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Composer Emeritus

Donald M. Skirvin, 2017


Donald M. Skirvin 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, SheetMusicPlus, Yelton Rhodes Music, and as self-published works. For more information about the composer, his works, upcoming concerts and more, visit

Currently serving as Composer Emeritus for The Esoterics after serving fifteen 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 from 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. Recordings of his original works are available on ten CDs (Visit the Recordings web page on his website for more information. For recordings of complete works and separate movements from larger works on YouTube, click HERE.)

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).”

Notable recent 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); and a premiere in December 2016 of a large-scale work titled 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 three 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 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.”