Music can open doors and improve lives
2018-09-21

Ahead of the performance of his first requiem, Professor Paul Mealor, Chair in Composition at the University of Aberdeen, writes about how his childhood experiences led to a lifelong passion for music.

I am a Welshman, through and through, and am very proud of being so but I am also honoured to have spent the last 16 years living in Aberdeen – a city which has become very close to my heart and my music.

Composing is like trying to paint in sound and so I consider myself very fortunate to live in a place which provides the most wonderful canvas from which to draw inspiration.

Becoming a composer was not a path I deliberately set out on – I was drawn to music in a round-about-way through my faith – and that in itself formed almost accidentally.

As an adventurous nine-year-old I fell into a lake near my home town in Anglesey. I couldn’t swim and realised I was drowning. As I felt my body giving up, a great warmth came over me and it was at that point a passer-by plucked me from the water.

In that moment I had an epiphany and I immediately knew that there was something beyond life. 

As a result I started to sing in church choirs, but my uncle said that if I wanted to learn music I should play in a brass band so I joined Deeside Silver on euphonium and a lifelong passion for music began.

I then moved onto writing but performing in a band opened my eyes to the wonderful community spirit which music generates and nowhere is that more apparent then here in the north-east and at the University of Aberdeen where I have been fortunate enough to lead the tremendous Chapel Choir for the last 11 years.

I compose my music largely alone and I have to be very disciplined to write for several hours each morning but musical performance brings people together in a way little else can.

It certainly helped me to feel part of the community here in my adopted city and it is a joy to spend time with such a wonderful group of people through my work with the Chapel Choir. Not only are our students fantastically talented, they are a wonderful group who really support one another and do a tremendous job in bridging the gap between the University and the wider community.

It is also why I am passionate that we must support music education our schools in both Aberdeen city and Aberdeenshire. We must not look at it as an optional extra. We must look at it as one of the most important things that there is.

Music opens doors and changes lives. In the case of our own Chapel Choir, in the past year alone they have toured the USA and the Czech Republic, performed at the world’s largest music festival as part of the BBC Proms Youth Choir, sung in London as part of a special alumni service featuring Sir Tony Robinson and Game of Thrones star Iain Glen, visited Balmoral to perform for Her Majesty the Queen and just a week ago they sang again for her at Crathie Kirk in a service which was also attended by the Prime Minister.

Not forgetting their weekly services in our beautiful 1495 Chapel which I’d encourage anyone to come along and hear. They are garnering a truly international reputation for the quality of their work and are an asset not only to the University but to our city and the north-east region as a whole.

We will always consider these community performances as our core responsibility but being part of these high profile events is not only an honour but can create real opportunity. I am fortunate enough to know better than anyone how a single performance can catapult you to places you never imagined possible.

In 2011 the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge brought my work to the attention of the world when my piece Ubi Caritas was performed as part of the ceremony.

To say it changed my life is no understatement. Although I had enjoyed some success within the classical music world, choral composition was certainly not part of the music mainstream.

Suddenly overnight I had choirs and orchestras around the world wanting to perform my work and while I the royal wedding will always be a special part of my life and a day I will never forget, it is the legacy it created which has been truly inspirational.

Choral music has enjoyed a real renaissance and talented choirmasters like the amazing Gareth Malone, who I was privileged to work alongside to create Wherever You Are for the Military Wives choir, have brought choral singing to a new generation and helped to inspire many others.

They also opened my eyes to the difficulties conflict brings not only to those directly involved but to everyone around them and this has in part influenced my very first requiem, The Souls of the Righteous, composed to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War.

It will be performed in Edinburgh in front of Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Rothesay and broadcast on Classic FM as part of their Remembrance commemorations on November 11.

This article first appeared in the Press and Journal on September 21st, 2018. 

Published by News, University of Aberdeen

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