British composer Patrick Hawes gives an unusual answer when asked if there’s anything career-wise he wishes he could do better. His response: “Nothing.” The reason is based on Hawes’ Christian beliefs. He says he believes his ability to compose choral and symphonic music is a gift from God. “God doesn’t give you a gift and you say, ‘Thank you for the gift, but I wish it could have been better,’” Hawes said. “It couldn’t be better, it couldn’t be worse. It is what it is.”
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Hawes says it took him nearly 40 years to realize the path God had created for him. As detailed in our Inside Voice article, he worked as a teacher for many years before he was asked to compose music for a school production. That request made him realize the process of composing was very natural for him.
“I think there has to be a return to beauty and spirituality – the core of art.” – Composer Patrick Hawes
One of the school pieces he created was for a choral group that he titled The Wedding at Cana. Hawes’ brother, who is a priest, suggested that the text from St. John’s Gospel depicting Christ’s first miracle would be perfect for Hawes’ dramatic cantata. The work included an orchestra, chorus and soloists.
After that production was well received, Hawes says he decided to become a composer full-time, always inspired by his Christian faith. He says one of his main hopes is that today’s artists will use both their minds and souls when composing.
“I think there has to be a return to beauty and spirituality – the core of art,” Hawes said. “You must be aware you have two creative engines – to be cerebral is not enough.”
With that in mind, Hawes has incorporated his beliefs in many of his works. One inspiration for his recent piece The Great War Symphony was the inscription on his great-uncle’s gravestone that was engraved during the First World War. It reads: “He Lies with England’s Heroes in the Watchful Care of God.” Hawes was struck by the power of those words and utilized them in the elegy movement of the composition.
In a similar manner, Hawes also frequently uses Bible verses in his professional work, like he did with The Wedding at Cana. This includes his Beatitudes and the composition Be Still from Psalm 46. He also has pieces based on prayers, including The Lord’s Prayer and Prayer to a Guardian Angel.
Hawes hopes that such works help him share his faith and properly use the gifts he’s been given. Though he hasn’t worried about that gift being better or worse, Hawes says that for a long time he was concerned God would take away his composing ability. His brother reassured him though.
“I used to worry it would disappear – but my brother who’s a priest said, ‘If you give me a gift, do you want it back?’ I said ‘No.’ He says ‘You’ve been given a gift. No one’s going to want it back.’”
Read more about Hawes in our Inside Voice piece, British Composer Patrick Hawes: Creating Works for Radio and Royalty