Meet Composer Stephen Chatman!

Phoenix is thrilled to be celebrating Earth Day this year with our Earth Songs concert, for which the vision was cast back in 2019. When the pandemic barred us from hosting our long-awaited concert in 2020, we decided to re-create it as a virtual experience for Earth Day 2021.

When thinking of pieces that were celebratory of our planet and the wonderful gift that nature is to all of us, Stephen Chatman’s Due North quickly came to mind.

Due North is one in a series of four choral suites that explore the beauty and wonder of various regions of North America. Both Chatman’s original texts and those of poet Tara Wohlberg realize the captivating environments of North, South, East, and West. Each of the five pieces within the Due North cycle evokes its subject through stunning word painting.

One of Canada’s most prominent composers, Stephen Chatman (D.M.A, University of Michigan) is Professor of Composition at UBC in Vancouver. A highly decorated composer, he is a multiple Juno nominee and has received many national and international composition accolades.

Because Chatman is local, we reached out to see if he would be willing to share a bit more about Due North with our audience, leading up to the concert and we were honoured that he obliged.

Below is our Q & A.

It’s not everyday we get to actually hear from a composer whose work we are actively rehearsing. Can you tell us what you remember about composing Due North? What inspired the piece and what still pleases you about it now?

It’s hard to remember back more than 30 years. BC wilderness was the inspiration. The song of the varied thrush was a practical idea– quite easy to whistle. Woodpecker is fast– imitative and percussive. The ostinato is a frequent technique. The success of the piece in terms of performances and sheet music pleases me. The set or individual pieces have been performed hundreds of times, unusual for a contemporary work, and audiences seem to be entertained and pleased.

What did/do you hope choirs would experience while learning/performing Due North?

Choristers could imagine for example, BC’s magnificent trees and mountains. The list of trees has much in common with Vancouver street names. Douglas fir is the obvious climax. Mosquitoes is challenging for breathing and tone. Its last gesture draws a smile or laugh.

As we all know, the last year has handed us numerous unprecedented challenges, particularly for choirs. What encouragement do you have for choristers and conductors one year into the pandemic?

Be patient. Every day is one day closer to the end and the beginning of a choral rejuvenation.


Join us on April 22 for Earth Songs for a chance to hear Dr. Chatman’s Due North.

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