This is music to the new King’s ears

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

This is music to the new King’s ears

Sarah Miller talks to Debbie Wiseman, whose work will be played in Westminster Abbey

Pic: Debbie Wiseman
Pic: Debbie Wiseman

From the riveting historical saga of Wolf Hall to the sultry jazz tones of The Andrew Marr Show, the sweeping drama of Stephen Fry’s Wilde and the mystery-evoking Father Brown, there’s a good chance you will be familiar with at least one of the more than 200 theme tunes that Debbie Wiseman has composed for film and television.

The award-winning talent, voted in last year’s Classic FM’s Hall of Fame the most popular living composer, has achieved many accolades over the past 20 years, including nominations for Grammy and Ivor Novello awards and an OBE for services to music.

But her latest commission could prove to be the crowning glory of her career so far – quite literally. For Debbie is one of a handful of musicians chosen personally by King Charles III to compose 12 new pieces of music for his coronation service.

Signature: Final Album Cover

Her work will be heard alongside that of the likes of Lord ( Andrew) Lloyd-Webber, who has been asked to create a new anthem, and film composer Patrick Doyle, who is writing a coronation march.

The King is said to have been keen to incorporate a range of musical styles and traditions into the ceremony, so there’s something duly fitting about a leading British-Jewish composer writing a composition for the first gospel choir to sing at a coronation.

Debbie’s Alleluia (O Sing Praises) will be performed by the Ascension Choir, while a second part to her work, Alleluia (O Clap Your Hands) will be sung by an expanded Westminster Abbey choir.

Debbie knows that when her compositions are heard for the first time in the Abbey, which has hosted coronation ceremonies since William the Conqueror was crowned in 1066, it will be “incredibly special”.

Speaking from her home in London, Debbie, who will celebrate her 60th birthday just days after the coronation and has a new album, Signature, being released next month, says: “It’s an immense honour and I feel so thrilled to have been commissioned. My two pieces are linked musically, but come from two very different choral traditions, which is wonderful. All the new compositions represent the very colourful musical culture that we have in this country, which is very special.”

This weekend will not, however, mark Debbie’s first brush with royalty. Indeed, she wrote the moving piece Elizabeth Remembered, which was used in the BBC’s coverage of the death of Elizabeth II, while just a year ago she served as the musical director and composer for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations.

“That was, as we know, pretty much the last event her majesty attended, and she enjoyed it thoroughly,” Debbie reveals. “The programme was designed to be things she would love and she really did. It was thrilling to be a part of that.”

Debbie also had a key role at the Diamond Jubilee in 2012, when she was invited to write for the Thames Pageant, which took place in June. She was one of 10 composers chosen to write a movement inspired by the original titles of Handel’s Water Music, which was played on the royal barge amid pouring rain.

“It was a really British occasion,” she laughs. “People came out in their millions and I remember going along the Thames and seeing everybody really wrapped up in their rain covers and their brollies, but beaming and smiling away. It was fantastic.

“Even the musicians, who normally worry about temperature because it affects their hands and the way they play, couldn’t have cared less, even though they were rained on and the wind was blowing!”

Debbie has met Charles several times, receiving her OBE from him in 2018 and in 2020 when she was awarded a fellowship from the Royal College of Music. She recalls being struck by the king’s clear “passion” for music.

“I remember as students performed for him he sat there in awe. You could see his passion for classical music shine through that day, and I thought this is somebody who really engages with the classical genre.

“The fact he’s commissioned so many diverse composers shows the range of music he’s interested in and how he wants that to be part of his special service.”

Debbie has met Charles several times, receiving her OBE from him in 2018 and in 2020 when she was awarded a fellowship from the Royal College of Music. She recalls being struck by the king’s clear “passion” for music.

What is the starting point for a composer writing music heralding a new monarchy? As Debbie explains, with film and television work she gets to watch scenes, read scripts and collaborate with directors, but this time she is relying solely on “a picture in my mind”, which she then translates not into words but into “little black dots on a manuscript page”.

She adds: “I imagine the scene in Westminster Abbey, I’m imagining the choir, the glorious acoustics, but most of all I’m simply imagining the man and what we know about him and what we have experienced over the years. We feel like we know King Charles – even if we’ve never met him – and that picture in my head is usually enough to inspire music.”

Speaking of inspiration, I ask Debbie, who was born and bred in north London and attended Henrietta Barnett School in Hampstead Garden Suburb, if her Jewishness has shaped any of her compositions over the years. There’s little hesitation as she tells me about the time she composed music for the Museum of the Diaspora in Tel Aviv.

“It came so naturally to me,” she says. “The Jewish melodies, the Jewish scales so well-known in traditional music came completely naturally. I remembered thinking this was probably the easiest-flowing composition I’ve ever written. There was, without a doubt, something in my DNA that has been there from birth.”

She also credits her mother with encouraging her love for music. Debbie smiles as she recalls how her practical-thinking father did not want a piano because “we lived in a very small house and there wasn’t enough room – but my mother was determined”.

He was eventually persuaded to take a piano on hire purchase, with the reasoning that it could go back if Debbie, then aged seven, didn’t get on with the instrument.

“But when I got the piano, I just did not move away from it. Very shortly after, it was clear that piano wouldn’t be going anywhere.”

She still has the same upright Monington & Weston instrument today, even though she has grand pianos at which to compose.

“I love sitting at my piano,” she tells me. “That’s my office, that’s where I always write, that’s where I feel most at home.”

And no doubt that’s where Debbie is also putting those finishing touches to a composition fit for a king.

Debbie Wiseman Live In Concert, with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, is released on 30 June

Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...


Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.


There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.


In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.


Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more: