Doug Johnson - arts editor
A man of many talents, but perhaps best known at MacEwan University as head of the recording arts program, Colin Lay succumbed to ALS on Jan. 16, 2012.
In his wake, Lay leaves a legacy of achievements. Aside from his role as educator, Lay was an accomplished recorder, engineer, producer, composer and musician. He even held a master’s degree in physics from Oxford University. Members of MacEwan’s music program want to establish a scholarship in his name for students majoring in recording.
In 1990, Colin Lay was brought in as substitute engineer for the Great Western Orchestra. After his first day, recalled musician Stewart McDougall, Lay asked if he could mix what they had recorded that day. Immediately afterwards, the group had him redo the entire album they were working on.
“We had him remix the whole record and he became our lead sound guy after that and we didn’t do anything without him after that, live or in the studio,” said Lay’s long-time friend MacDougall, who was recording with Great Western Orchestra at the time.
MacDougall also said that Lay worked on every important show of his life and engineered and produced many albums for the group. “He had really, really good ears. He was always able to get a great performance out of everybody,” he said.
Lay befriended a large number of musical professionals, performers and students in his time. “I think one of the things that I’m really struck by about Colin, and what I’ve really noticed since his diagnosis, is how many people he knows and the relationships he’s had and the effects he has had on people,” said his wife, Cheryl Lay.
MacDougall reminisced that he and Lay travelled to Dollywood (Dolly Parton’s theme park in Tennessee) with Great Western Orchestra. Eventually, a friend of MacDougall and Lay grew tired of explaining where Alberta was to the people there and began telling everyone they were from Wyoming.
“One day someone said to us, ‘He has a different accent than you guys. He can’t be from Wyoming.’ Colin replied, in his thick British accent, ‘I’m from Montana,’” MacDougall remembered, laughing.
Lay did his best to help his friends, family and community with projects until he couldn’t anymore, his wife recalled. “He was very driven to finish his work,” she said.
“He took a lot of time finishing up details for myself to make sure I was gonna be OK . . . He was just a really good guy, Colin — a really good man,” she said.
As tribute to his life, Lay’s friends in the industry are compiling one final album of his work, his wife said. Near the end of Lay’s life, she explained, communicating with Colin was difficult. But she recalled talking to a friend of her husband’s who said that there was enough material to create a CD.
“When I brought it to Colin he kind of laughed. He thought it was just great. It was such a big surprise,” she said. “It will be kind of a tribute to Colin — our chance to give back to him.”
For his dry sense of humour, his dedication to the world of music and his kindness as a human being, Colin Lay will be sorely missed. “I’ve been fortunate to meet some truly remarkable people in my life but he and his wife are very much at the top of the list,” MacDougall said.
“I was really, really lucky to have spent this time with him,” his wife said.
“I couldn’t have been more proud of him.”