Marcus Patton is a retired architect and an illustrator, cartoonist, historian and volunteer with Hearth Historic Buildings Trust. He has just finished two terms as chairman of the Historic Buildings Council. He is married to Joanna Mules and they have three sons, Toby, Dan and Hugo, and three granddaughters.
Q. Can you tell us something about your background?
A. I was born in Enniskillen in 1948 and brought up in Bangor. I lived in Scotland for 10 years, but have lived in Belfast longer than anywhere else. I trained as an architect at Queen's, but finding most modern architecture boring and often ugly, I dropped out and set up a second hand bookshop in Edinburgh. I came back to architecture through concern at the destruction of historic buildings (which are not boring and rarely ugly) and worked for Hearth, a small housing association set up by the National Trust and Ulster Architectural Heritage Society to rescue historic buildings. My brother, Michael, recently retired as an Emeritus Professor of Genetics in London. I am married to Joanna Mules, an artist who is currently a vice-president of the Royal Ulster Academy and we have three sons, Toby, Dan and Hugo, and three granddaughters. We live in what we call the "French Quarter" of Belfast - Sans Souci.
Q. How did you come to faith?
A. A great-grandfather was a Presbyterian minister, who sent his children to church so often that my grandfather was determined none of his own children would have to go through that. My father was of a similar mind. I am not a Church member, although I did attend quite regularly when two of our boys sang in the choir at St George's in High Street, Belfast 20 years ago. The training they received as choirboys was excellent - it's a great shame there aren't more church choirs of that standard. The boys are treated as adults and are responsible for the top line in often quite challenging music, from Tallis to Durufle. They learn to read music fluently, make friends and also play a role in something that is serious and quite special. The sequence of the church year becomes very familiar. So music can be a way into faith.
Q. Can you tell us more about your music?
A. As well as playing, I began to organise concerts as a student to play music that was not otherwise being put on, particularly Victorian music, much of which was despised then, and avant-garde music. That led to designing posters for the concerts and sometimes I spent more time designing the artwork than playing the music. David Byers, a senior music producer at the BBC, was aware of the posters and commissioned me to do them for many of the BBC invitation concerts with the Ulster Orchestra. These were a dream commission, because the programmes were interesting and I was given a very free hand. They were often designed (and hand-printed) to very tight deadlines. Many of the posters were collected in my book called The Opera Hat of Sir Hamilton Harty.
Q. What do you think about people of other denominations and other faiths?
A. I mistrust people who try to preach at, or convert, me, but I have friends of most denominations and none.
Q. Would you be comfortable in stepping out from your own faith and trying to learn something from other people?
A. I'm always interested in other people and their convictions.
Q. Do you think that the Churches here are fulfilling their mission?
A. I know and have a great respect for some Church people, who have a genuine social conscience and care for people of all religions. But too many Churches concentrate on modernising their buildings and worship in the hope of attracting new congregations, but often losing their purpose in the process. The calm and stability of a serious religion, with the confidence to respect its past and to commune with the world from that belief, is more impressive.
Q. Why are so many people turning their backs on organised religion?
A. It is never easy getting up early on a Sunday morning. The pomposity and hypocrisy of some Church people did a lot of damage and the obsession with modernisation and "relevance" has led some people to question what the Churches were - and are - actually about. But, mainly, the scattering of families and the numerous other distractions available now make church-going less easy.
Q. What is your favourite film, book and music, and why?
A. I enjoy black-and-white films - the lack of special effects meant that the directors had to concentrate on character and plot. The ingenuity of Buster Keaton's films has never been equalled. I'm not going to pick a favourite book, since I sold second hand books and my wife used to work in the University Bookshop, so our house is overflowing with books. I love playing chamber music with friends. We're currently working on Elgar's string quartet, which is quite a challenge; full of passion and melancholy, but with moments of sheer beauty.
Q. Where do you feel closest to God?
A. For over 10 years, I have helped to organise performances of Bach's church cantatas at St Thomas' on the Lisburn Road. Bach wrote the cantatas to be part of church services and we are grateful to St Thomas' for shaping their services around the cantatas each month, providing an appropriate setting for some amazing music. We performed our hundredth cantata just before lockdown and there are another hundred to get through when we can get back.
Organising concerts can be a hard slog, but it is all made up by being able to play in the performances. I don't sing, but usually play the continuo, or viola, or occasionally other instruments to fill in gaps.
Historic churches breathe a sense of spiritual calm and Bach's music, with its order and perfection, is a perfect complement to them. It is impossible to listen to Bach's Passions without feeling something of what Christianity means - and perhaps wishing that one did have faith.
So, Bach is as close as I get to God.
Q. What inscription would you like on your gravestone, if any?
A. Much as I like exploring old graveyards, I'm going to be cremated, so there won't be one.
Q. Finally, have you any major regrets?
A. No - just that life is too short. Ars longa, vita brevis.