Born: November 29, 1941.

Died. November 20, 2021.

PAMELLA (Pam) Dow, who has died aged 79, was a pioneer musician who became principal percussionist with the Scottish National Orchestra in December 1970. It is believed she was the first woman to hold such a post in any UK orchestra. For three decades she was a popular and much-celebrated member of the RSNO.

She was also a highly regarded teacher of percussion instruments. She began teaching at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (as the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland was then known) in 1967 and joined the Junior Conservatoire staff in 1978.

She also taught students on the BMus degree at Glasgow University.

Elspeth Rose, a student of Dow’s and a colleague at the RSNO, recalled: “I knew Pam for forty years and she was always a lot of fun. She was fearless as a musician, a superb percussionist and much enjoyed playing under conductors such as Alexander Gibson, Walter Weller and Neeme Järvi.

“Pam was tall and impressive on the platform and a real trailblazer for percussionists and women. She was always very popular at RSNO Friends’ evenings and would delight the Friends with chatter and stories – some of which were repeatable. She had the delightful habit of mingling with the audience in the interval and having a chat. She was just lovely.”

Pamella Elder Dow was born in Lochee, Dundee, in 1941. Her father, George, was a carpenter and later a clerk of works at Dundee council; her mother, Dorothy (née Hood), had worked in the jute mills before her marriage. She had a younger brother, Graeme.

In Raising the Curtain, a newly-published history of the RCS, Dow recalled that while at Dundee’s Morgan Academy she used to enjoy the SNO (as it then was) playing Caird Hall, and was “absolutely captivated” by Leslie Newlands on the timpani. She pestered her teachers for lessons in percussion, and this was how her career got underway.

After school she auditioned for the RSAMD and was offered a place to study piano as a first instrument and percussion as a second. The Academy did not have a high-profile percussion course. Dow, typically forthright, suggested that that was “atrocious”, and turned them down.

After a week, they rang and asked her to reconsider taking percussion as a second study. Again she declined. “Two days later they came round to my way of thinking, and they offered me first study timpani”, she recalled. She studied under Newlands, “and we got on like a house on fire”.

She graduated in 1964 and was a founding member of the BBC Training Orchestra in Bristol. She was meant to remain there for three years but after 18 months she was offered a post at the SNO. She joined in January 1967 as second percussion. Alexander Gibson invited her to a trial for the position of Principal Percussion in January 1970 and she was formally appointed to the position that December, on a salary of £40 per week.

She appeared often as a soloist or a featured player in RSNO concerts throughout Scotland, at the Edinburgh Festival and at the London Proms. One of her most memorable solo concerts was playing Panufnik’s challenging Concerto for Timpani and Percussion, in 1990. She was often in the pit with Scottish Opera, being particularly fond of the large Verdi and Britten operas.

Dow also played on a number of occasions with the percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, the Glasgow Herald noting of their performance of a Steve Reich composition for two marimbas: “Hypnotic and repetitive, of course, it was, all the same, an intriguing aural experience and a real tour de force of stamina and concentration by the players”.

Dow had to retire from active playing at the age of 57 as she lost the sight in one eye. She became a celebrated and esteemed teacher, communicating her love of the instruments with an infectious authority and passion.

In April 1999 the Glasgow Herald’s Michael Tumelty recorded: “Perhaps the finest, most touching moment in the concluding concert of the RSNO’s winter season came after it was all over, when principal conductor Alexander Lazarev climbed up through the players to the back of the orchestra, took the hand of principal percussionist Pamella Dow – retiring after an astonishing 32 years in the orchestra – and led her to the front of the stage where she received an ovation. The woman is a legend in Scottish music”.

Her teaching at the RCS took up much of her time but she was involved with various RSNO education initiatives, the Artlink Central project for students with learning disabilities, and, more recently, teaching pupils on Orkney via Zoom. The virtuoso percussionist, Colin Currie, who studied under Dow at the RCS, said: “I cannot overstate just what an astonishing teacher she was.”

Francis Cummings, Head of the Junior Conservatoire of Music at the RCS, said: “In 2005, together with Lucinda Geoghegan, Pam pioneered the Pre-Junior Musicianship Course for primary-aged children and continued to play a significant role as coach and repertoire advisor in our Symphony Orchestra programme until her retirement last year.

“As a result of Pam’s rigorous teaching and inspirational mentoring, many of her students have found their way to Principal Percussion posts in orchestras across the world, others have forged solo careers whilst many have embraced the teaching profession. Pam was redoubtable, full of energy and passion and held in high esteem and deep affection by so many of us.”

Pamella Dow is survived by her brother.