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Sunday, July 14, 2024
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PeopleMatt Kingston

Matt Kingston

‘I grew up in Cheltenham, the fourth of five children. The musical side of my family comes from my mother’s parents; my grandfather was a music teacher, composer, violinist, organist and conductor whose name was Eric Coleridge, so I use the name Matthew Coleridge when I compose, as a tribute to him. My parents weren’t musical at all so it skipped a generation, but all five of us children learned instruments. I don’t remember a time when music wasn’t part of my life. I remember dancing to Dire Straits and Queen on Top of the Pops when I was four, whilst Iron Maiden and Van Halen were blasting out of my teenage brothers’ bedroom.
I joined the local church choir, St Mary’s, Charlton Kings, where my grandfather had been choirmaster, when I was six. I was very much aware of his musical achievements, although he died when I was only two so I never knew him. Singing in that choir was completely magical for me, and I became just immersed in wonderful music from the likes of Bach, Tallis and Stanford from that early age. As well as singing, I was encouraged to compose, conduct, and (as soon as my feet could reach the pedals) to play the organ.
During school holidays, we’d occasionally go and sing at Llandaff Cathedral, and I also sang at the Royal Albert Hall alongside a few thousand other choristers. Most importantly, I learned to listen acutely, to respond to what I was hearing, and that ‘musical ear’ I developed as a boy has served me well over the years.
I loved junior school, and then went to a very good grammar school where I was very much bottom of the pile. Most of my contemporaries were working towards Oxford or Cambridge, to become doctors or work at GCHQ; I preferred messing around in the music department. There was a large portrait of Gustav Holst, one of my musical heroes, who had attended the school 100 years earlier. A friend and I discovered a dusty cupboard full of old synthesisers, mixing desks and reel-to-reel tape decks, and set up a recording studio when we should have been studying. The head of music was my choirmaster from St Mary’s, and very much a mentor to me. Just as I was starting A-levels, he had a devastating bike accident. We were left with a succession of supply teachers and I lost interest, scraping a D at A-level music.
After school I met Jaz Coleman, the lead singer from punk band Killing Joke. Jaz had been taught to play the violin by my grandfather, and later became Composer-in-Residence at the Prague Philharmonic. He offered me a job as his assistant on a project to write and arrange a score for a hugely successful Czech folk band, Čechomor, who wanted an orchestrated version of their album. I learned quickly how to transcribe orchestral scores by ear, often working late in to the night to get instrumental parts ready for the next day’s recording sessions. It was an incredibly tough but very rewarding time. I was on a family holiday in Prague last summer, and was delighted to hear Čechomor’s music being played in the gents’ loos in a restaurant I was eating at!
It also helped me realise that I wanted to write my own music, not to transcribe other peoples, so I started to think about ways in which I could earn a living from my music. I’d played trumpet from an early age and grew up playing in brass bands, so I thought I’d try my hand at composing and arranging for brass ensembles. I found a gap in the market selling brass quintet arrangements—on eBay of all places!—and soon had my own website up and running, selling print-it-yourself brass sheet music. Within a couple of years I had customers all over the world, including far-flung places such as the Faroe Islands, Muscat and Guam, and was just about able to earn a living from it. These days I mostly write for beginner groups – young players who have only been learning for a year or two. My brass music has been performed everywhere from Premiership Rugby grounds and cross-channel ferries to medieval cathedrals and US military bases.
My family used to come and camp at Eype three times a year since before I was born, so Bridport always felt like a second home. I had a lot of friends here too, so in my mid-twenties I decided I’d like to move here permanently, renting a flat in Beaminster which my sister and I shared. I met my wife Ellen at Bridport farmer’s market where she was selling her family’s cheese. I remember going for a walk along the Monarch’s Way many years ago, spotting an isolated cottage and thinking it would be a lovely place to live one day. It was quite a surprise when Ellen invited me back to her place, which turned out to be the very same cottage! Her family have lived at Denhay since the 1950s, and it’s a wonderful place for us to live and bring up our family.
Ellen sang in Broadoak Choir, and I was soon invited to join. I hadn’t sung much since leaving school, but soon found myself falling in love with choral music all over again. The choir had a plan to perform Fauré’s Requiem, and a conversation in the pub after choir practice ended with me volunteering to conduct it. That led to me being asked to conduct the New Elizabethan Singers in Bridport, for a performance of Vaughan Williams Sea Symphony. I’d never conducted an orchestra until the afternoon of the concert, and the score was so huge my music stand collapsed under the weight of it, but it was a great success.
At Broadoak we sing a lot of music composed by our ‘choir herd’, Chris Reynolds. Chris’s passion for choral composing encouraged me to get back in to it, and one afternoon I sat down and wrote a short choral piece. I sent it to a friend who sings in the choir at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, and before I knew it he’d recorded it with his a cappella group, for a Christmas CD for BBC Music Magazine.
Our son was born in 2014. I was keen for Sebastian to be his middle name (like Bach) but we couldn’t think of a first name, so it got upgraded. I took a bit of time off work, and as he was a good sleeper I found myself spending quite long spells at the piano writing music. Almost by accident, I managed to write about 20 minutes of a large choral work, which would become a Requiem.
Rather sheepishly, I got a small group of singers together at Eype Church to give it a spin. They really took to it, so I knuckled down and finished writing the work, setting myself a deadline by booking St Mary’s Church in Bridport for the first performance. It was a sell-out success, and people started asking me for a CD. We decided to crowdfund a professional recording, spending a day in London with an amazing choir. They turned up, sight-read it to an incredibly high standard, and produced a recording of which I’m extremely proud. And we were hugely lucky to get Guy Johnston, one of the country’s top cellists, to play the solo cello part. He invited me to the Royal Academy of Music to play it through with him; I never thought I’d accompany a BBC Young Musician winner when I stopped piano lessons after Grade 6. Then, last year I was asked to lead a workshop on my Requiem at Buckfast Abbey. 140 singers spent the day learning the piece, followed by a concert performance in the evening. It was quite an overwhelming experience, hearing my music reverberating around such a beautiful building. And next year I’m taking the Requiem ‘on tour’, with workshops and performances around the country, including Exeter and Portsmouth Cathedrals, as well as dates in Bristol, London, Cambridge, Oxfordshire and Worcestershire. It’s a slightly intimidating prospect, but it’s going to be incredible working with so many singers, in the acoustics of some of the country’s most wonderful churches.
Our children, Sebastian and Bea, are five and three. They fill me with constant joy and pride. I’m fortunate to spend most of my time working at home, so I’m a big part of their daily routine. Like me at his age, Sebastian is nature-obsessed. He has a huge encyclopaedia of animals which he’s pretty much memorised, and seeing his love for the natural world is an absolute joy. Bea seems more creative, loves painting, dancing, singing; whatever their passions are, if they’re lucky enough to follow them in life that will be enough for me.’

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