Paul Lewis (H.1951-59) composing in Napier, New Zealand, Jan 2012

PAUL LEWIS was born into a family of professional musicians in Brighton, England, in 1943. As a child he was fascinated by history and ancient buildings, reluctantly learning the piano from the age of nine. At twelve he saw the Shakespeare films of Laurence Olivier with Walton's music and immediately realized he had to be a composer. He purposely avoided all formal training, choosing instead to leave school at fifteen and enter music publishing to find out how the music business worked from inside.

After leaving the College Paul had little contact with the school until recently when he was rediscovered by one of the College's music staff at a Jubilee Street Party! Since then Paul has been in to the College to conduct a rehearsal of his piece 'Rosa Mundi', subsequently performed by the College Chamber Orchestra at the Autumn Concert and more recently at the Theatre Royal Evening, and has very much enjoyed his renewed acquaintance with the College and the Old Brightonians. "I will never forget the concentration of those beautiful young musicians as they played "Rosa Mundi" with such feeling. Thank you so much for bringing me back into the College."

Another of his pieces is being performed by the College this week as part of the May Festival at St George's Church, Wednesday 8th May 7pm - 9.30pm. 

  1. When you were at Brighton College, what did you want to be when you 'grew-up'?
    I started at the Junior School when I was eight and from the age of ten I wanted to be an archaeologist. My history and Latin master, Philip Burstow, was an eminent archaeologist and I went on all nearly all his digs; when I couldn't go, he wrote me letters describing the latest finds, and I know he had high hopes for me, but was at pains to point out the reality that there were but few opportunities for an archaeologist to make a living from it. My ambitions changed dramatically when I saw Olivier's film of Shakespeare's Richard III at twelve, closely followed by his Henry V and Hamlet. So thrilled was I by the whole experience: sets and costumes by designers who knew the period, actors who knew how to speak the poetry, stunning camerawork, Olivier's brilliant direction, and above all William Walton's pulse-racing musical scores, that I decided then and there that I had to be a composer, thus settling coincidentally upon another profession in which few actually make a living!
  2. What are you now you've grown up?
    I am a full-time professional composer and have been since the age of twenty-three, though my first orchestral compositions were recorded when I was nineteen and I wrote the first of my 150-or-so TV scores when I was twenty. The only archaeology I have done since teenage years has been on a vertical plane, peeling back accumulated accretions to reveal the original structure and textures of the various mediaeval and Tudor houses I have owned and restored!
  3. What is your best memory of school?
    My best memory is undoubtedly of being taken with a Junior School party to see Richard III at a cinema in West Street in 1955. I can remember walking down the road to the cinema in an orderly line, chatting to my friends, but I remember nothing of walking back up the hill afterwards as I was in such a euphoric and mind- and life-altered state!
  4. What was the best piece of advice you were given?
    I can't remember being given any useful advice whatsoever. Dear Malcolm McKelvey, Head of Music when I was in the Senior School, was the only person not to tell me I was mad to want to be a composer, but even he said I would have to go to the Royal College or the Royal Academy of Music - something I had no intention whatever of doing!
  5. What do you do /did you do as a career?
    To follow on from the previous answer, I decided at fifteen that I wasn't "going to spend three years at music college being taught by a failed composer that writing film music was beneath my musical dignity" and that I was "going to avoid all formal musical training in order to find out how the music business works from inside while I was young enough for it not to hurt!" I remember saying those actual words to my bemused parents. My mother and her siblings were successful professional musicians and my father had been an amateur saxophonist; they insisted against my wishes that I learn the piano from the age of nine - (I only agreed when I discovered that it would get me out of PT once a week - I loathed with a vengeance any kind of organized physical activity or sport) - but they didn't expect me to turn round and decide to take up a musical career, least of all as a composer! I was very determined however; I got my O Levels out of the way early and left school while still fifteen, working first for Freeman's, a music publisher down the road from the College, and then for Paxton's of Dean Street, Soho. As I've said, I first had my compositions recorded when I was nineteen; these were for production music libraries which supplied film companies and TV and radio stations with off-the-peg background music. Thus it was that I could go to the old Princes News Theatre in North Street and hear my music in Pathe Newsreels! At twenty I got the job of Assistant Musical Adviser to ABC TV at Teddington Studios and was soon composing for prime-time TV drama, something that would never have happened had I followed conventional practice and buried myself in musical Academia. I left to become a freelance composer three years later, bought a fifteenth century house in Hastings Old Town and have pursued my career ever since, living in a succession of lovely ancient houses.
  6. What does your job involve?
    Throughout my long career composing for TV drama, both adult's and children's, the job has involved liaising with directors and producers and creating musical scores that would enhance their productions, which have ranged from high drama with the likes of Orson Welles, Peter O'Toole, Christopher Lee, Dame Sybil Thorndike and Celia Johnson, to children's international comedy hit Woof! by way of Monty Python and Benny Hill! Nowadays I am busily composing concert works for all manner of instrumental combinations from full orchestra to solo harp and writing saucy cabaret songs for my lovely soprano wife Sharon Elizabeth, whom I accompany at the piano in her one-woman shows. The prime objective of this non-media-related musical activity is quite simply to make people happy through music, and to send the audience away whistling the tunes rather than scratching their heads in disbelief at the unfathomable difficulties of modern music!
  7. What are the most challenging parts of your job?
    Quite simply finding enough hours in the day and enough weeks in the year to write down all the music that swims through my head and leave enough time for all the things Sharon and I love doing together, such as antique-hunting and stately-home-gazing!
  8. What have you done that you are most proud of?
    Marrying Sharon Elizabeth last year and buying a beautiful Tudor timber-framed house in Sussex.
  9. What is the single thing that would most improve the quality of your life?
    The addition of another twelve hours to every day - see answer to question 7!
  10. What are the three objects you would take with you to a desert island?
    A pistol and two bullets in case I don't manage to shoot myself efficiently the first time. I can't imagine anything more boring than having to live on a desert island: all that awful tropical vegetation and not a single mediaeval or renaissance building to look at!
  11. How would you like to be remembered?
    As a composer who understood the harp. Sadly very few do!

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