Interview with Composer of the Month: Stephen Chatman

Stephen Chatman
Stephen Chatman

Revered as one of Canada’s most prominent composers, Dr. Stephen Chatman is the first Canadian to ever be short-listed in the Masterprize International Competition. This award-winning composer is recognized internationally and widely sought-after for commissions across the globe.

  1. How did you get involved in music?

    As a toddler, I began to sing before learning to speak; I have been involved in music as long as I can remember.

  2. What drew you to composing?

    I have always loved music and, like all children, had a vivid imagination and an urge to create. At about the age of 7, I began to compose by augmenting or changing the piano music I was learning. This led to short written original pieces and eventually, as a teenager, to longer pieces for various media.

  3. Our catalog includes music from you in a variety of genres. From piano to choral to orchestra and band, even opera, you’ve done it all. Do you find yourself using different approaches or processes when you compose for different genres? Do you have a favorite genre to write for?

    My approach to vocal or choral music varies from my approach to instrumental music. In vocal music, the text, as a starting point, strongly affects inspiration and the creative process. In general, my process is intuitive and unpredictable. Creativity is like magic–  I don’t really understand it– I just try to relax and flow with the muses. When the process is working, the work itself often dictates a path, informing me of what it needs or what comes next. Although not necessarily my favorite genre, composing choral music seems most natural for me. But I also love to compose chamber and orchestral music.

  4. Where do you look to find inspiration for new works?

    Actually, I find it more productive not to search for inspiration. In the creative process, I try to relax, remove extraneous thoughts from my mind, and let creativity consume me. Of course, this is easier said than done, especially in the initial stages. Improvisation at the keyboard can cure a creative block.

  5. You have been Professor of Composition at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada since 1976. How do you balance life as a professor while still finding time to write music?

    Teaching and composing are a balance just as teaching is a two way street. Composition students are influenced not only by their composition teachers but also by each other. As a composition teacher, I have always been influenced by my composition students, many of whom are exceedingly talented. Some have established impressive careers as composers. The creative environment and musical community are also critical. I have been able to balance teaching and composing for more than 40 years, although naturally, my productivity increases during university recesses.

    Stephen Chatman & wife Tara Wohlberg
  6. What can you be found doing when you’re not teaching or composing?

    I have various interests and hobbies. Most importantly, I enjoy spending time with my wife and family. We enjoy socializing and traveling– most recently a safari in Tanzania! I’m a huge sports fan, especially NFL or CFL football and NHL hockey. History is another passion. After my retirement from teaching, I am thinking of learning to cook.

  7. Is there any recent or upcoming news you wish to highlight?

    I look forward to the release this year of several Centrediscs/Naxos new recordings or re-issued recordings of my music. Upcoming projects include a major commission for the Upper Canada Singers in Toronto. I also plan to compose another book of piano etudes and to return to composing art songs.

Click here to learn more about Stephen Chatman.

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