An interview with Chinwe D John, a medical doctor and author, whose first EP “Within a Certain Time and Place” was released in March 2022.

Tell me a little about your background. Have you always written poetry?

Firstly, let me say thank you for hosting an interview with me. I was born in California to Nigerian parents, and had lived on four continents by the time I was a teenager. Due to my younger siblings schooling in the UK, I came to spend a modest amount of time in England. I ended up pursuing my post medical school training in the States, where I practice my medical vocation as a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation specialist. I did not start out writing poetry, though my first published work “Tales of Fantasy and Reality”, was a poetry book.

For as long as I have had memory of myself, I have written stories, and made up simple melodies. Growing up during my time in Nigeria, the school system sharply separated art and science courses, once one got into the higher secondary school years. I always wanted to be in the medical field, but also had a passion for literature. There were no options available for me to pursue a combined training in both fields, so I became a partially self-taught student of literature, sitting in formal lectures during class breaks, and devouring as many books as I could get my hands on. It helped that my parents, both professionals in the field of science, encouraged reading in all of us siblings.

How did you come to write your song “Now as Before” and what motivated you to approach a British composer rather than one based in the US to write the music?

In October of 2020, there was growing tension in the air here in the States, and I turned, as I often do, to classical music for solace. Serendipity led me to discover the work of tenor Andy Staples, and I was enchanted by his wonderful singing voice and versatility. Around the same time, there were numerous news reports in UK news outlets, on the unique plight of its classical musicians due to a combination of the pandemic, and EU work restrictions. This led me to take a closer look into the classical music industry, and my conclusion was unless a new audience was brought in, once the core supporting demographic passed on, there would be no way for the industry to exist as we know it.

Added to this, was the trend to decrease funding for the arts in UK schools. I decided to do my small bit to support an industry that had given me a lot. In my mind, one way to increase classical music’s listening audience, was to commission contemporary composers, and have them set music to lyrics which are reflective and relevant to our current times.

As to why the UK? Many reasons, some of which I have already mentioned. For me, if the UK, which had been a major influence when it came to orchestral music/choirs/literature, was investing less in the arts, it signified a global shift in perspective. A reduction of value in the arts, to me signifies a reduction of value in matters of humanity, at a time when technological advancements do not appear to be matched by an advancement in our expression of humanity.

I wrote the lyrics to “Now as Before” in January 2021, and it was the first time I was writing in four years. The line which gave birth to the song, came from a line I had written about eight years ago for a never published poem. I knew that I wanted to write a song whose main theme was Hope. I wanted the song to touch on some of the internal conflicts and challenges we face today as individuals, show how these challenges have always existed, and perhaps give some suggestion as to how to address them.

It was a really challenging time – it still is – and I felt a prayer would help ease people’s minds. Mid-February of 2021, I was invited to a live Zoom event by La Nuova Musica. A question I posed (regarding the need to commission contemporary classic composers to set music to lyrics reflective of our present time), got the attention of Andy Staples, who was a guest artist at the event. This for me was a sign to continue with my search for a UK based composer, with the hope that he, Andy, would agree to collaborate on the song once it was completed.

How did you meet composer Geoff Hannan?

In January of 2021, serendipity at play once again, led me to a recommendation, which in turn led me to the London Sinfonietta’s website. On this website was a list of composers whom they had commissioned through the years. I listened to works from many composers, including those on a BBC “postcards from composers” feature, and made a list of six composers whose use of melody worked with what I had in mind for the lyrics. Geoff was amongst the composers on the list, and I contacted him at the end of February to enquire if he would accept a commission to write music for a piece whose theme would be Hope. He asked if I had any lyrics, and after I sent over the lyrics for “Now as Before”, he composed the music for the chorus that very day.

How do you feel Geoff Hannan has responded to your lyrics in his music?

Honestly, and with great attention to the meaning of the lyrics. The music compliments the lyrics beautifully. He is a fantastic musical interpreter of emotion, and it shows in these songs.

What are the main themes explored in your songs on the EP?

“Now as Before”: Hope. The repetition of history. The importance of interpersonal interaction. Our interconnectedness with nature.

“Changing Fate”: Predetermined versus Undetermined fate. The Judas and Job questions. Nihilism and apathy versus Optimism and action.

“Oriented”: Perception of reality. Mental status. Time travel. Everlasting love.

Who are your favourite writers/poets?

I will list a few favourites:

Writers: Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, Roald Dahl, Oscar Wilde, Jane Austen, E.M Foster, P.G. Wodehouse, George Orwell, Cyprian Ekwensi, Chinua Achebe, James Clavell, Milan Kundera, Umberto Eco, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Poets: Khalil Gibran, Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, Dana Gioia, Sahir Ludhianvi, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, David Olney, Joan Baez, Nina Simone, and Maya Angelou.

And who are your favourite composers/musicians? Did your musical taste influence how you approached writing these songs?


Old time favourites are: Purcell, Handel, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, R.D. Burman, Ennio Morricone, Claude-Michel Schönberg and John Williams.

Currently, I am paying closer attention to, and discovering works by Schubert, Mahler, Schumann, and the contemporary composers with whom I am collaborating.

Musicians: Stevie Wonder, Van Cliburn, Glenn Gould, Arthur Rubinstein, Abner Jay, Jeff Buckley, The Smiths, Bob Marley, Jacques Brel and too many others to list here.

Yes, my musical taste did influence how I wrote these songs. Additionally, when I am trying to write a poem or a song lyric, my lines come accompanied by simple melodies. This helps both in ensuring a smooth rhythm, and coaxing the words to come along.

How does it feel to have your lyrics represented in songs written by Geoff and performed by Andy Staples and Alisdair Hogarth? What do you feel these musicians bring to the project?

It feels wonderful! This EP project is one of the most unique and successful projects I have ever initiated. Working with people you know is challenging enough, working successfully with strangers during a global pandemic, is nothing short of a miracle. All three brought their musical genius and experience, but genius alone would not have brought about a successful collaboration. All three artists brought dedication, work ethic, and a commitment to the goal. They also made sacrifices. Andy and Alisdair had the additional task of finding a distributor for the work, which they handled with great aplomb, getting the EP released by the great Voces8 label. I am very thankful to Geoff, Andy and Alisdair, for collaborating with me. I hope listeners connect with our music, and the goal of our EP “Within a Certain Time and Place”, is achieved.

“Within a Certain Time and Place” is available now on the Voces8 label and via streaming. Listen here

Chinwe D. John is a medical doctor and author, who was born in the U.S to Nigerian parents. In 2012 she published a book of narrative poetry Tales of Fantasy and Reality. This was followed by a novel The Boy in the Painting, Book 1 of The Time Shield Series, in 2016. Within a Certain Time and Place, released in 2022, is her first EP

Alisdair Hogarth

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career?

Initially I used to hear both my mum and dad playing a lot of different piano repertoire and I remember really wanting to be able to play some of those pieces like they did. They both studied with an excellent teacher in County Durham and they had a big range of repertoire, but I loved the impressive stuff…Liszt and Chopin Etudes, Impromptus and Ballades. I used to try to play these pieces myself way before I was ready but it was all good fun! My mum actually studied at the RCM which is where I studied after going to university. So they were my initial inspiration to play. I also remember my dad playing me a record of Ashkenazy playing the Chopin Ballades which I loved; I think I wore the record out, along with my parents’ sanity! I decided to make it my career after I began studying with the British pianist Philip Fowke; after one year with him I made my debut with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, which was an incredible experience with his guidance, and it inspired me to take things further.

Who or what were the most important influences on your playing?

My main teacher, Philip Fowke, has been the biggest influence on my playing, and I still play things to him now before big concerts. He is a person of great humility, but such incredible gifts, both in his playing and his teaching. I went to him when I was 13 and he had a refreshingly healthy attitude to the piano; he was and still is, always willing to think outside the box. I remember at my first lesson, we worked backwards through the piece! Your At the Piano interview with him sums up a lot of his teaching very well, but the thing that stands out for me was the way he would cut through to the heart of what was difficult about a certain passage. And armed with that knowledge he’d find a solution that always seemed to work for me. The result of all this was that he encouraged me to explore lots of ways of doing things rather than following ‘methods’, which I still do to this day. He was also able to demonstrate exactly what he meant at the keyboard, and immaculately, which I believe is really important in a teacher; that they can practise what they preach. I have been to so many master classes where the teacher has suggested something wacky, and I feel like standing up and saying “Well that’s great in theory; now show us!”

Philip studied with the great teacher Gordon Green (who also taught John Ogdon, Stephen Hough, Martin Roscoe to name a few) and when I went to the Royal College of Music after university I was lucky enough to study with one of Philip’s best mates, John Blakely, who had also studied with Gordon. John was equally brilliant and was a master of helping you completely get your head around an issue in a piece by summing it up in one sentence. Technically, a lot of the things he taught were very similar to Philip, so it was great getting continuity on this front; I never had conflicting views. My final influence is Peter Katin, with whom I studied for two years after the RCM. Peter gave me some very detailed technical work and I studied the Rachmaninov Preludes with him; his recording of them remains one of my favourites. He also recorded Saint-Saens Carnival of the Animals with Philip Fowke, so all three of my teachers are linked really.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I think balancing a career in performing and teaching, and at the same time balancing this with a family life. I’m lucky that a lot of my work can be done from home, so I get to see my wife and two kids during the day when we can have fun; then I’ll be off to work later in the afternoon and evening. Although…when I’m practising at home sometimes my 1 year old and 4 year old decide to play too; I’m used to shutting it out now and it almost makes it easier when I play a concert because I finally get to concentrate on what I’m doing with no distractions!

Which performances/compositions/recordings are you most proud of?

The recording I’m most proud of is the first recording I did with my group The Prince Consort for Linn Records: ‘On an Echoing Road – Songs by Ned Rorem’. Also our debut at Wigmore Hall with Graham Johnson joining me at the piano was a pretty special time too. Graham gave us some great insights into how to make the most of Wigmore’s amazing acoustic; tips that we still take on board when we perform there now.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

Well there are lots of places I love playing, but the place that I’ve performed the most is Wigmore Hall in London; it’s a beautiful hall to play in, with an incredible acoustic. Most of my work is with singers and they love it too. The Director there, John Gilhooly, is extremely forward-thinking but also realises the importance of respecting traditions which is something I try to bring into my own work too, so I enjoy working with him on new programmes for the venue. I also like Perth Concert Hall in Scotland, for its amazing pianos, great space and forward thinking programming led by James Waters.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I think my favourite solo piano piece to perform is the Rachmaninov Sonata No. 2 Op. 36 and I play it in the original 1913 which I prefer to Rachmaninov’s revision (as do many pianists). In the song repertoire, I always enjoy playing the Brahms Zigeunerlieder; I just recorded it with my buddy, the mezzo Jennifer Johnston for the BBC.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Too many to mention, but I enjoy hearing musicians who are great at what they do in all fields of music, including jazz and musicals.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

It’s not really a concert experience, but when we (Prince Consort) were performing in the Gramophone Awards, we were told by the Dorchester Hotel that there was no rehearsal room available as it had to be used for press, so they told us to rehearse in the room where they were serving cream teas. We were performing a particularly turbulent piece by Stephen Hough, that included hitting the keys with your fists; Simon Lepper and I looked up from the keyboard to find Sharon Osborne looking straight back at us, eating a scone. Then we all got told to leave; it felt like the X-Factor!

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

My best advice would be to find other musicians and people that work in the music industry that you admire and trust, and really listen to their advice; both about how to play, but also how to manage the myriad of other things involved in being a musician. Having said that, I also think it is important to find your own personal way of doing things once you have taken this advice on board. I also think it’s important to play music you love and that you are really excited to learn, as well improvising and generally messing about at the keyboard.

What is your most treasured possession?

Apart for the obvious things like my wedding ring and personal items, my Steinway Model A; it was owned by Benno Moiseiwitsch, and then Philip Fowke, and I had all my lessons on it from the age of 13 – 21.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Hanging out with my wife, who is awesome, and our two beautiful kids.

What is your present state of mind?

Chilled, I’m having a pint!


With a prominent background in both solo and song-accompaniment, Alisdair Hogarth is a versatile pianist combining a robust technique with a fresh, contemporary edge.

He made his concerto debut in 1996, at the age of fifteen, as soloist with the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Queen Elizabeth Hall broadcast live on Classic FM, and has since performed many concertos with a variety of orchestras, including tours of Hungary and the Czech Republic (Rudolfinum).

He regularly broadcasts for BBC television, BBC Radio 3 and World Service, Classic FM and New Zealand Concert FM. Recent performances have included the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Wigmore Hall, Purcell Room, Cadogan Hall, Bridgewater Hall and Philharmonic Hall, as well recitals for British music societies and international festivals. Most recently he performed Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in New York with the National Symphony Orchestra under Anthony Inglis as well as a performance at the 2010 Gramophone Awards. Future performances include many appearances at Wigmore Hall as well as recitals abroad including the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam.

Committed to song-accompaniment, Alisdair formed a group of young professional singers, The Prince Consort, which focuses on piano-accompanied song. Following their highly-acclaimed recital debut at the Purcell Room as part of the ‘Fresh’ Young Artists Series they perform frequently at music societies and festivals throughout Europe and the USA. They made their Wigmore Hall debut in 2009 where they were joined by Graham Johnson for the Brahms Liebeslieder Walzer. Their first commercial CD, a recording of songs by Ned Rorem released on Linn Records, was Gramophone Editor’s Choice and won an Outstanding award from International Record Review. They also have a close relationship with the Britten-Pears School in Aldeburgh where they held a residency to prepare for the recording and performed a recital in the prestigious Britten Weekend. Alisdair has performed with Sir Thomas Allen, Rosemary Joshua, Lillian Watson, Donald Maxwell and is the regular accompanist to many of his generation’s finest young singers, including Anna Leese, Jennifer Johnston, Andrew Staples, Jacques Imbrailo and Tim Mead. He has just returned from Korea where he gave two recitals with Barbara Bonney. Current projects include a recording on Linn Records with Philip Fowke and Stephen Hough, performing Brahms Liebeslieder and a new song cycle written by Stephen Hough specifically for The Prince Consort. This CD was selected as Classic FM Editor’s Choice in October 2011.

Alisdair studied privately with Philip Fowke and subsequently with Peter Katin, and also at the Royal College of Music with John Blakely and Roger Vignoles where he won all the major prizes for piano accompaniment. In the same year he was selected as a Park Lane Group Young Artist. He was an RCM scholar supported by the Fishmongers’ Company Music Scholarship, Michael Whittaker and Robert McFadzean Whyte Awards and is an alumnus of the Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme. Alisdair acknowledges the kind and generous support of Simon Yates, and Philip and Chris Carne.

The Prince Consort’s new album, Other Love Songs, is now available for high-quality download on