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Composing success

Derek Charke: creating an international stage in rural Nova Scotia

November 21, 2018

Derek Charke is a JUNO and three-time East Coast Music Association (ECMA) award-winning composer and flutist. He has been commissioned by world-renowned artists including the Kronos Quartet, Toronto Symphony, Winnipeg Symphony, and Symphony Nova Scotia. He is also a professor of Composition and Theory in the Acadia School of Music.

Coming to rural Nova Scotia was a big change. He was accustomed to living in large urban centres, having grown up in Vancouver and studied in places like New York City, Dallas, and London, England.

My work as a musician has only expanded exponentially, and I believe a large part of that is having the space and time to work that teaching at Acadia has granted me.”

“It took a little bit of time for it to grow on me, to be frank,” he says. “But now having been here for 13 years, I can really see the value in having this small liberal arts kind of university ­– especially the kinds of lessons that I teach, where we do one-on-one applied lessons with instrumentalists, singers, performers, and composers. I have come to appreciate the smaller class sizes and the slower pace of this area. My work as a musician has only expanded exponentially, and I believe a large part of that is having the space and time to work that teaching at Acadia has granted me.”

“I work closely with my colleagues in curating concerts, creating new works, and producing CDs,” he says. “Particularly with my colleague Mark Hopkins – we created the Acadia New Music Society in 2007. Since then we’ve collaborated on 10 New Music Festivals. We have successfully presented over 50 concerts, including a CBC national broadcast, initiated the creation of four commercial CDs, and hosted multiple composers, musicians, and ensembles. Most of all, we have presented a fantastic collection of Canadian artists over these years.”

Bringing the world to Acadia

Charke believes his role is to bring the outside world of professional music to Acadia. “We have faculty here who are going out and doing things around the world and coming back in, and students are getting that one-on-one or very small classroom instruction with people who are of a calibre you would find at any institution within North America,” he says. “The students have access to world-class instructors in a way you can’t at larger schools. As well, I’ve been able to bring in guest composers and performers who you would typically only find at a large school.”

He’s seen students grow in ways that he thinks a large school doesn’t provide. “I’ve had a good number of really outstanding students, especially in composition, and several of them have earned their PhD in composition. A lot of them are working in the field and being not only productive but successful,” he says. “And that’s a great feeling, to know you’ve been able to have a hand in shaping these people’s lives.”

Working with colleagues here, Charke has completed several CD projects, all partly funded partly through Acadia. “Acadia has been extremely supportive in my creative work and in my professional work outside of here,” he says. “And one exciting project has been funded through a CFI – a Canadian Foundation for Innovation Grant – to set up a new electro-acoustic music studio on campus.” In this studio, 16 speakers are set up in a circle to allow experiments with the idea of sound diffusion and how music is spatialized in a space, as well as new electro-acoustic compositions.

“When I came here, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to continue doing my composing and performing to the level I wanted to, which was international in scope,” he says. “And what I found was quite the opposite. I was given the freedom and encouraged to continue doing my work. And in the time I’ve been here, it still amazes me how much I’ve been able to accomplish.”

In November 2018, Charke was honoured by Arts Nova Scotia with an Established Artist Award. You can learn more about Charke and his performance schedule on his website charke.com.