Patrick Hawes: a torchbearer for the English music tradition



He has written music for the 60th birthday celebrations of HRH The Prince of Wales, made his mark as a torchbearer for the English music tradition and is recognised as one of Britain’s finest musicians and composers. Yet, like many of you joining Durham this week, Patrick Hawes also experienced the first day nerves, the series of dance floors, scary-sounding drinks and mind-numbing hangovers that many encounter during Freshers’ Week.

Hawes’ memories of Freshers’ Week are filled with the university societies “vying for new members,” the vast number of new people to meet and the impending sense of fear that you are all alone and your parents aren’t around to take care of you. Nevertheless, if you are somebody who has been consumed with worry and doubt over joining university, Hawes addresses this very simply: “to the freshers, I would say make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It is so important to create a momentum to your university career in these first few weeks.” And if you think Patrick is gifted with natural confidence, think again. He talks about how he was “really quite unconfident and unsure of his own abilities” when he joined Durham. Here Hawes strikes on an important point that many people seems to underestimate; university changes people in ways that they initially cannot predict. Coming to university with an open mind and a fresh attitude will not only enable you to settle in quickly, but also make the most of opportunities available.

Speaking about his time at Durham, he reveals, “I nearly left after the first term.” When asked what made him stay, he states it was his life-long passion: music. “I suddenly found my feet and threw myself into a whole range of musical activities. I conducted the Mikado in the Assembly Rooms and ended my first year by being appointed Conductor of the University Chamber Choir.” Hawes again dispels another Freshers myth: that all new students settle in immediately and have established friendships within the first week. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to settle in. But, as Hawes aptly points out, you will only get out as much as you put in.

Hawes attributes much of the success in his career to his experiences at Durham, both on a personal level and a musical level; “I always hoped conducting would remain a part of my life, but less predictable was that I would become a composer.” Through his own hard work and determination, Hawes was able to branch into roles he hadn’t previously seen himself in, eventually becoming Classic FM’s Composer in Residence.

This isn’t to say Hawes always had it easy; “When I decided to take the leap into full-time composing, life became more challenging – financially and emotionally. Despite some very low periods I stuck to my guns, achieving a breakthrough with my debut album Blue in Blue.” Hawes is clearly somebody whom every new Durham student can learn something from; it doesn’t matter who does it first, it matters who actually works hard, battles through their tough times and achieves what they want to achieve. Hawes has done this and provides hope that goals can be achieved.

Patrick’s next album, Revelation, will be released on the Naxos label in February 2017. For more information visit

Photograph: Patrick Hawes

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