Kamloops Symphony treated Shuswap classical music lovers to an aural feast.
Called Romantic Elements, the season opener, held at the United Church on Friday, Sept. 27, featured works by Mendelsshon, Tchaikovsky and Salmon Arm composer Jean Ethridge.
The concert opened with the premiere of Ethridge’s Four Elements for Orchestra – Earth, Air, Fire and Water.
Kamloops Symphony musical director Dina Gilbert introduced the piece, describing how delighted she was to discover Ethridge and her compositions online at Canadian Music Centre, and her willingness to write the Four Elements for an orchestra.
“When Dina gave me the opportunity I was happy to accept,” Ethridge says, noting the Elements, including wood and metal, were written separately during the 1990s, with Air winning first prize in the Canadian Federation of Music Teachers’ Association competition. “I wrote Air first in 1990 and continued to write more because I thought it would be good to have a group.”
In her introduction to Ethridge’s work, Gilbert stressed how fitting the music is considering the state of the planet.
“When I wrote them, I didn’t have a climate emergency in mind, it was more the basic characteristic of these elements,” says Ethridge. “As Dina said, sometimes composers are ahead of their time so her making reference to climate change is quite appropriate.”
Ethridge’s musical talent was evident very early on.
Her parents had a piano and when she was tiny, before she could walk, Ethridge would pull herself up on leg of the piano bench and say “pano Mummy, panno Mummy.”
“I would compose little tunes,” she says simply. “I just think I was born with a gift.”
Ethridge started playing by ear and began to play seriously at the age of 11, with Helen Dahlstrom, whom she describes as a wonderful and nationally known teacher.
Heeding her mother’s advice, Ethridge postponed university for a year in order to earn her ARCT in piano performance and teaching from the Royal Conservatory.
Having acquired the prestigious accreditation, Ethridge studied piano performance at UBC for three years whereupon she switched streams and graduated in composition.
Ethridge has achieved much in her career and garnered acclaim for her work.
Among her many credits, Ethridge studied at the Royal College of Music in London, England, was commissioned to compose ‘The Mass of St. Joseph’ for Victoria’s Christ Church Cathedral, was composer in residence at Studio Musica in Quebec and is an associate composer of the Canadian Music Centre.
Her inspiration comes in many forms – sometimes in dreams, sometimes while she is improvising on her piano and sometimes through nature or poetry.
“It’s not always easy to compose; the fun part is getting ideas, but the notating is what my teacher used to call donkey work,” she says of getting her compositions onto paper. “I have always composed at the piano because I seem to think through my fingers, the sounds I hear I can create with my fingers on the piano.”
Ethridge says she was ecstatic to hear the pieces performed because when she is composing them she is hearing them in her mind but not yet in reality.
“I was relieved as well as ecstatic that the music sounded the way I hoped it would,” she says, noting the orchestra played phenomenally well. “I was so pleased with the positive reaction from the audience and the players. I had many people come to me after to thank me for wiring such beautiful music and that was very gratifying.”