Paul Keenan

Born in 1956 in Birmingham, Paul studied composition with Anthony Gilbert at The Royal Northern College of Music. He continued privately with Bill Hopkins, in whose memory he wrote a guitar duo (1981; extended 1984) with funds made available by North West Arts. Duo: In Memory Bill Hopkins was performed by the Aguado Duo as part of the Contemporary Music Circuit 1984. Funded by the British Council, it later toured India, Syria, Hong-Kong and Australia.

In 1977, his Concerto for Groups of Instruments won The Royal Philharmonic Society Prize. Music for Wood and Strings (1978) was awarded the silver medal of the Worshipful Company of Musicians, but the most important work of this period is The Ruin, part 1 (1976-9) for two voices and fourteen instruments . Set to part of an Anglo-Saxon poem, The Ruin , is a “double time refraction” and evokes the strong, though not specific, sense of place which permeates all Paul’s later compositions. Its development can be heard most clearly in Squaring xlvii (1996-7), set to Seamus Heaney’s poem, with the poet’s kind permission. More subtly, the beating wings of swans in flight are woven into Palimpsest (1992-5), while Comet Hale-Bopp (1997-8), charts the myriad and silent journey of the comet’s radiance.

Paul worked as a peripatetic woodwind teacher in County Durham, and a conservation worker in North Norfolk. Having qualified as a secondary school music teacher, he moved to the Scottish Borders in 1988 to teach in Berwick-upon-Tweed. In 1992 he began a Ph.D. supervised by Nigel Osborne at Edinburgh University, where, although submitting for a doctorate in musical composition (awarded July 1999), he spent long hours in the Physics department conducting spectral analyses of trombone ‘lip’ multiphonics.

The musical ideas thus generated proved, like a rainbow, to have no end! Paul’s research broadened to include gas cylinders, birdsong, woodwind multiphonics and vocal sounds. It attracted interest from Border Television, where film director Peter Chapman was fascinated by the overlap between art and science. A documentary about Paul’s work, which included a complete performance of Cloudscapes (1996) was broadcast in October 1998, explained how Paul’s research “fed into” his compositional techniques, and explored the relationship between his music and the natural world.

In July 1999 Paul was diagnosed with multiple myeloma (a cancer of the bone marrow). He died on 26th June 2001.