An Interview with Paul Mealor

Iain McLarty asks Paul Mealor what has inspired and influenced his music.

Paul MealorPaul Mealor has had a meteoric rise to fame over the last couple of years.  The largest TV audience in history watched as his setting of ‘Ubi Caritas’ [see below] was sung at the Royal Wedding and barely six months later he was celebrating a Christmas number one with his song ‘Wherever You Are’ sung by the Military Wives Choir.  While his music is now known by choirs and audiences around the world, the inspiration behind it is perhaps less well known.  Paul was one of the main speakers at the Different Voices Music Event in March 2013 and Iain McLarty spoke to him about the role faith has had to play in his composition.

Could you explain a little about how you started writing music?

Perhaps appropriately for this event my composing actually came from a religious experience.  When I was nine I fell into a river near my home in Anglesey.  I couldn’t swim and I was drowning so I decided to give up and to stop splashing.  But at that point this incredibly warm feeling came over me and I knew there was something bigger than life.  Just then I was saved by a passer-by.  So after that I sought out a church, became a Christian and a choirboy and then I started to write music. As a choirboy at nine or ten singing some of the greatest music ever written, by composers such as Tallis, Byrd and Ockeghem, that is an extremely powerful experience.

Has faith always been a major influence in your composition?

My composition came out of the texts I was engaging with as a choirboy.  For example the Ubi Caritas text was written in the fourth century but is so powerful that people have been singing those words from their own heart ever since.  All the music that I write - whether it’s light music, church music or film music - always has a feeling of engaging with something greater.

Do you think of choral music as having a role in mission, particularly with pieces which get sung outside a church context?

As Christians we are asked to evangelise and to spread the good news.  Ubi Caritas has had thousands of performances all over the world and people are always touched by it.  After the Royal Wedding I had 70,000 emails, mostly from people who had never heard choral music or Latin, but who had been touched by the words. The Military Wives song was never supposed to be a big piece but had a similar effect.  We shouldn’t be afraid of saying what’s true and it’s fantastic as a composer to be able to give people a chance to hear these words for the first time.

Paul Mealor is the Reader of Composition at the University of Aberdeen.