Christopher Marshall

chris-2.jpgI live in the beautiful city of Orlando, Florida in the United States of America. Since August 2006 have held the honorary position of Composer in Residence at the University of Central Florida, and, as of autumn 2009 I am also Adjunct Professor of Composition there. I have been a freelance composer now for around fifteen years.

I am a New Zealander, born in Paris, France. I received my early music education in New South Wales, Australia and in Wellington, New Zealand.

I hold a Masters Degree in Music with Honours but am largely self taught as a composer. This has allowed me to develop a consistent personal style. While my music has evolved greatly over the years, this has been a broadening and deepening process rather than any substantial change of direction.

The foundation of my style is a strong belief that music is primarily a means of expressive communication with an audience. Singable, memorable melody coupled with a subtle use of the tonal harmonic system is a valuable resource. However if music is to communicate on more than an ephemeral level, especially after repeated hearings, the melodic and harmonic elements must be integrated into a convincing structure. I believe instrumentation must be part of this structure, not an afterthought.

Among the giants of the past, Bach and Brahms have had the most discernible influence on my music. Contemporary composers with whose work I feel an affinity include John Corigliano, John Tavener, John Adams and Arvo Pärt. My study of serial technique has been useful in determining the structure and texture of some of my music, and less frequently in matters of melody and harmony.

I have always been fascinated by the power and intensity of Maori chant. Over the years I have found elements of this music appearing as part of my musical vocabulary, usually on a superficial level as in certain melodic turns of phrase and in a particular choice of instrumental tone colour, but sometimes as a significant influence on the very structure of a piece. Likewise the rhythms and forms of other Polynesian music continue to make their mark. I spent three of the most inspiring – and difficult – years of my life in Western Samoa, mostly inland at Vaia’ata in Savai’i. It is not surprising therefore that this very strange and beautiful country should have left its mark on my psyche.

Two of the most rewarding experiences of my career were my 16 months (from August 1996) on a Fulbright Scholarship as Composer in Residence at the Eastman School of Music in New York, and two years (1994-5) as the University of Otago’s ‘Mozart Fellow’ in the picturesque South Island city of Dunedin. Both were wonderful opportunities that saw many performances of my music and contributed significantly to my growth as a composer. My residency here at UCF is also important to me. It is wonderful to be in an environment where my contribution as a composer is appreciated. And it was indeed a great honour to be appointed Composer Not In Residence with the wonderful San Francisco Choral Artists for 2009-10. Under the leadership of their inspired and inspiring conductor Magen Solomon they have been premiering and commissioning my music for over ten years now!

One qualification that is especially important to me is my Fellowship in Composition from Trinity College, London, gained in 1986. In the assessment of the College my music ‘exhibits a considerable gift in utilising traditional materials of musical expression in fresh and inventive ways’. This is a testimonial I prize. Sometimes the single-minded pursuit of originality severs too many links with the past. Without existing music as a reference point, communication may be lost. By the same token, a composer who restricts himself to the techniques and aesthetics of the past is irrelevant. The challenge, as I see it, is to produce music that is recognisably of our time, yet also timeless.

Recently I was honoured to be the subject of two articles in distinguished music publications. The first appeared in the pre-eminent European wind magazine Clarino.print in 2005. The first part is biographical and the second is an analysis of one of my most successful pieces to date ‘L’homme armé: Variations for Wind Ensemble’.

The second article is from the January 2007 edition of the International Choral Bulletin, published by the International Federation of Choral Music based in France. Editor Jutta Tagger has kindly given me permission to enclose this article. It focusses on the composition of ‘U Trau’ my piece for choir and two wind bands.