  The following two audio interviews with Jazz and Beyond, heard in chronological order, will be rewarding for those who would like to listen to Steve's story and music philosophy in his own words.

2006 Interview  (mp3;  20 mins 30 secs)

2010 Interview  (mp3;  24 mins 20 secs)

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