B i o g r a p h y
Donald M. Skirvin studied music at the Jordan Conservatory of Music, Indianapolis, and Indiana University, Bloomington. He is a member of ASCAP, and his music is available through J. W. Pepper and as self-published works. He was recently awarded The American Prize for 2020 in composition.
In 2013 he was appointed resident composer emeritus for the Seattle-based a cappella ensemble The Esoterics after serving 15 years as composer in residence for the group. He has written over forty new works for The Esoterics, many of which are recorded and available through Naxos of America. He has received three National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grants to write works for The Esoterics and has received numerous commissions from both local and national ensembles. Pacific Northwest choruses and choruses around the US and abroad have recorded and performed his music.
Premieres in 2021-2022 include: “Lord, it is night” that sets a prayer from A New Zealand Prayer Book, scored for men’s voices and organ (The Compline Choir of St. Mark’s Cathedral, Seattle); “When All Falls Silent” that sets the poem of the same name by Charles Anthony Sylvestri, scored for a cappella SATB voices (Utah Chamber Artists); “Songs for Genie,” three songs that set poetry by the composer, Carl Sandburg, and William Blake, scored for treble choir and piano (Seattle Girls Choir); and “Sandburg Songs” that sets poetry by Carl Sandburg in three movements, scored for SATB voices, string orchestra, and piano (Utah Chamber Artists). Instrumental works recently composed and recorded or performed include “Topaz Nocturne” and “Habañera Variations” for clarinet and piano.
Premieres in 2019 - 2020 include: “Canticles of Crimson,” a work in five movements that sets the poetry of Carl Sandburg, scored for soprano solo, chorus, and piano (Kirkland Choral Society); “Winter Peace, A Lullaby” that sets a poem by the composer, scored for SATB chorus, handbells, and piano (Loft Choir, University Unitarian Church); “Winter's Cloak” that sets a poem of the same name by Joyce Rupp, scored for a cappella women's voices, (Vocalise); “Unseen Buds” that sets poetry by Walt Whitman, scored for soprano soloist and piano; and “Fear No More” that sets the threnody from Shakespeare’s play Cymbeline, scored for a cappella SATB voices (Seattle Pro Musica).
Earlier premieres include: "Curve of Gold," a setting in four movements of Sara Teasdale poems scored for soprano solo, chorus, and piano (Seattle Choral Company); "Winter Scenes," a setting in four movements of poems by Bliss Carmen and scored for eight-part chorus, string orchestra, and piano (Utah Chamber Artists); "Wintertide," scored for double chorus (Seattle Choral Company and the Ancora women’s chamber choir), string orchestra, and piano. This three-movement work uses texts as chronologically diverse as quatrains in Latin by the Roman poet Horace; a sixteenth-century poem by the Englishman, Thomas Campion; lines from Longfellow's poem, “Woods in Winter;” and a meditation on the winter season by the Canadian poet, Carman Bliss. In December 2016, The Esoterics presented an all Skirvin/Teasdale concert (TEASDALE: Across the endless spaces) featuring 18 a cappella works written for The Esoterics that included 3 premieres funded in part by an ArtsWA grant from Washington state.
In his music career, Donald has served as a conductor, teacher, rehearsal pianist, composer and, of course, as a singer in many groups. His love of the voice is reflected in his output, which is largely choral. Although he has written instrumental works, he always returns to the human voice and the choral sound. Music critic David Vernier, writing for Classics Today, said that Donald’s work “. . . is rich in imagery wrought by imaginative use of harmony and apt, sensitive text-setting. And it's also just plain gorgeous music that speaks well for this composer's facility with voices.”
About choral composition, Donald says, “I want to create choral pieces whose music is deeply imbued with the voice of the poet. For such pieces to be successful and effective, I think the music must arise almost effortlessly and inevitably from the words themselves.”