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B i o g r a p h y

Donald Skirvin was the recipient of The American Prize in Composition for 2020 in the shorter choral works division. He studied music at the Jordan Conservatory of Music, Indianapolis, and at Indiana University, Bloomington. He is a member of ASCAP, and his music is available through J. W. Pepper and as self-published works. In 2013 he was appointed Resident Composer Emeritus for The Esoterics after serving 15 years as Resident Composer for the group during which time he wrote over forty new works for The Esoterics, many of which are recorded and available through Naxos of America. He has received National Endowment for the Arts grants and numerous commissions from local and national ensembles.

He has been deemed “ . . . a leading voice in the contemporary choral scene" (Roger Miller, Professor Emeritus, University of Utah) writing music that 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 . . .” (Critic David Vernier, Classics Today). Writing in the Classical-Modern Music Review, Grego Applegate Edwards says about Stars forever, while we sleep on the Aeonia CD (which also contains I am among them by Eric Banks), “ . . . thoroughly evocative, tonal contemporary offerings beautifully rendered by the choral ensemble . . . Each work has warmth, beauty and a sort of searchingly poetic quality handled beautifully by (The Esoterics).” To date, 15 compositions have been accepted into the Project:Encore catalog of contemporary choral music reviewed and endorsed by a panel of renowned conductors (

Some recent premieres and performances

Premieres in 2021-2022: “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:  “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: "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.


Contact information



In his music career, Donald has served as a conductor, teacher, rehearsal pianist, composer and, of course, as a performer 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. 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 appear to arise almost effortlessly and inevitably from the words themselves.”

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