I’m rare among composers in that my instrument is voice. Historically many composers have been pianists but I can barely play—but I actually studied Voice Performance at the University of Toronto and am a half-decent singer. (Samuel Barber is the only other singer-composer of note that I’m really aware of.)
When I was young, I told myself that I would be like Chopin, and focus on composing exclusively for the instrument I knew best (for him:the piano, for me: vocal music). I imagined becoming the world’s best vocal music composer just as a result of my focus and specificity.
In reality I’ve ended up writing for all kinds of instruments and ensembles. I love writing for orchestra, and I’m still working through writing sonatas for all solo orchestra instruments.
But there is still a soft spot in my heart for solo vocal music, and more recently I’ve put my attention and my hand to writing in one form I was always drawn to as a performer: the song cycle.
A “song cycle” is just a collection of songs that are designed to be performed together as a group, unified by some kind of theme. Famous song cycles include Dichterliebe by Robert Schumann, and Die schöne Müllerin by Franz Schubert.
When I returned in earnest to writing music again after a hiatus, one of the first things I wrote that I was really proud of was a song cycle – my Bleach Cycle, written for my friend Glynis. Inspired by that accomplishment, I’ve been writing cycles for other singer friends.
This eventually led to writing a “big deal piece” – Lavender Fields, a song cycle for which I also wrote the words, related to my experiences living with cancer. But that subject needs its own article.
Here are the song cycles I’ve finished so far: