2022 was an eventful year for everyone, and for me personally, as I entered the 8th decade of my life and the 7th year of my crazy “late in life” choral composing project.
The covid pandemic still loomed large everywhere, and in particular for those in the world of choral music.
Hesitant first steps towards in-person rehearsals and public concerts marked the first half of the year, which culminated in a massive outpouring of joyful, well-attended choir concerts in December, both here in Ottawa and throughout the choral world. And yet, the existential question of our age – to mask, or not to mask – could not be escaped, for both choirs and audiences.
Choirs rejoiced in 2022, and so did choral composers. Long delayed world premiere performances of exciting new choral music suddenly sprouted everywhere. Choirs, choir directors, audiences and choral composers alike all joined together in a joyful chorus of renewal. It was a mini “Renaissance” unlike any in recent memory, exemplified by the energy witnessed when I attended my first Canadian National Choral Conference, Podium 2022, in Toronto in May.
And for me, as a choral composer, I was by no means immune to this choral Renaissance myself.
I had the great joy of hearing two of my songs performed publicly in 2022:
In May, Antonio Llaca and Coro Vivo Ottawa gave the world premiere performance of my musical plea for reconciliation, “Where then might pain find a hold?” On the same program was the world premiere of “Nibi” a haunting hymn to water by Andrew Balfour, whose powerful compositional voice I was hearing for the first time and would also encounter at Podium 2022. A great learning experience for me, as was exposure to many other inspiring new Canadian choral works over the course of the year.
And in December, I was thrilled to hear my very first composition, the bilingual French/English “Rideau Carol,” publicly performed again after so many years, this time by Matthew Larkin and the Rideau Chorale. NB: in 2016, the song had been premiered by (and dedicated to) The Stairwell Carollers, the a cappella choir that I sang in for 28 years.
On the compositional front, 2022 saw the creation of 5 new songs that presented new challenges for me: to find the right musical setting for a challenging text and for exploring more complex harmonic vistas as I develop further as a composer. In addition, personal relations and emotional reactions to world events have played a significant role in the development of these new songs.
“Our revels now are ended” (SSAATTBB) is dedicated to my step-mother Martha Henry who died in 2021 and who spoke these very words on stage in her penultimate role as Prospero in the 2018 Stratford Festival production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”
“A new mystery unfoldeth” (SSAATB) is dedicated to my dear cousin Madeleine Shaw, and was composed, in part, as self-therapy for the raucous honking noises that were surrounding me during the “Freedom” Convoy events in Ottawa. An uplifting joyful song about the birth of a divine child, a girl, seemed an appropriate antidote. With thanks to Ottawa singer Ellen Tsai for joining me in creating a lovely demo recording of the song.
The war in Ukraine and other armed conflicts around the world are never far from my consciousness. Like many other composers, I felt the need to express my feelings through music. “Peace must be the answer!” (SSAATTBB) was the result, and it is dedicated to the victims of war and armed conflict. I feel very privileged that Kari Turunen and his Vancouver Chamber Choir workshopped this challenging piece at their October Interplay Workshop sponsored by the SOCAN Foundation. I learned so much from this experience and have incorporated a number of revisions to the score as a result.
After writing a jarring anti-war song, I felt the need for songs that were a bit less intense in nature. Thus was born William Blakes’s mysterious “The Lamb” (SATB with divisi), which I’ve dedicated to my young grandson, a wee lamb himself.
And to close out the year, I created a setting of the Latin hymn of praise “Te Deum laudamus” (SATB with divisi) and dedicated this to a dear West Coast friend. I feel truly blessed that the Rocky Mountain Chamber Choir has made such a beautiful recording of this song:
Best wishes to all, for Peace, Health and Happiness in 2023.
Happy New Year!