Magic of music
Carol Bundock speaks to Norfok-based composer Patrick Hawes about music, faith and working for the Prince of Wales.
Music has more of a place in our lives than we realise, it’s subconscious. Without it, we would be starved of something special and precious.” Patrick Hawes not only composes music and plays it, he lives for music. “I have no choice about it, it’s simply in me”.
Patrick lives on the Norfolk Broads, but was born in Lincolnshire. His first taste of music came when his father, who ran The Smuggler’s Inn at Chapel St Leonards, near Grimsby, arranged piano lessons for him and his brother with the pub pianist. George Marsden imbued the boys with huge enthusiasm, although Patrick admits he was more drawn to Mozart sonatas, than Roll Out the Barrel. He recalls buying his first manuscript book when he was just five. “I’ve still got that book”, he tells me, “those early compositions had lots of pounding rhythms, but not much melody.”
Luckily for us, that changed, and Patrick is now an established composer of classical music, by Royal Appointment and a regular favourite on Classic FM. Patrick radiates a creative energy that is both beguiling, and apparently, boundless. When I first met him, I was struck not only by the very openness of his face, but by his piercing eyes, which seemed to see right inside me. He has the knack of not only being deeply interested in everyone he meets, but making you feel as if you are the person he’s most been wanting to meet forever. Within minutes of being in his company, I found myself telling him all about me!
The bulk of his compositions are of sacred music, and his Christian faith is fundamental to him. Not brought up in a church going family, he nevertheless developed a faith early in his life. “I firmly believe Faith is a gift”, he tells me, “and that precious gift was clearly handed to me in an unambiguous way. It is simply the foundation of my life.” Patrick has lived with his partner close to Catfield church, very happily for the past seven years. “I love the Broads and the natural surroundings, but it’s in church where I can always find a special peace and tranquillity, especially when I’m looking for a focus for my creativity.” He has a marked spiritual air about him, so it was no surprise to discover his brother is an Anglican priest in Lincolnshire. “He is the holiest person I know,” Patrick says proudly. Andrew is four years his senior and a much loved sibling. He also writes the words for most of his choral music. “We share the same insights, and our artistic approach is a kind of spiritual symbiosis. We work in complete harmony.” You could say you sing off the same hymn sheet then, I venture, and he laughs, “Most certainly.”
Patrick’s route into professional composing wasn’t straightforward. He read music as an organ scholar at Durham University, and then went into teaching. It was at Pangbourne College in Berkshire, that he was asked to write the music for a school production of King Lear. “I wasn’t sure I could do it, but I thought I’d have a go, and I really enjoyed it. It was actually very easy,” he confesses modestly. Much to his surprise everyone loved it, and one of the parents who was a BBC producer, told him he should be doing more composing. This led to his first hour-long piece for choir, orchestra and two soloists, his cantata, The Wedding at Cana.
Seven more years of teaching followed for Patrick, this time at Charterhouse school, where he was also the composer in residence. He loved teaching, but he knew in his heart, he wanted to compose. So when one of the parents offered him a converted boathouse on the Thames at Maidenhead to live and write in, he took the plunge, left the safety of a school environment, and began life as a composer. “It was a difficult time”, explained Patrick, “I missed my regular income and was faced with the fickleness of the music industry.” But he didn’t give up, and in 2002 his breakthrough came with the release of his debut album Blue in Blue. It was voted by Classic FM listeners as the fastest ever and highest new entry into the station’s Hall of Fame. I sensed it was an emotional turning point as well as a professional one. “It was most surreal hearing my work on the radio, with audiences of five million, I loved it.”
With this success, the commissions started to come in. Most notably in 2008 when he took a call from Clarence House. Would he write a piece for Prince Charles’s 60th birthday? So the Highgrove Suite was born. This began as a one-movement work for harp and strings and was premiered at Covent Garden on the Prince’s birthday by the royal harpist Claire Jones and the Philharmonia orchestra. Three new pieces completed the suite, each one inspired by an aspect of HRH’s garden at Highgrove. Patrick was given unlimited access to the royal gardens, and a one on one audience with the prince.
“I found him extremely comfortable to talk to, and was surprised by his knowledge and enjoyment of music, he felt like a kindred spirit.”
Patrick is in the process of writing a new choral work for the Sheringham and Cromer Choral Society, based on the life and work of Edith Cavell. It’s hoped it will premiere in Norwich cathedral next year, to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the First World War. Another project, about which he is very excited, is an album called Angels.
A gifted musician, an accomplished and highly published composer, Patrick retains a modesty and simplicity which belies his success. “I can’t imagine life without composing, I can always think up a tune, and find inspiration wherever I am. For me, music is about being alive, being aware of my surroundings and turning that into the most special of art forms – music.”
Read more at www.patrickhawes.com