Category Archives: Composing

The Centre of the Universe Sounds Like This

Music and space.
Telescopes and art.
Science and choir.
Scenery and stars.

Vox in the Stars – A Choral Concert

The air feels alive, moving just quickly enough to remind you of the outdoors. The dome opens to fresh twilight, stars appear, and music fills the space. The huge telescope stands stoically beside the audience, the only instrument not making a sound. Harmony and melody form endless combinations as the voices change.

Vox Humana Chamber Choir (Brian Wismath, director) will perform the award-winning Flame and Shadow as part of their annual Vox in the Stars concerts next month! It all happens at the Observatory Dome just outside of Victoria on September 18 and 20. Vox in the Stars is an annual event, and always amazing.

This is the third year I’ve been a part of these concerts as a composer – 2013 saw the premiere of The Heart of Night, and 2014’s concert featured Compassio. This year’s concert brings Flame and Shadow to life in this inspiring venue at the NRC Centre of the Universe.

Alone in the night on a dark hill
With pines around me spicy and still,

And a heaven full of stars over my head
White and topaz and misty red; …

Vox in the Stars Collage
Photos from the 2013 Vox in the Stars concert.

… Myriads with beating hearts of fire
That aeons cannot vex or tire;

Up the dome of heaven like a great hill
I watch them marching, stately and still,

And I know that I am honored to be
Witness of so much majesty.

– “Stars”, poetry by Sara Teasdale (1884-1933), and text for Flame and Shadow

At the Centre of the Universe

With a name like that, it’s got to be impressive, right? The Observatory Dome is a cathedral-meets-sci-fi-set on a hill where real astronomers have worked since 1918. A National Historic Site of Canada, it sits in a gorgeous location overlooking both Elk and Prospect Lakes on Vancouver Island.

It’s easy to imagine the sound escaping upward through the slit in the dome, as though the huge Plaskett Telescope could direct it back out to the universe, and to friends in all places. Music and stars are two things that give me joy; to bring them together is an inspiration.

Hear It For Yourself

There are only 90 tickets available for each show (it’s a dome, not a hall!), so you’ll need to order in advance.

Click here for tickets.

Click to listen to Vox sing The Heart of Night at the Centre of the Universe in 2013.

ps – I promised myself I’d get to the end of this post without using the word “stellar”.

Travel, Premiere, Prize: It’s Been A Big Month

Sometimes good news comes in threes. Since my last post, I’ve travelled to Washington D.C. and New York, heard a choral premiere, and learned some exciting news. First, the news.

In Sweet Music Wins NewWorks Competition!

DaCapoFinal-copyPC1-300x113DaCapo Chamber Choir selected my new choral piece, In Sweet Musicas the winner of their 2015 NewWorks composition competition! DaCapo is based in Kitchener-Waterloo and directed by Leonard Enns. The choir’s focus is on music written in the last 100 years, and especially Canadian music, which is great news for us composers! The results of the competition were decided by a jury of choral conductors from across Canada, who also awarded an honourable mention to Martin Fairbank of Dorval, QC for his piece How Sweet the Moonlight.

In Sweet Music is an SATB setting of some poetry about the legend of Orpheus from Shakespeare’s play Henry VIII. Here’s part of my written description:

The power of music is really hard to talk about. Shakespeare’s Orpheus poem inspired me to think about how music and inspiration affects me and the people I care about. I hope and imagine that music has the power to change our lives by creating vulnerable experiences together. In this way music helps us have empathy for one another, and this piece is kind of an ode to music.

Music director Leonard Enns had this to say:

“It’s a wonderful, challenging and complex piece, and promises to be wholly satisfying for performers and listeners.  I know it will be deeply rewarding for the choir and the audience.”

You can read more about the choir, the competition, and the piece on DaCapo’s website. I look forward to hearing the premiere performance of In Sweet Music in Kitchener-Waterloo in March 2016!

Flame and Shadow Premiere in Washington D.C.

My wife Heidi and I recently traveled to the East Coast for a much-needed vacation, but also to hear the Six Degree Singers, a community choir in Washington D.C. Director Rachel Carlson led SDS in the first-ever performance of Flame and Shadow (SATB) on May 30. Flame and Shadow won the choir’s composer’s competition earlier this year. It was so rewarding to visit D.C., hear the music, meet everyone, and see the sights!

WashDC Collage


Music Moves In Mysterious Ways

Sometimes people ask what it’s like to hear music I’ve written performed live. I’ll usually say that it’s humbling, that it’s inspiring, and that it’s surreal. And all those things are true.

But the performance in D.C. affected me in a different way – I had written Flame and Shadow during a difficult emotional time last summer, and hearing the choir sing the words “alone in the night” at the end of the piece reminded me of some very dark days. But to hear the sound of the voices turned the whole experience on its head – the joy of music brought the pain into a different context, and as cliche as it may sound, it was kind of like darkness becoming light, expressed in safety, in confidence, and in gratitude. It was a powerful experience.

Thank you all for your support, your emails, and for reading. Drop me a line and let me know how your summer’s going!  I hope to write some more words and music before too long.

Grant Us Peace Returns to Edmonton!

Especially for my Alberta friends

This is where meaningful words meet meaningful music.

This Sunday, May 3, the Edmonton-based community choir Vocal Alchemy will perform my Grant Us Peace (SATB + piano) during their upcoming concert, “Beauty Knows No Discord”. The choir’s website describes the concert this way:

“An eclectic program, with music from the Renaissance period through 2014. Classical, folk, jazz and pop. Featuring pieces composed by Eric Whitacre, Morten Lauridsen, George Shearing, Stephen Chatman, and many more.”


Grant Us Peace was inspired by the struggles and faithfulness of family members dealing with long-term illness. It is a remembrance of good times gone by, and the uncertainty that is always the future. It is personal and heartfelt, and it is my original words and music.

Poetry from a draft of Grant Us Peace.
Poetry from a draft of Grant Us Peace.

Vocal Alchemy’s Choral Assistant, Kimberley McMann, will take the podium with Kim Cousineau at the piano for this performance.

Last summer, Edmonton’s Singspiration Youth Choir (Brian Wismath, clinician) sang Grant Us Peace, which was originally written in 2014 as a commission for Victoria’s Linden Singers. The piece was later published by Cypress Choral Music.

You’re Invited (Concert Details)

If you’re in the Edmonton area, go to this concert!

Vocal Alchemy: Beauty Knows No Discord
Jordan Van Biert, conductor
Kimberley McMann, conductor
Kim Cousineau, piano
Sunday, May 3, 2015; 7:30 pm
McDougall United Church, 10025 101 St, Edmonton, AB
Tickets: $17/15 in advance, $20/18 at the door

Read more about the event on Vocal Alchemy’s website.

See more info about Grant Us Peace at Cypress Choral Music.
See more of my choral scores and listen to recordings.

New Recording: Ar Hyd y Nos Arrangement

I’d like to share this new arrangement!

I know, it’s a bit late for Christmas, but bear with me.

Ar Hyd y Nos (All Through the Night) is a traditional Welsh carol. Written for SATB choir, this was commissioned by Vox Humana (Brian Wismath, director) for three performances back in December. They were kind enough to make this very nice recording after the concerts!

Vox Christmas Stage 2014
Alix Goolden Hall, Victoria, December 2014

Some details: The arrangement begins with 9 bars of humming that can be repeated or omitted as needed. Vox used it as they walked on stage – great way to start a concert. The song has three verses. The first two are set identically as a repeat, except for a brief soprano descant in the second verse. The third verse is more involved, with some divisi and more extended harmonies. Overall, a medium difficulty arrangement, but I think it would be no problem for many community choirs.

To read the score while you listen, click the link:
Ar Hyd y Nos (All Through the Night)

Or listen using the Soundcloud window below.

Every Concert Is A Surprise Party

Hearing my music performed live is surreal.
Kind of like a birthday party. But with less cake.

From my vantage-point in the audience, I’m a little nervous – but without the anxiety that can come with performing. It’s more like excitement, because all the effort – writing confusing sketches, shaping those sketches into a draft, editing those drafts into something clear, and handing over the score to someone who will interpret and practice and lead others in their practicing and interpreting – is finally going to materialize in the open air.

And who knows what will happen then??

De Profundis sketch
Pretty clear, right? An early sketch of De Profundis.

Surprise Party

The strangest moment of the concert happens to me after the piece is over. After that little moment of silence, when my adrenaline is in full force, and the applause begins. The conductor steps aside during the applause, and then points to me, “David Archer (1985 – )”, which is how I’m known in the program. Because to be alive and also present at a classical music concert is a rare feat for a composer. It’s worth a remark.

Then there is some creaky shifting in pews as the audience looks around to see who they are now clapping for. It’s the guy who’s stood up to clap back at the choir from the middle of the hall to say thank you. Some people are startled to be sitting next to him.

It always feels like a surprise party, but in reverse. Because I’m the surpriser. It’s so sneaky, and it works every time.

Recent Concerts

I got to attend two important concerts recently in Vancouver:

De Profundis (Out of the depths…)

On March 21, Oculus Chamber Choir (Ben Ewert, director) sang the premiere of De Profundis, a setting of Psalm 130/129 in English and Latin. This was a gorgeous concert of choral laments, with sacred music dating back to the 16th Century. To lament is to be human.

De Profundis Premiere 10422252_1813989085493224_108358199603226174_n


And then on March 29, Brian Wismath led a quartet presented by Vox Humana (the amazing Kirsten Birley, Stephanie Sartore, Carman J. Price, and Stephen Bélanger) in The Little Match Girl Passion. Compassio served as a prelude to the longer work. This extremely skilled group of singers gave a moving performance of my piece for choir, singing one on a part. It was a privilege to hear this!

Compassio March 2015IMG_5290

Scores and info about these two pieces are available here:
De Profundis
More choral music

Read more about the choirs here:
Oculus Chamber Choir
Vox Humana Chamber Choir

Thanks for reading the blog. Next time I’ll share a new recording with you!