September and October

Here’s what I know about so far:

September 13 - The Light That Remains (solo piano, 35 minutes) Ottawa ON, by Dr. Elaine Keillor

September 13, 14, 15 - The Gracious Exchange (unaccompanied SATB) Victoria BC, by Vox Humana

September 21 - Three Autumn Scenes (orchestra) Windsor ON, by the Windsor Symphony Orchestra

October - careful careful (SATB with marimba and harp); installation “Remixing the Night” as part of Nuit Blanche; Scarborough ON

Spring and Summer

I’m a little late with this update…there aren’t too many performances in May and June, so I’ll include summer activities as well.


May 11: Magnificat (mezzo-soprano solo with ten treble parts); Angelica Women’s Chamber Choir; Hastings-on-Hudson NY

May 15: On the Beach at Night Alone (mezzo-soprano with piano); Carole Portelance, voice; Elaine Keillor, piano; Ottawa ON

May 19: Magnificat (mezzo-soprano solo with ten treble parts); Angelica Women’s Chamber Choir; New York City NY

May 20: Album of Old Photographs (marimba and piano), SHHH! Ensemble; Ottawa ON

June 28: Piano Trio; Somerset Trio; Richmond BC

July 9: three pieces from The Light that Remains (solo piano); Dr. Elaine Keillor; Ottawa ON (Music & Beyond)

July 17, 18, 21, August 3, 11: three folk tune arrangements (Come by the Hills, Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, and Shady Grove) that were commissioned by RCM several years ago; Eve Daniell; tour of Vancouver Island

August 7 and 8: Mappa Mundi (guitar quartet with cello); Canadian Guitar Quartet with Sebastien Singer, cello; Midland ON and Parry Sound ON (Festival of the Sound)

August 24: Candles (unaccompanied SSAATTBB with soloists); Sing Summer Adult Choir Camp (directed by Michael Zaugg); Berwick NS


July 2-6: Summer Opera Works Youth Camp with Pacific Opera: singer Erin Cunès and I will be assisting participants in the creation of a new opera

July 9-19: Victoria Conservatory of Music Summer Theory Academy: I will be teaching theory classes and Composition Clubs

July 22-26: University of Ottawa Summer Music Academy: I will be teaching Composition Clubs

March and April

March 2: This Fragile Web (mixed choir with piano and violin); i Coristi; Edmonton AB

March 2: Magnificat (mezzo-soprano soloist with ten treble parts); at a concert featuring several choirs; Tallinn, Estonia

March 8: premiere of careful careful (mixed choir with marimba and harp), commissioned by the Orpheus Choir of Toronto for its Raising Her Voice project. This important concert, which takes place on International Women’s Day, features the work of four Canadian female poets set to music by four Canadian female composers: Katerina Gimon set the poetry of Yaya Yao; Anika-France Forget set the poetry of Shadi Eskandani; Tawnie Olson set the poetry of Phoebe Wang; and I set a poem by the amazing and much loved poet Priscila Uppal, who tragically passed away in September 2018, just as I was beginning to work on this piece. This commission was generously funded by the Ontario Arts Council, and I am able to attend the concert thanks to a grant from the Canada Council of the Arts.

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.    Nous remercions le Conseil des arts du Canada de son soutien.

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.

Nous remercions le Conseil des arts du Canada de son soutien.

March 9, 10: premiere of Following the Moonroad (mixed choir with cello), commissioned by the DaCapo Chamber Choir, thanks to funding from the Ontario Arts Council, in celebration of DaCapo’s 20th anniversary. This concert marks the centre of DaCapo’s three-year exploration of "the refugee experience”, beginning last year with displacement and continuing this year with resettlement (next year will move on to renewal). To keep the project in line with the topic of the refugee experience, I further commissioned (with generous funding from the Canada Council for the Arts) three Canadian poets who all have personal connections to this topic: Lozan Yamolky is a refugee from Iraq; Connie Braun is the daughter of refugees from Poland; and George Elliott Clarke is the descendant of refugees who came to Canada to escape slavery in the United States. I am able to attend these concerts with a travel grant from the Canada Council for the Arts.

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.    Nous remercions le Conseil des arts du Canada de son soutien.

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.

Nous remercions le Conseil des arts du Canada de son soutien.

March 12: Album of Old Photographs (marimba and piano); SHHH!! Ensemble; Ottawa ON

March 18-22: I will be the composer “teaching assistant” in Pacific Opera’s March Break camp, helping students create music for a new opera

March 24: Magnificat; Engelbrekts Discantus; Stockholm, Sweden

April 7: In Paradisum (unaccompanied SSAATTBB); Chronos Vocal Ensemble; Edmonton AB

April 7-8: I will be in Courtney and Comox BC giving composition workshops at Motif Music Studios and at a private studio

April 11: The Grail Bird (on-stage treble choir, off-stage treble choir, speaker); Binghamton University Women’s Chorus; Binghamton NY

April 14: Canoe Legends (collaboration with Unity, Indigenous vocal/percussion ensemble: 2222/4331/timp+1perc/hp/strings with Unity); Orchestra Toronto; Toronto ON

April 20-27: I will be in Sherwood Park AB adjudicating junior piano and giving composition workshops

April 27: The Dawn is Not Distant (SSAA with piano); Hypatia’s Voice Women’s Choir; Ottawa ON

April 30: Hopewell Cape; Toronto Symphony Orchestra; Toronto ON

January and February

January 11-14: I will be giving composition workshops and lessons in Whitehorse YT, working with a variety of musicians in the community including the Yukon Fiddleheads

January 27: Not Roses by Christiane Riel (soprano) and Louis Trépanier (guitar); Ottawa ON

January 30: Four Harp Pieces, Bagatelle (flute, horn, piano) and Mappa Mundi (guitar quartet and cello) will be broadcast on Music of our Mothers (based in Saint Augustine FL)

February 24: Three Short Stories (2 guitars and violin); Trio Tangere; Halifax NS

November and December

November 2nd: In Flanders Fields (unaccompanied SATB or TTBB) by musica intima; Vancouver BC

November 3rd: release of CD entitled NewWorks by DaCapo Chamber Choir, featuring Candles (unaccompanied SSAATTBB) at their season opener.

November 9th: In Flanders Fields by a choir called Diamonds in the Dust; Worcester MA

November 10th: A Matter of Spirit (women's choir with orchestra) - world premiere, commissioned by Hypatia's Voice Women's Choir (directed by Laura Hawley) and Parkdale United Church Orchestra (directed by Angus Armstrong); Ottawa ON. The text consists of writings of three Canadian women who lived during World War 1: Edith Monture, a Mohawk woman who worked as a nurse in France during the war and kept a diary of her experiences there; Blanche Bessette, a French Canadian woman who became a "marraine de guerre" (war godmother), writing letters to a Belgian soldier; and Nellie McClung, a writer, activist, and author of The Next of Kin, which chronicles her experiences travelling in western Canada and talking with women about the war.

Below this list of events, I’ve included an interview between Laura Hawley and me about this project.

November 11th: Udo, Shalom (youth choir with youth orchestra) by several youth choirs and youth orchestras at the National Arts Centre; Ottawa ON. This piece was commissioned by OrKidstra; the text consists of the word for "peace" in thirty spoken languages and five sign languages. Udo, Shalom is one movement of a larger multi-composer work which is currently under construction. 

November 11th: In Flanders Fields by Seattle Bach Choir, Seattle WA

[…and I’m pretty sure there will be many more performances of In Flanders Fields, but I often don’t hear about them until later…]

November 16th and 17th: I’ll be in Prince Edward Island giving composition workshops to music students and teachers.

November 22nd: Album of Old Photographs (marimba and piano); SHHH Ensemble; Toronto ON

December 2nd: In Dulci Jubilo (SAB chorus with soprano solo, violin and harp) world premiere, commissioned and premiered by Merrickville Children and Adult Choirs; Merrickville ON

December 8th and 9th: In Dulci Jubilo (again, but this time the chorus is SATB) Seventeen Voyces; Ottawa ON

December 9th: In Flanders Fields by Bytown Voices; Ottawa ON

December 9th: Magnificat by the Singers of Saint Michael’s; Brattleboro VT


(Preface by Laura Hawley)

This year, choirs across Canada are launching productions for the centenary of Armistice Day, musically marking 100 years since the end of the First World War.  As Artistic Director of Hypatia’s Voice Women’s Choir of Ottawa, I was one of many conductors who last year worked on planning and programming for this important landmark, and in anticipation of this had dreamed of a new large-scale work for women’s choir and orchestra that would speak to women’s experiences of the Great War.

Last autumn, Hypatia and I formalized this vision and we collaborated with the Parkdale United Church Orchestra and their Artistic Director, Angus Armstrong, to commission one of Canada’s most celebrated composers, Christine Donkin.

A Matter of Spirit 
is Donkin’s brilliant new 10-movement work for women’s choir and symphony orchestra. One of the primary goals of this project is to shed light on Canadian women’s experiences of war, representing Canadian women of different ages, viewpoints, and backgrounds.

It uses texts written by three Canadians: Edith Monture, the first Indigenous woman to become a registered nurse in Canada, was a Mohawk First World War veteran who kept a diary during the war. Nellie McClung was an English Canadian who travelled through western Canada recording stories for her book The Next of Kin, and French Canadian Québécoise, Blanche Bessette was a “marraine de guerre” (war godmother) who wrote heartfelt letters to a Belgian soldier.

Hypatia’s Voice and the Parkdale United Church Orchestra will premiere this work on Saturday November 10th in Ottawa. As we began rehearsals, I sat down with Christine to discuss the work and her process and ideas behind bringing this project to life.

This project has been generously supported by the City of Ottawa.

Laura Hawley: Christine, back in 2015, you attended Hypatia’s inaugural concert, at which we performed your beautiful work for women’s choir and piano, The Dawn is not Distant.  I spoke with you after the concert and remember you saying “I’d love to write for your choir.” As a great admirer of your work, I resolved that we would pursue this some day.  Do you remember this conversation?  How did the sound of Hypatia inspire you or influence your writing?

Christine Donkin: I absolutely do remember this conversation, as well as the concert that preceded it! It was truly an inspiring event – a fact that can be attributed not only to the quality of the singing, but also the choice of repertoire and the way in which you decided to present the pieces. You did pieces by Holst, Tavener, O’Regan, and Chilcott and I remember listening as Hypatia performed The Dawn is Not Distant from the balcony above the audience’s heads, in dimmed light – that was such a special experience. I was able to draw on that memory as I started working on this project, and I think it was a really important factor in how the piece ultimately came together.

LH: Where were you when you wrote this piece? What stands out in your memory about the experience of composing it?

CD: I was in Ottawa when I started it. It was really a two-part procedure: first I had to choose and organize the text and then I had to apply music to it. Since the words are of such huge importance in this piece, I took my time going through a lot of text and choosing exactly what I felt was needed (in truth, I had to leave out a lot that I would have liked to include, otherwise the piece would have gone on for hours). Organizing text for a project like this is actually one of my favourite things to do – although I’m not a writer myself, I do love words, and find great satisfaction in assembling sometimes disparate pieces of text into a single entity from which I can draw all of my ideas for a musical work. That process went on for several months I think, squeezed in between other projects and commitments. I soon focused on two significant text sources that you had tracked down – Edith’s diary and an article containing several of Nellie’s poems. After a lot of deliberation, I selected four entries in Edith’s diary, and then, as you know, I explored some more of Nellie’s output and realized that her prose was a better fit for this project than her poetry. I ended up choosing three paragraphs from The Next of Kin.

I also put just a few musical themes in place during that early part of the process. Then things got very busy and I had to put the project aside. By the time I returned to it, I was in Victoria BC (where I am still, because of my mother’s health). At that point I was facing a looming deadline – rehearsals on the piece were to begin – and I had to finalize my text choices and pull together the bulk of the musical content in the space of about three weeks.

LH: Let’s go back to your decision to set Nellie’s prose. You mentioned early in the process when we were discussing text for the work that you often prefer to set prose rather than poetry. Why is that?

CD: I should specify that when I said “poetry” I meant “poetry with meter and a rhyme scheme”, which is the kind of poetry that Nellie was writing. Setting that kind of poetry is a very different experience than setting free verse, or than setting prose, because metered poetry already has a kind of musical aspect to it. Sometimes this is fine, but often in the past when I’ve set metered poetry, I’ve opted to suppress both the meter and the rhyme scheme in order to give myself more artistic freedom. Often, I can treat well-written prose in a poetic way. Sometimes I even write it out to “look like” poetry – this is what I did with Nellie’s text as I was figuring out how to set it.

LH: Bessette, McClung, and Monture come from different cultural backgrounds (French, English, and Mohawk, respectively) and had three very different experiences of and relationships with the war. How did you approach setting these different voices to music? Does each voice have its own musical features?

CD: Initially it seemed a scary task – setting the text of three women who were so different from each other, and so different from me. It seemed to me that I was going to be heading in a totally different musical direction with each writer’s work.

I read the texts over many, many times, until I started to feel a familiarity with them, and gain some kind of understanding of these three women as individuals: what motivated them, and how their experiences changed them.

I can hear distinct musical characteristics in the settings of each woman’s text, and I think this comes quite naturally out of the words that they wrote, which in turn comes out of their own personalities. At the same time, there is a kind of unifying element throughout this work which is difficult to pinpoint. Perhaps that unifying element is my own voice, my own response to the text, which inevitably comes through in the music.

LH: Here is a question from Rebecca, soprano, Hypatia’s voice:  The texts of many of the movements are heart wrenching and the music does such an amazing job of bringing out that emotion. Can you talk a bit about what it was like composing with such emotionally charged lyrics?

CD: This is really a central issue, and it relates to the “unifying element” that I was just talking about. I think it’s inevitable that a composer’s own reaction to the meaning of the text gets inextricably woven into the musical work. This means that no matter how much musical and technical skill a composer has, the final product will only be as valuable as his/her interpretation and understanding of the words. So for me, there’s no way of keeping any emotional distance from the text – you have to dive into it, and definitely, diving into some of the text in this project resulted in days of walking around feeling like the world was going to end. And even at that, I know that my emotional reaction only scratched the surface.

LH: Which texts generated musical ideas most immediately for you? Were there texts that took longer to set?

CD: In general, Blanche’s texts, particularly Mon cher filleul and Je voudrais être cette modeste épingle, generated musical ideas almost immediately – the reason for this might be that of the three women, I identified most strongly with Blanche on a personal level. There were also other moments that emerged without a lot of coaxing, such as the beginnings of There was a mist in the air this morning (Nellie); Left Ellis Island at 8 AM (Edith); and Maybe I could pretend that you are my boy (Nellie). The two most difficult ones were Hospital filled to the doors (Edith) and You see that schoolhouse (Nellie), the first because there was so little text, and the second because there was so much. In Hospital I wasn’t at all sure how to stretch Edith’s very brief but incredibly intense diary entry into a piece of music. It is such a tiny amount of text, but every word explodes with meaning. In Schoolhouse, on the other hand, there is a lot of text, and all of it is indispensable. I didn’t want the music to interfere and distract listeners from the message that the text puts across, so I opted to have it spoken over very subtle orchestral accompaniment.

LH: Throughout the piece, I find I experience many different musical scenes that for me evoke colours, pictures, weather, and all kinds of emotions.  What kind of imagery came to mind as you were writing and can you describe some of the compositional techniques you’ve used to evoke certain things?

CD: The work overall begins with text that was written in January 1918 and progresses into the summer, so there is a sense of the changing of seasons as well as the evolution of the circumstances of the war. We begin with a kind of restless determination, felt by Edith and the others (soldiers and nurses) who felt compelled to enlist and depart for Europe amid cold weather and falling snow. This I depicted with a quick-moving arpeggiando section in the violins against staccatos in the woodwinds and other strings. I also wanted to capture the atmosphere of anticipation, almost excitement, on the morning of her departure from North America, which I did with an upward, questioning motive in the woodwinds that recurs several times throughout the piece. I contrasted these textural explorations with the very warm, rich, gentle harmonies and tone colours in the settings of Blanche’s first two excerpts.

Even as Edith’s journey across the Atlantic is underway, the piece begins to move through some difficult emotions. Some of the most moving are near the end of the piece: a woman, described by Nellie, arrives at a train station as new recruits are getting ready to depart. She has already lost a son in the war, and her response to this trauma is to find another (as she says to the young man at the station who has no parents, “maybe I can pretend that you are my boy; you see I have no boy – now”). My setting starts with the singers delivering this text in unison, but later in the piece the choir splits into six parts and we hear the same forlorn melody in canon. This is, after all, not the story of one woman who lost a son in the war – thousands of people suffered this same loss.

LH:  I’ve long admired your writing for orchestra and for choir, and I love the way you have paired Symphony Orchestra with women’s choir. Can you describe your approach to the orchestration and to the role of each ensemble?

CD: Naturally part of the choir’s role in this piece is to deliver the text. One of the orchestra’s roles is to pick up on the themes that originated in the text and expand on them – a similar effect to a video camera panning out to show viewers the bigger picture after focusing on something specific. Orchestras, with their vast palette of tone colours, are so adept at augmenting the emotional impact of things, and that is what the orchestra ends up doing for a lot of this piece. The orchestral passages also give some time for the audience to reflect on the text that the choir has delivered.

I dearly love composing both choral music and orchestral music, and in this project I was determined not to let either group dominate. The difficulty with treating them both as equal partners is that in sonic terms, they are not equal – a large orchestra can make a lot of sound, and I had to be careful to score the piece in a way that didn’t cause the orchestra to overpower the choir. Of course, at this moment, I still don’t know for sure whether I succeeded! I hope I did.

LH: During the writing process, you had mentioned to me on the phone that the writing was flowing well, and the creative process was working quickly (which is not always the case). Can you describe this? Do you know why that was the case with this project?

CD: As a composer, there are some projects that require me to do some mental traveling in order to figure out what’s being asked of me, while others I “get” right away – this project was in the latter category. It seemed to be such a good idea and one to which I felt I had something to contribute. In addition to this, I hadn’t composed any music for a few months before I started this project – I had been too busy with other things. One does need to take a break from composing now and then, but I think that by the time I started on this piece, I’d recuperated sufficiently from the previous ones and was ready to get to work.

Things seemed to be going well at the time that we had that phone conversation, although after that, I must confess that not all the ideas came quickly. In particular, two of Edith’s texts (Hospital filled to the doors and My pet patient Earl King) took a lot of preparation – that preparation amounted to lots of reading the words and pondering them and thinking “I don’t know what to do”…and then one day thinking “now I know what to do”. It was as if a locked door whose key I had been seeking for a long time suddenly swung open on its own. I’m sure that anyone who engages in creative processes knows what I mean. Often things fall into place without our knowing how. But I do know that the door won’t open if I don’t look for the key; nor at this stage in my life do I have any expectation that I can control when the door will open.

LH: Heading toward the premiere, what is your vision for how you as the composer can best collaborate with the ensembles and conductors to best bring your work to life and authentically represent your compositional voice?  What recommendations would you make to other groups working with a composer on a new commission?

CD: Honestly, the whole journey to this point has been very positive and constructive, from the initial exchanges of ideas through to preparing the final scores. I needed some help at various points, especially with finding text since that was a major undertaking, and I’m so grateful for your input, and for that of members of both the choir and the orchestra who came to my assistance. Now that rehearsals are underway, I’m anxious to know how things are going. Angus recently sent me recordings from an orchestral rehearsal, and I know that he’ll be sending a few more in the coming weeks. So things are definitely going in a healthy direction from my standpoint as composer. I’m really happy that everyone involved is so committed to the project and so ready to communicate ideas and ask questions and voice concerns. I think these open lines of communication, at all stages of preparation, are crucial to a successful premiere.

September and October

Happy September! The 2018-2019 season promises to be a good one, with a choral-orchestral premiere; three choral-instrumental premieres; a piece to be performed by several youth choirs and youth orchestras at the National Arts Centre; a cross-cultural, multi-composer collaboration involving six other Canadian composers; lots of other choral, chamber and orchestral performances; and an exciting line-up of commissions for my new Composition Clubs. Here's what I've heard about so far for the next couple of months in terms of performances:

September 27th: Between the Water and the Sky (composed in collaboration with Unity, an Indigenous vocal/percussion ensemble); Unity and members of the Peterborough Symphony Orchestra with dancers Jade Willoughby and Beany John of Public Energy; Peterborough ON

October 20th: Mappa Mundi (guitar quartet with cello) by Canadian Guitar Quartet with Jeff Faragher, cello; Cranbrook BC

October 20th: Preach Not Me Your Musty Rules (soprano and piano) by Susan Lines and Sonja Deunsch Plourde; Ottawa ON

October 27th: Caprice (viola and piano) by Susan Beth Barak (viola) and Timea Agszerova-Powasa (piano) at the Old Town Hall in Newmarket ON

October 27th: Magnificat (mezzo-soprano solo with 10 treble parts) by Chór Dziewszęcy “Skowronki” in Rumia, Poland

October 28th: Three Autumn Scenes (orchestra) by Huronia Symphony; Barrie ON

October 28th: The Grail Bird (women's choir: on-stage choir, off-stage choir, speaker) by Fredonia Camerata; Fredonia NY

October 30th and 31st: Hopewell Cape by Toronto Symphony as part of their educational programming for students in grades 7-12; Toronto ON

July and August

Performances this summer include Album of Old Photographs (marimba and piano) by the SHHH!! Ensemble in Belgium in late July and Three Short Stories (violin with two guitars) by Trio Tangere in Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. Other performances may happen too, but often I don't hear about them until later.

Also, I'm teaching theory and composition at three summer academies:

July 9-13: OrKidstra Summer Music Camp (Ottawa ON)

July 16-20: Victoria Conservatory of Music Summer Theory Academy (Victoria BC)

July 30-August 3: University of Ottawa Summer Music Academy - Piano Week (Ottawa ON)

Lastly, take a look at this cool video of lots of violists performing my Caprice for viola and piano at the Intermountain Suzuki String Institute's Advanced String Camp Concert, led by violist Rafael Videira. 

May and June

Just a few concerts at this time of year...

May 6th: Magnificat by Women's Voices Chorus in Chapel Hill NC (from a review of this performance: “The next selection was the striking setting of the Magnificat by Canadian composer Christine Donkin. Soloist, Kim McCorkle, with a pure, uncluttered vocal timbre, started with what could have been an incipit, but it continued with the chorus picking up vocalizations on selected vowels and extending them. The effect was mystical, suggestive of an echo chamber six to eight times the size of Duke Chapel if you can imagine such a sonic experience.”) 

May 19th and 21st: Album of Old Photographs (marimba and piano) by Zac Pulak and Edana Higham at the Canadian Tulip Festival here in Ottawa. 

May 27th: something (not sure what) by Esprit de Choeur Women's Choir in Winnipeg MB

May 31st: open rehearsal of Udo, Shalom (youth orchestra and youth choir) by OrKidstra directed by Maestro Alexander Shelley of the National Arts Centre Orchestra. This piece, which was commissioned by OrKidstra, is a setting of the word "peace" in thirty spoken languages and five sign languages. It is part of a larger, multi-composer project for which we are still trying to secure funding.

June 1st: In Flanders Fields (unaccompanied SATB or TTBB) by Vivat Choir at a Last Post Ceremony at Menin Gate, Ypres, Belgium

June 3rd: In Paradisum (unaccompanied SSAATTBB) by Acquired Taste in Toronto ON

June 9th: In Flanders Fields by Gresley Male Voice Choir in Nottingham, England. 

June 12th: Udo, Shalom - premiere performance by OrKidstra here in Ottawa

June 13th: Magnificat by Amuse Singers in New York City NY

June 23rd: Three Short Stories (violin and two guitars) by Trio Tangere at Guitar Foundation of America 2018 Convention in Louisville KY

June 30th: Four Choral Critters (SATB with piano) by Vox - Farnham Chamber Choir in Farnham, Surrey, England. 

Other things:

I'll be adjudicating the Alberta Piano Teachers' Association Composition Competition.

I wrote an article about Udo, Shalom which will be featured in the June 2018 issue of Alla Breve, the official journal of the Kodaly Society of Canada. 

March and April

Here's what I know about...

March Performances

1st: Three Short Stories (violin and 2 guitars) by Trio Tangere in Waterloo ON

3rd: The Dawn is Not Distant (SSAA chorus with piano) by Elektra Women's Choir in Vancouver BC

6th-9th: The Frosted Pane from Four Poems (orchestra) by UNC Charlotte Chamber Orchestra on their tour of British Columbia

9th: The Dawn is Not Distant by Chapel Singers of the University of Redlands in Redlands CA

10th: The Grail Bird (treble choir) by the Cornell Chorus at the ACDA convention in Pittsburgh PN

16th: The Dawn is Not Distant (SSAA with piano) by Vox Femina at the Pasadena 2018 Western Region Conference in Pasadena CA

17th: Magnificat (mezzo-soprano solo with ten treble parts) by Aqua Lauda in Asturias, Spain

21st: Preach Not Me Your Musty Rules (soprano and piano) by Susan Lines and Sonja Deunsch at a Musical Arts Club Concert here in Ottawa. This is the premiere of this not-so-serious little piece, which is a contemporary-style setting of a poem by Milton.

22nd: In Flanders Fields (SATB chorus) by Vox - Farnham Chamber Choir in Farnham, Surrey, England. 

30th: Magnificat (mezzo-soprano solo with ten treble parts) by Manning Chapel Choir in Wolfville NS

AND: TriO (a flute, horn, and piano ensemble based in Slovenia) has released a CD that includes my Bagatelle

April Performances

13th, 14th: In Flanders Fields (TTBB chorus) by Jamestown Choralaires in Jamestown ND

22nd: Rainstorm (SSA chorus with piano) by Voix de Femmes in Silver Spring MD

27th: The Frosted Pane by UNC Charlotte Chamber Orchestra in Charlotte NC. I will be working with the students and attending the concert.

27th: In Flanders Fields by Jamestown Choralaires in Marshall MN

28th: In Paradisum (SSAATTBB) by Avanti Chamber Singers in St. Catharines ON

29th: Four Choral Critters (SATB with piano) by Bytown Voices in Ottawa ON

January and February


January 6-19: The Grail Bird in Austin, San Antonio, and Houston TX; Baton Rouge and New Orleans LA; and Tallahassee, Tampa, Sarasota, Naples, Miami, and Ft. Lauderdale FL as part of the Cornell Chorus's tour.

January 29: Magnificat in Winnipeg MB by the Canadian Mennonite University Vocal Ensemble as part of the Winnipeg New Music Festival

February 18: Three Short Stories (arranged for flute and two guitars; 1st and 3rd movements) at the Guitar Alla Grande festival in Ottawa ON.


I'm the featured guest in the Winter 2018 edition of Canadian Music Teacher Magazine. Pianist Lori Elder and I discuss childhood projects, pedagogical publications, and other composition adventures. 



Here's what I know about this month:

1st and 2nd: Magnificat (mezzo-soprano soloist with 10 treble parts) - St. John's Boys' Choir in Collegeville MN

3rd: Magnificat  - Princeton University Chapel Choir in Princeton NJ

3rd and 10th: Magnificat - Northwest Chamber Chorus in Seattle WA

9th: Not Roses (soprano and guitar) - Christiane Riel and Louis Trépanier at the OGS Guitar Gala Night

19th: Udo, Shalom (youth choir and youth orchestra) - the premiere of part of a commission by Ottawa's music and social development program OrKidstra in celebration of its 10th anniversary. The text consists of the word peace in thirty spoken languages and seven sign languages. NOTE: This performance has been postponed.

In Flanders Fields (unaccompanied SATB or TTBB chorus) has been recorded on a CD by the Prairie Chamber Choir - the CD will be released this month. I don't yet know what it's called!

This Fragile Web (for SATB chorus with violin and piano) is now available from Cypress Choral Music


I'll be in British Columbia for a little while this month, adjudicating at a Canadian Music Festival in West Kelowna and giving composition workshops in Campbell River.


2nd: In Flanders Fields (unaccompanied SATB) - Vocaal Ensemble Similare in Beveren, Belgium

4th: Hopewell Cape (orchestra: 2222/2200/timp/strings) - the opening number on the opening concert of the Peterborough Symphony Orchestra's season

4th: The Dawn is Not Distant (SSAA chorus with piano) - Texas Woman's University Concert Choir at the closing concert of the NCCO conference in Baton Rouge LA

7th and 11th: Bagatelle (flute, horn, piano) - TriO, first in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and then in Skopje, Macedonia

11th: Magnificat (women's choir) - Tromsø Akademiske Kvinnekor in Tromsø, Norway

11th: Autumn Colours in the Canal (SSAA chorus with piano) - students at the University of Denver

11th and 12th: Candles (unaccompanied SSAATTBB) - DaCapo Chamber Choir in Kitchener-Waterloo ON

12th: In Flanders Fields - choir of Robertson-Wesley United Church, Edmonton AB

12th: March to the Bastion (youth orchestra) - youth orchestra in Kelowna BC

19th and 26th: The Dawn is Not Distant - Vrouwenkamerkoor Cantilare in Tilburg and Hilvarenbeek, Netherlands

24th: Bagatelle - students at the University of Alberta

25th: The Dawn is Not Distant - Oriana Women's Choir in Toronto ON

26th: Not Roses (a new work for soprano and guitar) - Christiane Riel and Louis Trépanier at Memorial University in Saint John's NL (premiere)

29th: first and second movements of Three Short Stories (arranged for flute and two guitars) - students at the University of Ottawa


PLEASE NOTE: all my publications with Frederick Harris Music (i.e. Legends & Lore, Comics & Card Tricks, Jumping in the Mud, Imprints, Sunny Days, Groovin' Through Christmas, Costume Party, Fall Fair, and Get Fiddlin') are being transferred to digital publication. Until they are available in digital form, books can be ordered directly from me. Please contact me for details.

First of all, a bit of pedagogical news: my new reading comprehension series, called Daily Reading, is now available from the Leading Note music store. It consists of six large volumes of reading exercises for piano students in conservatory grades 1 through 6 (each volume contains enough for one academic year of lessons: 35 weeks of exercises, 6 days per week). The series begins by developing the fundamental skill of recognizing and executing written pitches and rhythms; once the fundamentals are in place, the focus gradually evolves to the more complex challenge of transforming a visual representation into a musical experience. Take a look at the Daily Reading page on this site for more information. 

Here are the performances that I've heard about this month:

7th: In Paradisum will be performed at Lawrence University in Appleton WI

21st: A new short piece called Lullaby (for violin and piano) will be premiered by members of the Ottawa Chamber Players (in this case, my sister Catherine Donkin on piano with violinist Sophia Hsiao-Fei Pan) here in Ottawa.

28th: A new choral piece called The Grail Bird will be premiered in Ithaca NY by the Cornell Chorus (commissioned as part of their No Whining, No Flowers project). The text for this composition was constructed from the field notes of ornithologist Melinda LaBranche on the day (back in April 2004) when she saw an ivory-billed woodpecker (which many people had believed was extinct). This piece is scored for on-stage choir, off-stage choir, and speaker. 

And: My choral piece Autumn Colours in the Canal, commissioned and premiered a couple of years ago by the Cantabile Choirs of Kingston ON, is now available from Graphite Publishing


This summer hasn't been as busy as previous summers, but there have been a few events:

I had two pieces performed at the Music and Beyond festival here in Ottawa on July 11th: Maps of Europe from the piano piece The Light That Remains, performed by Order of Canada recipient Dr. Elaine Keillor; and In Paradisum, performed by the Capital Chamber Choir.

Over in Peterborough, Canoe Legends (an orchestral work incorporating a collaboration with Indigenous vocal/percussion ensemble Unity) received its second performance by the  Peterborough Symphony Orchestra at an outdoor festival on July 15th. Most of the funding for this piece came from an Ontario Arts Council grant. 

From July 31st to August 4th, I taught composition and harmony at uOSMA (University of Ottawa Summer Music Academy). At the grand concert the piano faculty performed my new piece for two pianos, eight hands, entitled The Happy Ending.

And there's one more concert coming up that I'm aware of: on August 27th, the Amarok Ensemble will perform my Piano Trio at Festival Pontiac Enchanté in Luskville QC. 

[Update - The Magnificat gets to go to all kinds of places that I will probably never see. It seems that the Western Washington University women's choir performed it in Estonia in June, while Javier Busto's choir, Aqua Lauda, has performed it a number of times in very nice-looking parts of Spain in the reasonably recent past.]

May and June

I don't yet know much about performances in May and June, but most of the ones I do know about are here in Ottawa, which is a little unusual. I'll add events as I hear about them...

May 7: Bytown Voices performed In Flanders Fields at their concert entitled Made in Canada

May 11: The senior string orchestra at Canterbury High School will perform Lacus (for string orchestra and guitar ensemble) with local guitartists

May 12: The junior string orchestra at Canterbury High School will perform a new set which for now is called Suite for Strings

[update: May 13: Kingston Capital Men's Chorus sang In Flanders Fields in Kingston ON]

[update: June 3: Hamilton Children's Choir sang Magnificat in Hamilton ON]

June 4: Aella Choir will perform the Magnificat at a concert entitled Her Voice here in Ottawa.

June 26: Cantus will perform In Flanders Fields in Chautauqua NY.

June 29: A string quartet made up of musicians from the Peterborough Symphony Orchestra will join forces with the Indigenous vocal/percussion ensemble Unity to perform a piece that was co-written by Unity and me, entitled Between the Water and the Sky. This will be performed at an outdoor music festival in Peterborough ON and will also feature dancers, courtesy of Public Energy


My Compositional Devices collection, created at the behest of the Royal Conservatory of Music, is now available on RCM's online Teacher Portal. The collection features a 16-part slideshow series entitled Music Composition from Micro to Macro outlining fundamental concepts, as well as lesson plans, worksheets, and diagrams that music teachers can use, accommodating both theory-based and discovery-based approaches to composing music. Not everything is online yet; I think the missing materials will show up over the next few weeks.

March 31-April 8: The Dawn is Not Distant - Cornell Chorus on their tour of Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia. 

April 1: Three Cummings Settings - soprano Madeleine Lake at a recital in London ON

April 2: Cats & Patterns - Duo Rideau in Sherbrooke QC

April 7: Hopewell Cape - Toronto Symphony Orchestra in Toronto ON as part of the Canada Mosaic Project.

April 8: In Flanders Fields - Symphony of the Kootenays Choir at a choral and symphonic concert in Cranbrook BC entitled "A Vimy Ridge Memorial". 

April 9In Flanders Fields - Concordia Concert Choir in Edmonton AB

April 20: The Guppy and The Llama from Four Choral Critters - Camerata Isla (chamber choir at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi) in College Station TX 

April 20-23: In Flanders Fields -Cantus in Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut.



The Canadian Guitar Quartet got some good reviews of their new CD, Mappa Mundi. My composition for guitar quartet and cello is the title track. A review from guitar magazine Minor 7th called my piece a "powerful and awe-inspiring work" that "makes a striking and unexpected finale to the disc." You can read the full review here.

March 3: In Flanders Fields (unaccompanied TTBB chorus) will be sung in Fort Myers FL by Cantus as part of their season-long tour of a programme entitled No Greater Love Than This.

March 4: A Better Time Will Come (SSAATTBB with soloists) was commissioned and will be premiered in Edmonton AB by i Coristi on their concert entitled Dust to Dust.

March 4, 5: This Fragile Web (SATB with violin and piano) will be performed by DaCapo Chamber Choir in Kitchener-Waterloo ON on their concert entitled Mid-Winter Songs.

March 8: Two of my pieces will be featured on two separate collections of music by female composers (in celebration of International Women's Day): the Magnificat (mezzo-soprano solo with ten treble parts)  will be included on a 24-hour Women in (New) Music Marathon by Second Inversion, "a 24/7 online stream, blog, and community dedicated to rethinking classical music with cross-genre and experimental new works" - and Mappa Mundi can be heard on Classical Discoveries with Marvin Rosen on WPRB (103.3 FM; Princeton NJ). 

March 11: Autumn Colours in the Canal, newly published by Graphite Publishing, will be featured in a reading session at the ACDA conference in Minneapolis MN - I will add this piece to my site very soon. The Dawn is Not Distant (published by Cypress Choral Music) will also be featured in a different session (but I'm not sure what day).

March 12: Trio (for flute, cello and piano) will be performed in Vancouver BC by members of West Coast Chamber Music. If all goes as planned, I will attend this concert!

March 12: Two pieces from The Light That Remains (for solo piano) will be performed by pianist Elaine Keillor at a chamber concert here in Ottawa.

March 12, 13: Cats & Patterns (for piano four hands) will be performed by Duo Rideau at two locations in Toronto ON. 

March 13, 14, 15: Hopewell Cape (for orchestra: 2222/2200/timp/strings) will be premiered in Moncton, Fredericton, and Saint John NB by Symphony New Brunswick. This short piece was a joint commission by Symphony New Brunswick and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra as part of the TSO's Canada Mosaic project. The TSO will be performing it in April. 

March 19: Three pieces from The Light That Remains will be performed by pianist Elaine Keillor in Kanata ON, thus completing the premieres of all six pieces in this set over the 2016-2017 season.

March 22: On the Beach at Night Alone will be premiered by mezzo-soprano Carole Portelance with me at the piano - this will happen here in Ottawa at a Musical Arts Club concert.

Happy New Year

Two choirs are taking In Flanders Fields (TTBB version) on tour in the coming weeks: the Cornell University Glee Club will sing it in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah on their January tour; and Cantus (who never seems to stop touring) will sing it on January 6th, 7th, 29th, February 2nd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 10th, 12th, 15th, 17th and 18th in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Colorado, Arizona, California, Illinois, and Iowa.

January 15th: Cats & Patterns (6 pieces for piano 4 hands) will be performed here in Ottawa as part of St. Luke’s Recital Series.

January 21st: Magnificat will be performed by Belle Canto of Edmonton.

February 4th: My new orchestral composition Canoe Legends, made possible thanks to a grant from the Ontario Arts Councilwill be premiered by the Peterborough Symphony Orchestra. This piece was commissioned in celebration of the orchestra’s fiftieth anniversary, and the concert features author James Raffan (director of the Canadian Canoe Museum) talking about his adventures in the north. My orchestral work portrays scenes from two legends about canoes and incorporates a performance by the Indigenous vocal/drum ensemble Unity. Thanks to a residency grant from the SOCAN Foundation, I will also be spending several days in Peterborough before the performance to work with the musicians and give presentations and workshops to young musicians and elementary and junior high students. 

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CDs: Later this month ATMA Classique will release the Canadian Guitar Quartet’s latest CD, entitled Mappa Mundi – named for my composition Mappa Mundi for guitar quartet and cello (played by cellist Rachel Mercer). The Capital Chamber Choir will also be releasing a CD that includes my In Paradisum.

Other stuff: the Toronto Symphony Orchestra has all kinds of Canada 150 celebrations going on – I’ve got some orchestral premieres coming up in connection with this but will give more information in the next update. 

November and December activities:

Nov. 11thIn Paradisum was performed in Ottawa at a joint concert by the Ottawa Regional Youth Choir and the Capital Chamber Choir.

Nov. 11th: In Flanders Fields was featured on a program called Salute in Song (Classical MPR), sung by Cantus

Nov. 12th: three pieces that were commissioned by the BC Registered Music Teachers’ Association Mid-Island Branch were premiered at a concert of Canadian music in Nanaimo BC. The pieces are: 1) Tubbub, a piano duet that celebrates Nanaimo’s annual bathtub races; 2) March to the Bastion, a piece for student string orchestra (which was named by one of the students); 3) My Heart Soars, a piece for children’s choir and piano with text by Chief Dan George of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation.

Nov. 16th: the Magnificat was performed by the UCSB Women’s Chorus in Santa Barbara CA.

Nov. 20th: three pieces from The Light That Remains (which were premiered last month) were performed again by Elaine Keillor, this time at a concert of Canadian music performed by Dr. Keillor and vocalist Gloria Jean Nagy in Kanata ON.

Nov. 20th again: the Magnificat was performed by the Western Washington University Advanced Women’s Chorus in Bellingham WA.

And Cantus performed In Flanders Fields on November 4th5th6th9th11th, and 13th in Georgia, New Jersey, New York, and Texas.

Dec. 2nd and 11thThe Dawn is not Distant was performed by a women’s choir called Sounding Joy in Stanford KY and then Danville KY.

Dec. 3rd: The Canterbury Trebles, an Ottawa-based women’s choir, sang the Magnificat at Christ Church Cathedral in Montreal QC.