Last year, music majors in the School of Arts, Media and Culture at Trinity Western University competed to have a composition written especially for them by their dean, David Squires.
Fourth-year harpist Esther Cannon was the winner, and the result is Wave After Wave, a concerto for harp and orchestra premiering April 5 and 6 as part of TWU’s Festival of the Arts, Media and Culture.
Squires, who lives in Abbotsford, wrote the piece during a sabbatical leave in 2012. It is his seventh collaboration with university student performers, and the second concerto to feature a student.
“When musicians work with a living composer who’s right in front of them, they can ask you why you wrote the piece a certain way, and you can make changes as you go,” said Squires.
“That’s what music is — a living thing that exists between a composer, performer, and audience.”
This co-creation suits Squires well, as his passion lies in not only teaching music to students but also experiencing it with them.
“Composing music is a wonderful and mysterious process: you’re not always in control of the piece,” he said.
“Sometimes you put the notes on the page and dictate what they do; other times you find that, because of the nature of those notes, they ask for a certain treatment, and you have to listen to that. The piece speaks back to you.”
The title of the piece was inspired by the island of Iona, a Celtic community and centre of Christian missionary activity in Scotland from the seventh century onwards.
Having traveled there in recent years, Squires was also inspired by its landscape.
“I was impressed with how bleak the island is; the shores are constantly being beaten by wind and wave. But when the sun comes out on white sandy beaches beneath clear blue skies, it becomes a hauntingly gorgeous place,” he said.
Squires describes Wave After Wave as evoking several images. It speaks to the shores of this tiny island, the wave-after-wave of missionary efforts that originated there, and even waves of tourists and pilgrims who visit in modern times.
“It also works really well with how the harp, in particular, is played. There is an ebb and flow in the music I’ve written for Esther,” he explained.
Cannon, a Langley resident and experienced solo harpist, was thrilled to win the competition and especially values her time playing with the orchestra.
“It’s excellent for a musician’s development because you learn to work as a team,” she said.
Wave After Wave, will be featured in two orchestral performances this week: Friday, April 5 at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Langley, and Saturday, April 6 at Peace Lutheran Church in Abbotsford.
The full program, shared between the university’s Orchestra and Concert Band, features music ranging from Vaughan Williams and Copland to Gershwin and Tchaikovsky. Both performances begin at 7:30 p.m.
Admission is by donation ($10 suggested). More information is available at twu.ca/samc.