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, SMP Press, Yelton Rhodes Music, 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. Notable recent premieres include: Canticles of Crimson, a work in five movements setting the poetry of Carl Sandburg, scored for soprano solo, chorus, and piano (Kirkland Choral Society); Winter Peace, A Lullaby, scored for SATB chorus, handbells, and piano, a setting of a poem by the composer (Loft Choir, University Unitarian Church); Winter's Cloak, scored for a cappella women's voices in various divisi, setting a poem of the same name by Joyce Rupp (Vocalise); Fear No More, a work for a cappella SATB voices setting the threnody from Shakespeare’s play Cymbeline (Seattle Pro Musica); 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. Also 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.

Biography picture of Donald M. Skirvin

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 purely instrumental works, he always returns to the human voice and the choral sound.

“I want to create choral pieces whose music is deeply imbued with the words of the poet. For such a piece to be successful and effective, I think the music must arise almost effortlessly and inevitably from the words themselves. Anyone who listens to my music can hear that the soundscape is definitely modern. I value melody in my writing as well as rich and sometimes complex harmonic structures and shifting tonal (and sometimes non-tonal) centers. As I have said to many groups and directors, my music looks easier than it is! I am fond of writing unusual sonorities that tend, I think, to surprise the listener.”