Profile: Charles Paterson, composer

Who and/or what have been the most important influences on your musical career or interest in music?

My father played the piano by ear and my mother sang, and they took me to concerts from an early age. I was much encouraged in my interest in music by Jack Needle at primary school: at Ipswich School Geoff Lavery and Keith Griffiths were a great inspiration, performing some of my first compositions, so I suppose I was an early starter. Ipswich composer Jack Hawes was another of my mentors.

I went to Cambridge to read Classics but on a Choral Exhibition, and sang in the CUMS Chorus and University Chamber Choir; Philip Ledger and Richard Marlow were the inspiring conductors. My family lived in Ipswich, and I used to go to the Britten festivals in Snape Maltings in the holidays.

In my teaching career at Leicester Grammar School, although I wasn’t on the music staff, for twenty-five years I was conductor of the School Choir, and I composed right through these years, when time allowed.

What have been the greatest challenges of your musical career so far?

There’s never enough time to be able to compose. And once I’ve written something, it can be challenging to find groups to perform it. I’m well represented by Chichester Music Press, Fagus Music and Peacock Press but it can be hard to penetrate the bigger publishers. Also, it was hard to get going again after lockdown.

How would you describe your musical language?

Tonal, late 20th century. Some pieces are more experimental, such as the 2017 Redemptor Gentium commissioned by the Richard III Society.

You can listen to a setting of one of my George Herbert settings, entitled Virtue and published by Neil Sands of Chichester Music Press. Virtue (Sweet day) was written in 2014 in response to a commission from Fr Simon Lumby for his choir 8ctave, whose singers are mainly serving priests in the Diocese of Leicester. The poem’s imagery of the cool day, the bright rose, and spring with its promise of sweetness offer opportunities for contrast, while all come to the same end: only virtue is everlasting. You can peruse the score at

How do you work?

Sporadically! I’ve got several competing interests, but if I have something in mind or a commission I’ll really focus on it.

Are there any composers for whom you feel a particular affinity? 

You can often hear the influences of major English 20th century composers such as Vaughan Williams, Finzi and Britten in my works, but there are also early music influences there.

Which performances are you most proud of?

The Richard III Society annual carol service, held in the church at Fotheringhay, at which my Redemptor Gentium was first performed. The first performance of my 2016 Carpe Diem song cycle, commissioned by Simon Lumby, tenor. 2017 ​Christmas is Coming! commissioned by Stamford Choral. The Concertino for Descant Recorder and String Orchestra, which is on the British Serenade CD.

What are your most memorable experiences, either as a performer, composer or listener?

Conducting the Leicester Grammar School Choir in the presence of HM the Queen. Singing the 40-part Tallis piece Spem in Alium, performed on 8 punts on the mill pond in Cambridge on the occasion of the 1977 Silver Jubilee. Singing Britten’s War Requiem,with CUMS, in King’s College Chapel. Conducting a full performance of Messiah in Leicestershire – a huge undertaking.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

Persist through disappointments. Be adept at networking (which I’m not!).

How would you define success as a musician?

Nothing to do with earning money! If your audience are in sympathy or have a connection with you, that really feels like success.

Visit to find out more about Charles.

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