Harry Rees

Composer and student

United Kingdom



I am a 17 year old composer from Northern Ireland. I first came to music like most children, through instrumental tuition. I began to play violin at primary school. I started the double bass when I moved to secondary school and currently I am a member of the Western Senior Youth orchestra. When I was thirteen we had to complete a music assessment of film scores on the keyboard, which ignited a passion in me for playing, performing, and composing on the piano. I began private music tuition and quickly progressed through the graded music exams and am now studying A Level Performing Arts, taking Music as my discipline. I discovered a love of composition around 2015, and my first compositions include a short allegretto and an adagio for double bass. My current completed works include four symphonies, a string quartet, a piano sonata, and several short works for a range of instruments, especially piano.




What does music mean to you personally?

That’s a hard question to answer. Music means a lot to me, but it also means a lot of different things to me. Composition is one of my greatest joys, and being able to fully compose something which I have heard in my own head and put hours of work into can make me the happiest man alive. Practicing piano is one of my favourite things to do. It is not a chore, but rather is something that I can really get into, because it allows me to really dive deep into the music that I love. It, along with actually listening to music, fully allows me to relax as well as to become more in touch with myself, spiritually, as well as with the world and people around me.

Do you agree that music is all about fantasy?

I’m not truly sure, to be honest. On the one hand, yes, music is just notes and the rest is in your head. However, on the other hand, music is the true representation of humanity and human emotion, and has been many a person’s livelihood for the past few centuries. So is music just fantasy? Maybe. Maybe not. Who has the right or privilege to say?

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

I’m not a true professional musician in the concert performer sense, but rather one who performs outside halls before a play or inside art galleries. If I had not been this kind of professional musician, I would rather write my compositions and be paid for them. If I were not a musician AT ALL, I would probably want to do something in the line of German work, as the language is my favourite thing to study in school, aside from music, of course.

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

I’m not worried at all about the future of the music. This music has existed for hundreds of years and will remain until the extinction of life on Earth. What I am worried about is the continued existence of underfunded orchestras. I am worried that they will disband. Especially during this coronavirus lockdown, is the future of orchestras (especially small ensembles) in jeopardy. In terms of the audience, I am not worried. In February, I attended a concert which included Brahms’ c minor Piano Quartet and Schubert’s Trout Quintet. There were certainly very many grey hairs in the audience but there were also several young persons (including myself). I had a similar experience with a concert of Baroque works by the Ulster Orchestra. I feel that, in order to increase the number of young people in the audience, one must rid oneself of the stigma and stereotype that classical music is for older people and older people alone. This is simply NOT TRUE.

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?

In the 21st century the role of CLASSICAL music has been greatly diminished, and contemporary music is often (wrongly) criticised, neglected, or plainly ignored. This is a great transformation from the 20th century and definitely from the 19th. However, other musical styles and genres, such as pop or hip-hop are experiencing great popularity and have a great role in society. Regardless of genre, I find that music always has a way of bringing people together. Be it classical or pop.

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

Certainly, they do. In the digital age, there is an overwhelming number of recordings of pieces, so musicians need to be much more creative, in order to advertise their wholly unique personality as something different from the norm and the standardised interpretations. Creativity is very important for my performance of a piece. I want to find a way to establish my own personality, which I often do through adding colour to the greyscale sheet music in front of me. This is perhaps easiest in music by Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. The first two either wrote no or few dynamic markings, which makes it easier to add crescendos or sforzandi (sudden accents) and emphases on notes which aren’t marked so. Beethoven often writes sforzandi, so I find that it’s a nice idea to add a crescendo or diminuendo prior to these. These methods often allow my personality and experimental nature to show. In terms of composition, the whole process is creative, although one has to be careful to avoid writing something that hasn’t already been written in the past seven (or so) centuries of classical music.

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

The best way, which is already done by many theatres and concert hall, is to reduce ticket prices. I think we should also consider making concerts free for all university students, not just reduced for music students. I also think that young people should be actively encouraged to attend concerts, which just isn’t a practice that is in vogue at the moment, certainly not where I live at any rate. I also think that we should work on the idea of children’s concerts, which Leonard Bernstein so brilliantly exploited in the latter half of the 20th century.

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

My favourite piece (by me) is probably my Second Symphony in D Major (you can disregard the First Symphony, which is a youthful and altogether incoherent work), because it started with a small improvisation, by me, at the piano. This is how pretty much all my compositions begin. Then I worked on orchestrating this first theme, giving it to the flutes, clarinets, and first violins, the quavers in the viola part helped me give motion to the theme. This is often how I work, starting with a first theme, orchestrate it, create a bridge theme (in the case of the Second Symphony, a light theme in the oboe), write a second theme, and then orchestrate that. The Second starts with a slow introduction, which I realised, not when writing but afterwards, that related to the second theme. This is how I exploit my themes for development, by finding connections (whether subconsciously or otherwise) and using them to create new themes. That, along with piano improvisation, is the most important part of my creative process.

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

Start small. Most people with their first forays into classical music try to listen to something big, such as a Mahler Symphony. This is a great way for a new, young listener to detest classical music. I would recommend starting with something like Mozart’s piano sonatas or even Bach’s preludes, not starting with the fugues until they are ready. Then progress to a small orchestral work, perhaps a Haydn concerto. Then move on to smaller symphonies, such as Mozart and Beethoven’s earlier works, before diving into their larger outputs. Once one has found their handhold, it gets easier. Listening to your favourite film or TV soundtrack before attempting classical also helps.

Do you think about the audience when composing?

Not often. Sometimes I ask myself, especially when I am writing something orchestral, “what would I think whilst listening to this?” and “Would I be bored or attentive?” It is a really helpful way to find out if your music is interesting enough. I do think of the audience when I am writing something humorous. For example, the second movement of my fourth symphony contains an orchestrated version of a popular English drinking song. This then causes the instruments to become “Drunk” as the rhythms get stranger, more accents are added, and finally cacophonous dissonance and orchestration appear. I think of the audience, and write what I believe what will make them laugh. Or smile at least.

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

I have several upcoming projects. At the moment (in terms of piano compositions), I am working on a Piano Sonata in a minor, a Piano Concerto in E Major, and a book of twelve preludes, as well as a set of fantasy pieces, which are a collection of short pieces used to depict scenes one might see in a child’s fantasy novel. In terms of orchestral music, I am really busy with my fourth symphony in d minor. It’s a work that hasn’t left my mind since my conception of the first movement. I often experiment in my pieces, however my two most experimental pieces are the Atonal String Quartet, which is FULL of harsh dissonances and a lack of tonal centre, and the strange Scherzo Dramatico, written for a string trio of two violins and a cello. The Scherzo is already one of my favourite works, not opening in its key (F# minor), but rather in a series of chords, eventually resolving to G Major. These then resolve to the dominant and so on.