COLUMBIA — Paul Leddington Wright started playing piano when he was 4 and organ when he was 11. When the long-time organist and director of his church choir suddenly retired, he took over her job at 15.
Since then, he has served as the director of music at Coventry Cathedral in England, and his choirs have sung for Pope John Paul II and Queen Elizabeth II. He has been the principal conductor for England's BBC program "Songs of Praise" since 1986.
Somehow, Wright was still nervous before directing the Memorial Baptist Church choir's performance of his original compositions and arrangements Sunday night.
"If you don't get keyed up and nervous about doing something, then you're not in the right frame of mind," Wright said.
Memorial Baptist first worked with Wright in 2007, when he was traveling the United States to prepare choirs for the International Church Music Festival, for which he is the artistic director. In 2009, the church invited him to Columbia again to conduct a weekend-long workshop.
Wright's directed as many as 65,000 singers, in 2000, yet he said it's the task of molding a choir's performance that still scares him as much now as it did when he was 15.
"The one thing that is so important when you're on the podium ... is that you show passion for what you're doing, and if you have a passion for music and a passion for working with people to make music, then it will work."
Wright has conducted choirs of all denominations and said his passion is fueled by directing music that has a meaning beyond the musical.
"If you have a faith and you believe in a god, and you worship that god, and the music is an aid to that worship and helps put that music on a higher plane, then there's a real reason, a real important reason to do it," Wright said.