As the Meet the Artist interview series approaches its 10th birthday, I’m delighted to feature a new interview with one of the first people I interviewed for the series, back in 2012, award-winning composer Thomas Hewitt Jones. 


Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

Without a doubt, my paternal grandparents (both composers) were hugely significant influences on me, both musically and in terms of my career trajectory so far. My grandfather Tony was a great craftsman and studied with Nadia Boulanger; my granny Anita wrote educational music that is extremely accessible for young string players, yet is of consistently high quality. Both had studied harmony and composition techniques with the lovely man that was Bernard Rose while at Oxford (who told Tony in an early supervision “you’ll never get a girlfriend unless you cut off your beard”… anyway the next week Tony announced with a wry smile that he was engaged to Anita); however, over her lifetime Granny’s music did better commercially than Tony’s, who wrote entirely for himself (and often wrote choral music that was high quality, yet challenging to both listen to and perform). He once got offered a large amount of money to write music for a TV ad for a building company, and turned it down. I like to think that I have ended up with a mix of both approaches to composition, although I personally enjoy writing music for a wide audience which is nevertheless genuine, with…that ever-important word these days…integrity.

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

I think that we live in a difficult time for composers who want to write music that has what I call ‘horizontal’ emotional narrative. There’s so much soundbitey ‘vertical’ contemporary classical music that is constructed like pop music, built around earworms and varying textures over a repetitive chord sequence rather than maintaining melodic, rhythmic and harmonic interest over time. Music can do so much more than just an earworm intended to get high numbers on Spotify.

On the other end of the artistic spectrum, I’ve got an amusing commercial music track called ‘Funny Song Cavendish’ that has gone mega-viral on TikTok (currently 2 billion streams, and countless celebrity videos as I write this). It is a lesser-discussed part of the music streaming arguments that are currently taking place, but newcomer music usage platforms such as TikTok present difficulties for composers and publishers because royalty streams are not always transparent until legislation is fought for in retrospect. I’ve actually recently been voted on the Ivors Academy Senate Committee for this year, and I’m going to be campaigning for this, and many other similar issues that will hopefully make issues of streaming rates more transparent for the composers of tomorrow. My overriding feeling is that composers in the year 2022 feel that they must write a certain type of music that will serve them well financially through the algorithms of streaming services, rather than being musically satisfying – rather than pushing artforms to a new and exciting place – which is, in my humble opinion, a sorry place to be.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

It’s always an enjoyable challenge to write to a brief. As artists throughout time have invariably found, the difficult commissions are the ones where there is a clear cognitive dissonance during the creative process – if, for example, there are words a composer doesn’t particularly want to set, or a subject matter that doesn’t really interest him or her. The really great craftsmen can transcend these situations – but the arts at their best are an honest expression of humanity. A composer is invariably emotionally naked, and audiences aren’t stupid so they will realise pretty quickly if music isn’t authentic. I’ve been lucky not to have to deal with such situations, but in the arts there is nowhere to hide!

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles or orchestras?

I am incredibly lucky to have worked with some of the finest players around in recording sessions so far, many of whom have become friends as well as colleagues. The COVID lockdowns in 2019-21 were an interesting time because everyone was recording at home, but we managed to still make things work and release albums. As well as writing the music I very much enjoy the music production process as well, so these things came together during that time.

Of which works are you most proud?

I’m not sure that a composer can judge his or her work. Each piece of music you write is like a new offspring, but as soon as it has grown up and left home, it’s no longer yours. For this reason, I make a point of deleting files and throwing away copies of pieces of music that have had copyrights assigned and are published and out in the ether. If people email asking me for copies of pieces, I genuinely can’t help – and I occasionally hear things on the radio that I’ve forgotten I’ve written! As a writer, the thing you are working on is the only piece you are aware of.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

Approachable and mainstream, yet high quality and with integrity. That’s what I hope anyway, but it’s not for me to judge.

How do you work?

I have a lot of technology in my studio, and I love using it. That said, I believe that the key elements of music composition are exactly the same as they were in Bach’s time, that great melody and harmony (or interesting texture used in a way that is satisfying in narrative) are key to an emotional experience that makes great music.

It strikes me that today there are a lot of ‘noodlers’ who can’t look at a score and hear it in their head, and can’t compose away from their DAW [Digital Audio Workstation]. For me personally, that isn’t quite right. There is a place for every approach, and improvisation is incredibly important for all-round great musicianship. But for me, the first idea isn’t necessarily the best one, and while noodling might make for perfectly good underscore underneath an emotive speech in a film, it won’t break the mould as a standalone piece. (It might satisfy a mass radio streaming audience who are using music as background wallpaper though.) The creative process is full of contradictions so I always approach each project differently. As Stephen Sondheim so wisely said, ‘Content dictates form’.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

A second performance. I think many of my peers would agree – if you ever meet a load of composers in a bar, they’ll either be chatting about the PRS, or about second performances.

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

This will sound facetious, but – like the human condition itself, the route into a musical career is also full of contradictions and there is honestly no set way to approach a career in music. I’m sure many would agree that it’s about hard work, luck, and being happy to be poor while you are building up a reputation in your early years. It took me 8 years after leaving university to make a successful living as a composer. Hopefully the horrendous swagger of entitlement of the generation above us (typified by the likes of certain members of our cabinet) will cause a reassessment of honesty, integrity and equal access for talented newcomers that will filter through to the arts as a whole. But that might be wishful thinking.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences?

I think that two ends of our industry have to meet in the middle, and everyone needs to be unjudgmental. I think ClassicFM has done such a huge amount for music appreciation in the general population, and I love its straight-to-the-point promotion of great melody. I also really enjoy listening to the Ligeti Piano Concerto. I think that great music needs to be given as much of an airing irrespective of commercial viability, background or composer’s gender.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Last time I did this, I said I would like to be in a hut by the sea, with a wife and kids if I’m lucky. Well now I have a wife, Annalisa and one kid. Maybe next time I do this, I’ll have another kid, but hopefully not another wife!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being with my wife and kid.

What is your most treasured possession?

My wife and kid.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Don’t ask.

What is your present state of mind?

I’ve got a huge amount of writing to do at the moment, on top of some mixing, so I’m extremely busy, but happy to be working on projects at the moment which are employing other musicians. Using live musicians is really important, and never more so than post-COVID. Software sampling is really great these days, but still nothing beats many musical brains working as one…


Thomas Hewitt Jones is an award-winning composer of contemporary classical and commercial music. Since winning the BBC Young Composer Competition in his teens, his music has been published by many of the major music publishers and is frequently heard in concert and on radio, TV and in the cinema.

Thomas’s diverse catalogue includes small instrumental, orchestral, choral and ballet works, and his large number of choral titles includes seasonal carols. ‘What Child is This?’ (OUP) has become a choral classic of recent years, garnering large numbers of performances each season. His music is regularly featured on Classic FM, including most recently ‘Christmas Party’ (his seasonal violin concerto, written and recorded for violinist Simon Hewitt Jones). In 2021, he released ‘Can you hear me?’, an acclaimed response to the COVID19 pandemic. Recent commissions include ‘In Our Service’, written for the Royal School of Church Music’s Platinum Project to commemorate the Queen’s platinum jubilee.

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The Royal School of Church Music announces the ‘Platinum Project’, a special choral music commission from award-winning British composer Thomas Hewitt Jones to commemorate Her Majesty The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in June 2022.

In Our Service’ is a 4-minute anthem with themes of service and dedication, celebrating the RSCM’s Royal Patron, HM The Queen. The text has a deliberately wide appeal to ensure it has a lasting value beyond the Jubilee itself.

Encouraging for all

Written as an attractive and uplifting piece of music, which is really enjoyable to sing, ‘In Our Service’ is adaptable for different ensembles/situations – 4-part/SATB choir and organ, unison/2-part with piano and leadsheet, and a full symphonic orchestration available for hire. Music packs are available to download from the RSCM’s online shop at £19.95, together with optional backing tracks, videos and other resources to inspire others to take part.

Designed to be performed by a wide variety of groups, from cathedral and church choirs, choral societies and chamber choirs to community choirs and in schools, RSCM is inviting all choirs to join in singing ‘In Our Service’ and to share their performances via the RSCM’s website and on social media using the hashtag #RSCMplatinum to create a wonderful, collaborative celebration of this unique occasion through shared musical expression.

RSCM Platinum Project

Listen to a full performance of ‘In Our Service’ sung by St Martin’s Voices, directed by Andrew Earis, with organist Polina Sosnina: In Our Service (mp3)

Hugh Morris, Director of RSCM, says:

‘We wanted to be able to celebrate our Royal Patron’s unique Jubilee; and for us as a charity to commission this new piece was a fitting way of doing that. We have made sure that it’s accessible, easy to learn, and rewarding to sing, and very much intend it to be an ‘Anthem for all’, be that cathedral or church choir, community choir, school choir; indeed pretty much any group of singers. As a charity, RSCM works to encourage, nurture and inspire musicians in a wide range of contexts. I warmly encourage you to include singing this piece in your Jubilee celebration planning; and to join us on an exciting journey for this project over the next few months. Keep us up to date with your progress on social media!’

Thomas Hewitt Jones says:                                        

‘I was delighted to be asked by the Royal School of Church Music to write a choral anthem to celebrate HM the Queen, their Royal Patron, on her incredibly special jubilee. Typifying selfless service to her country, her very existence encourages togetherness – so the opportunity to celebrate her with a new and inclusive, yet weighty, piece of choral music that can be sung by choirs all around the UK really resonated for me.

When searching for words to set to music, it became apparent that many of the Queen’s royal speeches over the years have contained pertinent and thoughtful messages, all relevant to today’s world. I wanted to incorporate many of these in the anthem, so I decided to write new words inspired by certain quotes which particularly stood out. I hope that the result is a vibrant, uplifting (and, if I’m honest, quite emotionally-charged) piece of music which celebrates both the reign of our incredible monarch, and the ever-valuable medium of choral singing – arguably one of the most natural, uplifting and unifying experiences of the human condition.’

RSCM hopes that this special commission will not only encourage groups to come together to sing, but will also draw attention to its wider activities, aims and vision as it approaches its centenary in 2027. One of RSCM’s most important annual activities is Music Sunday, which celebrates the role of church music in worship and the dedication of all church musicians, and aims to reach out into the community and join with others. This year Music Sunday takes place on 12th June, the weekend after the Jubilee.


About the Royal School of Church Music

The RSCM is the Salisbury-based, national, independent charity supporting, nurturing and sustaining church music. As the central ‘home’ of church music, RSCM provides relevant education, training and resources to its membership, the wider church, and beyond. It is committed to encouraging the best of music in worship, and to advocating music as a tool for growth of the church.

The RSCM supports thousands of Affiliated churches across the UK and worldwide through its international partners. In addition, it also supports many schools and Individual members, and its work is sustained by thousands of Friends, Regular Givers and other donors.

RSCM is an open, life-long learning organisation, offering face-to-face and distance education and training through its programmes, published resources, courses and activities.

Founded by Sir Sydney Nicholson in 1927, the RSCM’s original emphases were English and choral. Now, in a diverse international context, the RSCM’s work is far broader and more diverse, and aims to make all its work ecumenical in purpose, nature and content.

HM The Queen is RSCM’s Royal patron, and its president is The Most Revd and Rt Hon The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury. The organisation celebrates its centenary in 2027.

rscm.org.uk

About Thomas Hewitt Jones

Thomas Hewitt Jones is an award-winning composer of contemporary classical and commercial music. Since winning the BBC Young Composer Competition in his teens, his music has been published by many of the major music publishers and is frequently heard in concert and on radio, TV and in the cinema.

Thomas’s diverse catalogue includes small instrumental, orchestral, choral and ballet works, and his large number of choral titles includes seasonal carols. ‘What Child is This?’ (OUP) has become a choral classic of recent years, garnering large numbers of performances each season. In 2021, he released ‘Can you hear me?’, an acclaimed response to the COVID19 pandemic.

thomashewittjones.com