Brian Wilshere


United Kingdom



Brian Wilshere was born in Derby. His earliest musical experiences were as a drummer in a marching band, and his formal musical training began at the age of 16. He subsequently studied music at Surrey University, where his percussion teacher was James Blades. He also studied composition with Reginald Smith Brindle and drum kit with Bill Bruford. After graduating he pursued a career as a composer, conductor, performer and teacher in London. He studied composition with David Bedford, and was awarded a PhD in composition by Goldsmiths College. He now lives in the Peak District in Derbyshire.

Brian’s music has been performed throughout the U.K. and Europe, both in concert and on radio and TV. Past commissions include the London Mozart Players and the Fine Arts Sinfonia among others. As well as percussion music, including three concertos, he has also written several pieces for orchestra, choir, wind band and small ensembles. His most successful piece to date is the percussion concerto Zodiac, which was commissioned by Darrell Davison and the Croydon Symphony Orchestra for soloist Owen Gunnell in 2001 and has received many performances since, including a performance in 2010 in North Macedonia by the Macedonian Philharmonic conducted by Nicholas Cleobury.

Brian’s music has received awards, including winning the Surrey Sinfonietta Composers Competition, and he was also on the SPNM shortlist for ten years. His music has been featured in Trinity College London publications for Drum Kit and Percussion. Brian performs his music with his own group and with other soloists and ensembles, and was the soloist in the world premiere of his own Concerto for Vibraphone and Strings. He was also Music Director of the South London Sinfonia for 5 years and is an experienced ensemble director, especially with youth groups and amateur orchestras.

His music is published by Southern Percussion ( Four albums of his music are available as CDs or downloads from Louba Reve records (

Foto Credit: Zoe Fu




What does music mean to you personally?

Everything. From an early age, for me it was just as important as breathing really.

Do you agree that music is all about fantasy?

Not really, no. I think that music can take us somewhere else spiritually, but I don‘t think that fantasy itself is a precondition for music. However, I suspect that there might be a slight linguistic confusion here. In English, the word ‚fantasy‘ is used commonly to mean a dream, whereas in my opinion music doesn‘t have to induce a dream world in order to be successful or to connect with someone. Of course, in 19th century romanticism fantasy is both ubiquitous and very important, and at that time it was quite new, but since then we’ve been through several subsequent historical periods, each with their own aesthetic.

If you were not a professional musician, what would you have been?

Probably an environmentalist of some kind, although I must admit that science was never my strong subject at school.

The classical music audience is getting old, are you worried about the future?

I don‘t talk about ‚classical‘ music any more, I talk about Concert Music, which I define as any music performed in the presence of a seated, silent audience. Personally I think that Concert Music is one of the glories of western civilisation, and I don‘t think that it will ever die out, at least I hope not. Also, I think that some things in life are best appreciated once one has some life experience, so it therefore follows that many people will gravitate towards Concert Music later in life because gradually they find that a 3 minute pop song that’s intended for dancing just doesn‘t quite cut it any more. The fact that Classic FM (the most popular UK ‚Classical‘ music radio station) attracts 6 million listeners a week (about 10% of the UK population) seems to prove this. If people who only like 3 minute pop sings are not despised for being (mostly) young, then I would question the ageism that labels anyone with some grey hair, or who listens to Concert Music, or both, as being therefore somehow ‚uncool‘. In my life I’m lucky enough to have great art, great literature and great music of every style, so I don‘t see what’s ‚uncool‘ about appreciating the best that human beings can create. The biggest mistake in my opinion is to dilute the content of Concert Music in a misguided attempt to attract young people, as though they are incapable of sitting still for more than 3 minutes! Not only is that a patronising and insulting view of young people, but unless what you give them is the Real Thing, it won’t have any power. Therefore, a playlist for an 11 year old should, in my opinion, contain Bartok, Stravinsky, Messiaen, Britten, Holst etc. As long as you choose the right pieces, have a good quality playback system, and play the stuff LOUD (or better still at a live concert), then in my experience they do get the idea that this is something a bit different, and even if they don‘t come back to it for another 30 years or so then at least they know that it exists, and that it’s there for them in the future whenever they’re ready for it.

What do you envision the role of music to be in the 21st century? Do you see that there is a transformation of this role?

I think that from about 1990 onwards there has been an increase in ‚passive‘ listening (in shops, with headphones on the train, or whilst doing something else). I also think there has been a decrease in ‚active‘ listening (just listening to music and focusing on the music itself). I also think that different styles of music have been increasingly appropriated by various forms of Identity Politics. There has also been a big change in how music is produced and consumed. It might be very unfashionable right now, but personally I am in favour of ‚active‘ listening, and I‘m also in favour of music itself being sufficient as a complete experience, without any visual distractions. I find with students that a piece that they might really love when they experience it with visuals can seem much less convincing without them, and likewise other pieces work much better without any visual content, thus encouraging the free play of the imagination. Even if a piece has visuals I will deliberately switch the screen off in a lecture room if we are listening seriously, and I will then ask the students to focus on just the sound alone. This is because I believe that a piece of music should work first and foremost as sound, and also because if they don’t focus on the sound alone then they will miss things in the music. Modern students do, in my opinion, need to be taught how to focus and how to really LISTEN, because sadly in many cases their daily lives don‘t really prepare them for doing this. Sometimes, less is more!

Do you think that the musician today needs to be more creative? What is the role of creativity in the musical process for you?

Creativity to me means the right to try something out and then fail. And keep on failing. „Fail better“, as the saying goes. However, in my experience, failing to do one thing can lead one to succeed in doing something else, something unexpected. When you say ‚more creative‘, I suppose you might be thinking about the fact that using music software one can use built in loops of material rather than having to generate one’s own. There are two aspects to composing for me that are universal. One is the material – where is it from? How is it generated? Etc. Second – how does the composer handle that material? How do they develop it, structure it, play around with it? Therefore, it might be the case that if one works with pre-composed material generated by a software programme and then handles that material entirely using those compositional aspects that are easiest to execute within that software programme (e.g. cutting and pasting), I have a suspicion that the results might be less interesting than if the composer (a) generates their own material and (b) develops it themselves. In the end, if someone has something interesting to say they will find a way to do it irrespective of the means that they use. Steve Reich got it right I think – „One need not seek out personality as it can hardly be avoided“. That’s definitely true of truly creative people. I believe that I have my own musical personality, my own creative voice, and other people tell me that as well. That, however, is a different issue from whether or not lots of people will like what you produce!

Do you think we as musicians can do something to attract the younger generation to music concerts? How would you do this?

Cheap tickets! Family tickets! 2 kids get in free when accompanied by 2 adults! That way, for a family, a concert can actually be cheaper than a night at the movies and, I would argue, a much more real and human experience than the movies too! Lunchtime concerts in the school holidays and at weekends, small local concerts as well as big ones in cities, all good stuff. As well as all that, it’s very important to be ourselves and not talk down to the young. Choose vivid repertoire, and not always the easy stuff either. Dress in all black with open collars, not formal like a 19th century upper class dinner guest, and don’t wear silly costumes either. In my experience kids want to experience something REAL, not some nursery rhyme watered down patronising version, so give them the real stuff played with passion and commitment and they will engage with it I think. Or at the very least they will remember the experience and perhaps return to the music later in life.

Tell us about your creative process. What is your favorite piece (written by you) and how did you start working on it?

Usually I start with a poem or some vague idea for a piece, and then the challenge is to somehow turn that into actual notes. Other times I mess about on an instrument and something happens that becomes a distinctive piece of material that I can use as fuel for a piece. My favourite piece is usually the one that I have just completed! For example, with ‚Dancing Water‘ - there are many rivers where I live, mostly shallow ones with a bed of stones, and so as you watch the river the water seems to almost dance over the stones. Once I had seen that a few times, I started to get an idea of how to render that image in music, and then the rest was just hard work. I do have a soft spot for a piece of mine called ‚Hymn‘. It’s on my 3rd album ‚Music for Strings‘, and it’s basically a slow Cello melody with simple chords underneath. I think that writing that piece was a stroke of luck, I just had a productive few days and found the right notes fairly quickly. Other people tell me it’s also their favourite track on the album.

Can you give some advice for young people who want to discover classical music for themselves?

Do what I did, which is to go in reverse! Start with 20th/21st century Concert Music! I was into Prog Rock when I was young, and so I discovered modern Concert Music by going backwards - from Zappa into Varese, from Yes into Stravinsky, from King Crimson into Bartok and Steve Reich, and so on. Examine the musicians that you already love, find out if any of them are fans of Concert composers, find out which ones, and check them out. Start from where you are and work outwards, and don‘t worry about who is supposed to be ‚great‘ or ‚not great‘. Some of my favourite pieces are by so called ‚minor‘ composers, and similarly some of the ‚great‘ composers aren’t really my kind of thing at all. Trust your own ears.

Do you think about the audience when composing?


(long pause)

OK, maybe I should say a bit more (laughs). I don’t consider an audience when composing because I don‘t know if the thing will ever be performed, and neither do I know who will be in the audience, so to do that would be pointless. What I do with every piece is to sit quietly with my eyes closed and imagine myself listening to the whole thing in a live concert, all the way through. If the piece passes that test, with myself as the most critical listener of all, then it is ready to be released into the public domain. Otherwise, it never sees the light of day. The other criterion that I use is a bit more prosaic. Would I buy it? If this was a CD or download, would I pay proper money to hear it? I have to be able to answer this question in the affirmative before something gets released.

What projects are coming up? Do you experiment in your projects?

I’m currently working on another solo Piano piece, which I will be sending to you probably early next year! It’s inspired by the sound of bells, so I think that your left foot will probably be doing a lot of pedalling! (laughs). The next album release will probably be Percussion repertoire, a mixture of solo, duet and quartet pieces. Percussion is my own instrument – for example I played the Vibraphone Sonata on my 2nd album myself. I’m also quite excited about a new acoustic group project that I’ve just put together, performing versions of tracks from Music for Strings plus other pieces. Once live concerts are possible once again we’ll be out there, bringing it to the people! I’ve done all kinds of things over the years – special events in strange spaces or for strange instruments, collaborations with choreographers (the piece ‚2000cc‘ on my 2nd album resulted from working with a choreographer) and various groups or ensembles. I’ve also been lucky enough to have had some commissions over the years. Running a group is time consuming but it’s a good way of getting things performed. Finally, I’ve been very lucky in that over the years I’ve found some fantastic performers who like my stuff and have frequently performed it. The percussionist Owen Gunnell, cellist Tom Collingwood, conductor Michael Nebe, and Pianist Alan Brown, among many others, have brought the music to life and been patient with me when I’ve accidentally written silly or impossible things for them, and they have helped me to learn more and get better at writing for their instruments. Working with a performer who is at the top of their game and likes what you have written is a joyful experience, and long may it continue!