Composers from across the UK came together in late 2022 and early 2023 to collaborate on new music dedicated to LFCCM founder Christopher Batchelor in recognition of two decades of his championing the cause of contemporary sacred music. In this series, we talk to a number of the composers involved in the project. Today, we’re talking with widely performed and published composer Paul Ayres.
How did you first become interested in composition?
Almost as soon as I started reading music (through piano lessons, and singing in the local church choir, from aged 9) I became fascinated with making up tunes, and varying and adapting the music I was learning - so as long as I can remember, really.
How important is sacred music overall in your compositional output? Why?
A huge amount, I’d say. Partly due to being involved in church music from a young age, and partly from being inspired by so many wonderful spiritual texts from all kinds of sources.
The LFCCM was founded in 2002. Tell us how you first became aware of the Festival, and how you first came to be involved.
I was the organist for most of the services in that very first year! Way back in the days of fax machines, messages on landlines and hand-written manuscripts (you kids won’t know what we’re talking about!). And since then I have been involved, on-and-off, as accompanist, composer, conductor, for various concerts and projects. It’s so great that LFCCM has gone from strength to strength - a testament to Chris’s vision, initiative and hard work.
If you could change something about the Festival, what would it be?
Please keep flourishing, expanding. “Wider still and wider” one might say!
You’ve donated your time and energy to a celebration concert that opens 2023’s LFCCM. Tell us about your contribution, and why you chose to take part.
I was honoured to be invited to contribute to the Mass, as I’m very grateful to Chris and to the Festival for providing a performance platform for several of my choral settings over the years. Where would most of us composers be without such opportunities? For the opening section of the Sanctus, I’ve used a harmonic structure based on turning through the circle of fifths in both directions (clockwise and anticlockwise) at the same time - I love number patterns, and perhaps this information may appeal to fellow music theory nerds - but it’s absolutely not necessary to know this - it’s a means to what I hope is an effective end: to create phrases that seem to “make sense” - whether they’re used in a concert or in a worship service.
What other events and projects do you have coming up next?
Very soon, at the end of May, Welsh National Opera’s youth opera will be staging my mini musical-opera The Crab That Played With the Sea - I’m really looking forward to seeing the show. Recently I’ve written some short settings of Brian Bilston poems that should (fingers crossed) be performed soon. And for next year, a trip to guest-conduct the Badger State Women’s Choir and other area ensembles (quiz question: which US state is the Badger State?).
Any interesting facts people ought to know about you?
I can nearly, but not quite, sing Jay Foreman’s “Every Tube Station” off-copy. (It’s a list song: the title is the content)
Paul’s setting of the “Sanctus”, part of a collaborative mass setting created in conjunction with nine other composers, receives its premiere performance at St Pancras Parish Church on Friday 12 May 2023. And while we’re not geography experts, we think the “Badger State” is Wisconsin…?