Notes from a Hobby Composer

I’m calling myself a ‘hobby composer’ because I write music for fun, rather than financial gain. I’m not dependant on earnings from commissions or sales of my music to survive, and although I find composition has its challenges I find it ultimately rewarding and enjoyable.

Although I’ve dabbled in composing and arranging music throughout my early career as a mainstream music teacher, I’ve only taken up this activity more seriously since retiring from full time employment. Music has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember, but it’s only since entering semi-retirement that I’ve taken my compositional activities more seriously.

I suppose the turning point was when I submitted a piece to the chorus master of the symphony chorus in Birmingham, UK of which I’m a longstanding member. Choral music has been an important focus of my life for many years, and I have sung with choirs from my school days onwards, and have also directed choirs intermittently for most of my life. This particular submission was in response to the chorus master’s remark that there was a lack of suitable repertoire for choir and full orchestra to programme into the Christmas concerts that took place every year here in Birmingham.

This provided the incentive needed, and I worked hard to produce something that I thought would suit the chorus. I used the words of a well known carol, ‘The First Nowell’, as the text, and they suggested to me a slightly jazzy 7/8 rhythm. Writing a new setting to traditional words gives you the opportunity of treating each verse differently, in line with the meaning of the text. I ended up with something I was quite pleased with, and then managed to pluck up the courage to hand it over to our chorus director.

A few weeks passed, and I had almost given up hope of hearing any more about it, when to my astonishment he approached me at the start of a rehearsal and said he would like to include my piece in the forthcoming Christmas concerts, and would I go ahead and produce an orchestration! The piece was well received, and turned out to be the first of many pieces I have written for these Christmas concerts.

‘Noel!’ proved to be something of a milestone for me. Apart from the Birmingham performances, the piece was accepted for publication by OUP, and helped me to make links with other choirs both in the UK and abroad. One such link was with the Nidarosdomens Guttekor in Trondheim, Norway. This fine choir, made up of boys and men, is based at the splendid Gothic cathedral in Trondheim. One day I was idly surfing the Internet when I discovered that this choir had included ‘Noel!’ on one of their CDs — quite unknown to me! I made contact with them straight away, and struck up a friendship with their director, Bjørn Moe, which lasts to this day. As a result of this chance encounter over the Internet, I have been invited to write and arrange a number of pieces for them, and have made several visits to hear them in Trondheim, Oslo and Berlin.

In fact as I write this, I’m on the way back home from a memorable weekend in Trondheim, where the choir incorporated four of my pieces into their Christmas programme, including a world première. All four concerts at the Cathedral were sold out, with 1300 people attending each one. The choir were on top form, and the pieces were all well received. The Trondheim concerts include a full orchestra, but the choir also go on tour with the same programme, but using organ for accompaniments.

I feel tremendously privileged to be closely associated with this great Norwegian choir, whose history goes back some 900 years! I have arranged and orchestrated pieces for their visits to Singapore and Berlin, and links have been made with other choirs — but that will have to wait for another time!