From quite an early age, I’ve been interested in making up music. Apparently I used to sit on the stairs at the age of 3 or 4 and make up little songs.
I was brought up in the Salvation Army, and both my parents were musical. My mother had a lovely voice, which she frequently used to enhance worship when she was invited to sing solos in Salvation Army meetings. My father was a skilful exponent of the concertina, an instrument that was once very popular in SA circles. Not only did he use this to accompany hymns and choruses, but he made his own arrangements of classical pieces, which he performed either solo or as duets with my brother, David (pictured top left), who is a fine pianist and composer.
If you are interested, please take a look at David’s website, which includes recordings of our father’s concertina playing of classics by Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Grieg and Kreisler. By the way, David, who is 10 years older than me (but doesn’t look it!), was principal trombone in the BBC Concert Orchestra for many years, but you can hear some exceptionally fine piano extemporisation from him by clicking on his site.
I suppose I was rather overshadowed by my big brother when I was young. He had a number of songs and band pieces published by the Salvation Army, and he has always been a much better performer than I. He attended the Royal Colllege of Music, and won prizes at Kneller Hall for his playing and general musicianship. Here is a march that David wrote for the Salvation Army, which is still played today – I think it was his first published piece for brass band: please click on ‘Youth Undaunted’.
I did manage a few little pieces for the Salvation army, but nothing on the scale of my brother’s compositions. I took a music degree at Manchester University, which included an element of composition, but it was rarely that I was able to hear anything performed that I’d written, and so the incentive to compose was not really there. Then throughout my career as a school music teacher and church musician, I did a fair bit of arranging music for available forces, but had neither the time nor the energy to work seriously at composing music to be performed.
I suppose the real incentive came for me when our chorus master, Simon Halsey, made a casual remark a few years ago about the difficulty in finding suitable Christmas settings for choir and orchestra. Every year the CBSO Chorus and our Youth Choruses, together with the CBSO, put on a series of Christmas concerts at Symphony Hall in Birmingham to packed houses. I decided there and then that I would write a piece for the choir, and submit it for his consideration. Having sung with the Chorus for over twenty years, I was able to tailor the piece specifically for this group, including a verse for tenors and basses, a verse giving prominence to our wonderful alto section, a quiet a cappella verse, and some fireworks for the sopranos at the end.
Although fairly pleased with the result, the hardest part was yet to come. I remember rather sheepishly passing the manuscript on to Simon in the late summer, and then hearing nothing from him for several weeks. There was no precedent, as far as I know, for choir members to compose music to be performed by the choir, and I assumed by then that he had either lost it, forgotten about it or consigned it to the waste paper basket. Then at a rehearsal – in November, I think – he approached me casually and said “ We’ll do your ‘Noel!’ at Christmas – would you like to orchestrate it?”
So came about the first of a series of pieces I’ve written, and been privileged to have performed in Symphony Hall, Birmingham and by various other choirs and orchestras here and abroad.
If you are not by now bored out of your mind by all this personal stuff, I’d be grateful if you would kindly click on this link to discover a few pieces that I’ve been lucky enough to have had published and/or performed. I’m always interested to hear about any performances of these pieces, and to be approached with proposals for new works or commissions. You can contact me here.