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Coronation composer reveals ‘challenge’ of royal event & how travel inspires her music

Debbie Wiseman is a renowned British composer who played a key role in King Charles’ coronation on May 6, 2023 – Sailawaze spoke to her about music and travel intertwine.

Do you remember the songs that soundtracked that summer? The tunes that instantly conjure up the smell of sun cream, the heat of the sun on your skin and the sound of post-Aperol spritz, joy-fuelled laughter?

That’s what composer and musician Debbie Wiseman, 59, – the musical powerhouse behind such film and TV hits as Wolf Hall, Wilde, and To Olivia – is trying to rustle up in listeners’ minds with her melodies for ocean and river cruise line Viking.

Wiseman – who has composed the signature music for the brand and is Godmother to longship Viking Herja – has worked with Viking for many years and loves how “they share my passion for music.”

“Classical music…is very much woven into the brand,” she told Sailawaze ahead of the coronation weekend – an event in which music played an enormous role (and included some of Wiseman’s compositions – but more on that later).

Cruising didn’t have much bearing on Debbie Wiseman until she sailed with Viking, but her voyage served up inspiration aplenty.

“Before Viking, I had never been on a cruise before,” she explained, but thanks to a river cruise to Paris and an ocean cruise to Barcelona, Wiseman “had the full Viking experience and was totally inspired by the ships.”

“I came home and could not wait to write ‘The Traveller’ [one of three Signature Viking scores],” she went on.

“It tells the story of how I felt when I stepped onboard for the first time – the morning light, waking up to the sound of the ocean, the birdsong, the relaxation and the gorgeous atmosphere on board.

“I took all these special memories and adventures that I had onboard and packed it all into the piece. My idea is that when guests of Viking hear this piece of music it transports them back to a Viking adventure of their own.”

Travel’s creativity-inducing forces have stayed with Debbie Wiseman ever since. Her latest composition for Viking is entitled Onwards and was “inspired by the excitement of travel – the joy of discovering different destinations and looking ahead to new horizons.”

And how can music resemble that vacation thrill you might ask? “The piece starts with the harp and the lower strings with a ‘tremolo’ effect, almost like the musical equivalent of trembling with excitement, which was composed to create the feeling of building up to a departure, and the image of a Viking ship leaving port for its voyage,” Wiseman elaborated.

“Towards the end of the piece, the trumpets and full brass section join in to create a sense of triumph for the onward journey of the ship.”

It’s hardly surprising that a Danube river cruise tops Wiseman’s sailing wishlist! “It is such a romantic river and has inspired some memorable music,” she said.

However, it’s a location much closer to home that has tested Wiseman’s skills in recent times – she was asked to compose two pieces for the King’s Coronation.

“I’ve been commissioned to compose two choral pieces – one for the Westminster Abbey choir and organ and the second piece is for the gospel choir,” Debbie Wiseman detailed.

“It is going to be performed by the wonderful Ascension Choir who performed at the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s wedding.”

Of course, such a commission does not come without its difficulties, and striking the right tone is vital.

“The challenge is always to make sure that the music is fitting and appropriate and, in particular on this historic occasion, joyful and celebratory,” she said.

If you fancy ever rubbing shoulders with Wiseman (and quizzing her on her fave royal) then your best bet is hitting up the Med with Viking.

“One of the Mediterranean voyages would be wonderful…Spain, France, Italy…are all hugely fascinating and inspiring,” she divulged when asked about her top places to go to next.

“Eventually, when there is more time available, one of the world voyages and expedition itineraries would be amazing too,” she added.

As for her parting travel tips, Debbie Wiseman advised leaving “extra time for getting to the airport so it’s not a last-minute panic and rush” and packing savvily.

She recommended: “Take the most comfortable shoes and plenty of sunblock if you’re visiting somewhere warm!

“I always take a wide-brimmed sun hat with me – I have very sensitive skin so I try to avoid getting the sun on my face! They make packable ones now which are great as you can fold them away in your case and they just spring open when you arrive at your sunny destination.”

You should probably take your earphones too – that vacation soundtrack won’t make itself.

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Published 01.05.23