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Music Professor Marks 50 Years on Campus

This Liverpool Hope University academic isn’t just celebrating an amazing 50 years on campus - he’s also being hailed as one of the most important composers ever to come out of the city.

And as his work is profiled at Hope’s annual Angel Field Festival this week, Emeritus Professor of Music Stephen Pratt has revealed how if it wasn’t for a series of chance circumstances and fortuitous events, he probably wouldn’t be where he is today. 

If you’d have told Stephen when he was a teenager that he’d enjoy five decades teaching at Hope, or even go on to become a composer, he’d have told you, in his own words, ‘get real!’. 

A talented, if untrained, natural performer, Stephen gigged around Liverpool in a ‘Merseybeat’ band called the Fourunners during the Sixties. 

Coming from an artistic family, and with a father as an accomplished violinist, Stephen wallowed in the exciting Merseybeat scene and was a paid-up member of Liverpool’s infamous Cavern Club venue. 

But when Stephen arrived at Christ’s College - a teacher training college which went on to become one of the founding institutions of Liverpool Hope - in 1965, he had no idea what lay ahead of him.

He’d actually enrolled to become a Geography and English teacher. 

But fate intervened to take him down a very different path. 

Professor Pratt who went on to become Head of Hope’s Music department from 1991 to 2012 - explains: “I didn’t really know what I was going to do when I was at school, and I was fairly idle. I wanted to be a pop star or a footballer, really, and neither of those things turned out brilliantly. 

Instead I applied to do teacher training at this exciting new mixed college - Christ’s College. And, to be really frank, I didn’t even know that I was signing up to be a teacher! I just thought it was somewhere else to go that wasn’t a job.”

Stephen, born in Mossley Hill, south Liverpool, went along to the interview and spoke with the College’s Principal, Father Louis Hanlon. 

And it was here Stephen let slip that he was ‘pitch perfect’ - meaning he had an extremely rare natural ability to identify, sing or play any note on the spot, with no former guiding note.

Stephen adds: “We got chatting about my hobbies, I told him I played guitar and he was sharp enough to realise I had perfect pitch. I’d signed up to do Geography and English - but he said, ‘Why don’t you try music?’”

Some music classes followed and he began to realise that he could do just as much as those with an A Level in Music. 

While he didn’t really have any formal knowledge of classical music, he admits he ‘knew enough’, having played Clarinet ‘very badly’ in a school orchestra for a time. 

He adds: “I could read music. I had some basic skills. And from that moment on I had very tolerant and understanding tutors who could see that there were some big gaps in my knowledge that needed to be addressed. 

“Funnily enough, I was recently clearing out an office and found a note I’d kept from those days - a report on my piano lessons from a teacher who complained, ‘I have not yet got to grips with this student!’.”

So how did Stephen, from his inauspicious start, go on to be one of the premier composers in the North West? Someone who has had around a dozen major works premiered by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra? 

Stephen’s work has also been performed at London’s South Bank, and through broadcasts on BBC Radio 3. While working as a broadcaster for the BBC, Stephen has also interviewed fellow composers such as Michael Tippett, Peter Maxwell Davies and Karlheinz Stockhausen.

His recent pieces have included the dramatic Telling the Tale and Symphonies of Time and Tide. 

And Stephen credits his experiences at Hope as being instrumental in forging his career. 

He reveals: “At the time, The Beatles were becoming interested in more experimental music, particularly the electronic ‘Revolution 9’ track on the White Album. And I think I followed those roots through to what I’m doing now. 

“McCartney also became interested in the music of Stockhausen, so I started trying to figure out what that was all about, too. I didn’t understand a lot of it but I was excited by the unknown nature of it. 

“Back at Christ’s College, there was a big folk crowd at the time. All the staff and nuns loved the College’s folk group, but I was much more attracted to the poetry and jazz scene. And I started writing little pieces of classical music to accompany poetry recitals. 

“Looking back now, this was how it all began… but it didn’t make any real sense at the time! I was just following my nose.”

Stephen’s natural talent must run in the family. Not only did his daughter study at RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art), his son Ben Gordon played guitar and keyboards in famed Noughties ska punk band The Dead 60s. 

After completing his teacher training Stephen completed a music degree at the University of Reading, something he says was ‘transformative’, particularly being so close to the thriving scene in London. 

He adds: “We weren’t partying - we were living and breathing music. I was only there for two years, but it was life-changing.”

Stephen began teaching at Hope in 1971 - and is still lecturing to this day, including Musical Analysis and orchestration sessions with third year students. 

Among the proudest moments of his career so far, he says, is being made Head of Music at Hope. 

He states: “Going from teaching at Hope to being in a position where I could craft and rebuild the music department was really special. I brought in electronic music, popular music study, and helped to bring the department into the modern age. 

“I was lucky enough to have had that opportunity to really innovate.”

Stephen was also instrumental in developing the Voices of Hope, an ‘a cappella’ vocal group that enjoyed great success, even playing to audiences on the Continent. 

It’s no surprise, then, that Professor Stephen Davismoon, current Head of the School of Creative and Performing Arts, describes Prof. Pratt as ‘the most distinguished composer of his generation to come from Liverpool’.

** The On Reflection - Music by Stephen Pratt concert took place on Monday 28th June as part of the Angel Field Festival. 

For details of the shows still to come, head here: 

http://www.thecapstonetheatre.com/

 

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Published on 29/06/2021