Speaking with music

Sheffield composer Chris Hawkins
Sheffield composer Chris Hawkins

Sheffield-based composer Christopher Hawkins was inspired by his time as a choirboy in Ecclesall to create his new CD, Silent Conversations.

Christopher described the pieces, comprising 22 tracks. “They are an instrumental reimagining of old sacred chants you’d have in churches, some are plainsong and some are more recent, four-part harmony, things you still hear in cathedrals, churches and choirs.

“I have made instrumental arrangements for piano, cello, violin and classical guitar. You’d probably call it relaxing classical music that’s contemplative and reflective.

“I’ve removed the text of the chants, just to open it up so people can make their own interpretation. They can just absorb themselves in the music and make their own reflections, rather than have them shaped by the particular psalms they were originally based upon.

“You have lots of warm cello and violin and viola and musical conversations going on between the cello and piano and violin.”

The name comes from the idea that psalms are a conversation between the person saying them and God. Without words, the conversation becomes silent.

Christopher wrote the arrangements to reflect how the chants were sung, including pauses between verses and parts of verses, “to create more space for the listener to join in the conversation”.

He recently performed the music at Yellow Arch Studios. He said: “I suppose people found it like stepping out of the business of life.

“This was bringing people into a pretty standard environment with a bar to sit down, not really knowing what to expect.

“When the music started, everything was silent and everything slows down. The beautiful solo violin and cello just stops people, which is what it’s about, really letting them have a bit of calm and reflection.”

Christopher hopes to perform the pieces locally live again.

He spoke about the inspiration for the work. “I grew up with the original music. I sang in Ecclesall Church choir and also joined the Royal School of Church Music Northern Cathedral Singers, that was something you auditioned for.

“We went around all the beautiful cathedrals, minsters and abbeys across England. We also did live broadcasts on the BBC, recitals and choral evensongs.

“These chants were an important part of that and struck a chord with me. I’ve gone back to them years later. I wanted to do something different with them and reinterpret them.

“It’s something that people not interested in religious music can still be interested in.”

He teamed up with Sheffield-based producer James Bacon and made full use of the rich sound of his studio’s Bösendorfer Imperial piano.

The recording, the culmination of two years’ work, also involved well-known Sheffield musicians, violinist and violist David Milsom and cellist Liz Hanks.

Christopher still lives in Ecclesall and works as a civil servant for the Department of Business and Energy.

He said: “It’s been a really nice Sheffield project, working with people that play here and have grown up here.”

Silent Conversations has just been released on Heritage Records and is available on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon and from www.chrishawkinsmusic.co.uk