In 2001 the Singers began a tradition—premiering a new Canadian composition specially commissioned for the Peterborough Singers choir in celebration for the life of James Birrell, the young son of the Singers’ Artistic Director Syd Birrell who had passed away a year earlier. That year, the Singers presented a beautiful piece entitled “A House in Heaven” – by Paul Halley.
The next season, the choir premiered Norman Reintamm’s “In Bethlehem.” Reintamm, who is currently the Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Cathedral Bluffs Symphony Orchestra, has numerous choral compositions to his credit. More recently (in July 2011), the Peterborough Singers presented his setting of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis at York Minster in England, where it was invited to sing evensong and other choral services for a week.
The tradition continues. At the November 2011 Carols With Brass concert, the choir premiered another newly commissioned Len Ballantine piece: “Night of the Magi.” And the trilogy was completed in 2014, when “Night of the God-Child” saw its debut at a Christmas concert featuring Ballantine’s various compositions and arrangements.
The Peterborough Singers regularly commissions other sorts of choral compositions from well-known Canadian composers as well. In recent years, the choir has been privileged to commission and premiere works by Stephen Chatman, Paul Halley, and Mark Sirett. Through the creation of these new choral works, we are enriching the choral repertoire in Canada. The commissions are usually introduced to the choir in workshops with the composer, who rehearses the piece with us, communicating how the music can best be presented. Then the piece premieres at one of our concerts, creating musical history and putting Peterborough on the choral map.
Stephen Chatman “How Still It Is”
Commissioned in 2008 for the Singers 15th anniversary, this composition is based on the Archibald Lampman poem “Solitude.”
How still it is here in the woods. The trees
Stand motionless, as if they do not dare
To stir, lest it should break the spell.
The air Hangs quiet as spaces in a marble frieze.
Even this little brook, that runs at ease,
Whispering and gurgling in its knotted bed,
Seems but to deepen with its curling thread
Of sound the shadowy sun-pierced silences.
Sometimes a hawk screams or a woodpecker
Startles the stillness from its fixèd mood
With his loud careless tap. Sometimes I hear
The dreamy white-throat from some far-off tree
Pipe slowly on the listening solitude
His five pure notes succeeding pensively.
Lampman has a connection to the Peterborough region: his family moved to Gore’s Landing in the Rice Lake district in 1867, when Lampman was six, and he came to know the Strickland sisters: Susanna Moodie and Catharine Parr Traill.
Stephen Chatman was the perfect composer to set Lampman’s evocative words to music. His choral compositions (e.g., Due North and Voices of the Earth) “reflect the geographical character and musical traditions” of Canada and show a particular affinity for the sounds of nature. According to the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada, his music is always “warmly received by critics and the public alike, eliciting adjectives such as ‘shimmering,’ ‘evocative,’ ‘eclectic,’ and ‘compelling.’” Contact the office for more information.