Derek Charke, Assistant Professor, Acadia University
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Dr. Derek Charke

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Assistant Professor

Acadia University
15 University Ave. Box 87
Wolfville , Nova Scotia B4P 2R6

Company Description: Acadia University, in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, has long been recognized as one of Canada's premier undergraduate institutions. It is ranked Canada's best overall...   more

Employment History

Board Memberships and Affiliations


  • Bachelor , Composition
    University of North Texas
  • Master , Flute
    State University of New York
  • Doctorate , Composition
    State University of New York
  • Master , Composition
    Royal Academy of Music


  • Derek Charke is emerging as a powerful and original voice on the Canadian musical landscape. His recently commissioned works for the internationally renowned Kronos Quartet have been performed around the world, including Carnegie Hall and the Vienna ...
199 Total References
Web References
Acadia University School of Music, 23 April 2014 [cached]
Derek Charke Acadia University School of Music
Derek Charke Associate Professor
Derek Charke is a composer, a flutist, and an associate professor of music at Acadia University in Nova Scotia.
Dr. Charke's music is recognized as an important and original contribution to the Canadian music scene. He won the 2012 JUNO award for 'classical composition of the year' for his work Sepia Fragments.
Derek Charke is Co-Director of the Annual Acadia New Music Festival Shattering the Silence, an associate composer of the Canadian Music Centre, and a member of the Canadian League of Composers. In 2010 Derek was a Distinguished Guest Composer at the Winnipeg New Music Festival, and a Guest Composer for the 2010 Newfound Music Festival. He has received grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, Nova Scotia (Communities, Culture and Heritage), SOCAN Foundation, CBC Radio, Radio Canada, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association (Esa-Pekka Salonen, Music Director), the National Flute Association, the Canadian Music Centre, the Radio Starmaker Fund, and the British Columbia Arts Council, among others. As well, What do the Birds Think? garnered a special mention from the Kubik Prize, and his work Xynith won him a BMI student composer award in New York City.
Derek is also a professional flutist. He earned his Masters degree in flute performance from SUNY Buffalo where he studied with the late Cheryl Gobbetti Hoffman. Recent performances have included improvisatory work with ensembles like subText in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He continues to freelance where and when time permits.
Derek Charke
Home / Magazine / Featured articles ..., 29 Oct 2013 [cached]
Home / Magazine / Featured articles / Derek Charke
Derek Charke
Derek Charke is irresistibly attracted to the North. In 2006 he found himself in the Yukon, dogsledding with the Kronos Quartet. For a composer with a love of the Arctic it doesn't get better, or more surreal, than this. A few days earlier he had been in a Whitehorse hotel room where Kronos was rehearsing Cercle du Nord III, which they had commissioned from him. Walking into that first rehearsal was a pivotal moment for the thirty-one-year-old composer. After a few days of intense work with the quartet, as well as just hanging out with them in the Arctic, Charke found them to be so open and so intent on seeking out the very heart of his music that he realized they and he were kindred spirits. The Arctic is by no means the sole inspiration or single subject of Charke's music. Among the many components that contribute to his individual voice is his persistent refusal to label himself with a single style or language. A winner of the 2012 Juno Award for Classical Composition of The Year for Sepia Fragments, a string quartet commissioned by the St. Lawrence String Quartet, Charke is also an accomplished flutist and a professor of composition. But during time spent studying in North Texas, Buffalo, London, and The Netherlands, and now living in Nova Scotia, Charke has kept returning in body and mind to the Far North. He first visited the North in 1994 on a road trip with his twin brother, during summer break. The main point of the trip was simply to get away, but something in the vastness and remoteness of the Arctic took hold of him. When he returned to undergraduate studies at the University of North Texas, he carried those impressions with him, along with a subscription to The Inuvik Drum, a weekly newspaper. After graduating from North Texas and before beginning a masters in flute performance at SUNY in Buffalo, Charke returned to live in the Arctic. This time he could appreciate more of the idiosyncrasies that are often overshadowed by the mythology of the place, and which had become evident when he had read the Inuvik Drum back in Texas. The paper had a regular feature-"like a tabloid has its cover girl page," he chuckles. "But the Inuvik paper featured the 'traffic accident of the week.'" Such quirky anomalies of the North-which, after all only, make it more like anywhere else-were gradually becoming a part of his larger, more complex picture of the Arctic. And this only intensified its allure for him. There were many moments while living in Inuvik when he felt he never wanted to leave. But he also knew that his studies were not done, and if he was to become a professional composer and flutist, he could not stay there.
This "extends beyond pitch material itself," Charke insists. It is a somewhat elusive process through which, in composing, you try to find the idea that clashes in just the right way with the other musical materials that make up the piece. "If you have a pre-compositional plan, you have to introduce the wrong note, or something quirky. This keeps the piece vibrant. As a listener, you never know if what you anticipate is going to fulfill itself. That wrong note might be the Damascus moment in that piece." During his trips to the North, Charke had come across Inuit throat singing. Throat singing's rhythmic complexity-within-simplicity suited his musical language, and the deep, guttural expressiveness of it offered great dramatic promise. It was during his time at SUNY that he finally had the opportunity to join his love of the North with his composing.
He asked Charke to meet him in Waterloo, where Kronos was giving a concert. "I drove down and met him in an Indian restaurant," Charke describes.
In this, his first experience of field recording, Charke ran into some difficulties. "From being there, I had always thought it was very quiet," he says.
This points to a subtle but consistent undercurrent in Charke's work. We are all struck, as Charke was, by the Arctic's mythology, the picture of a vast, unblemished, empty expanse of ice and snow. But reality is not experienced on this mythic level. The recordings could not block out the noise, so noise became a part of the music. Charke also points to the cultural ambiguities that a more idealized treatment of the subject might tune out. "There's nothing that different about kids growing up in these places versus the rest of Canada," he insists. "All the younger generation want to be a part of what's happening everywhere else. And so this whole mythology of what I originally thought of as the North, versus the reality of what it actually is, that's what I particularly found striking; and it stems back to that first time I went back to Inuvik to start recording the sounds and saw that this is actually the reality of what the North is right now. There's still this mythology, but they're in the twenty-first century as much as we are. It was interesting for me to make that connection early on. And then when I'm composing and thinking about the place, that's something that really comes into my thought process." Having a multifaceted appreciation of the North, Charke does not simply paint a descriptive landscape. In spite of using site-specific recordings, some of which evoke imagery, and using cultural references like throat singing, what he composes is not representational. He is true to his word as an avowed writer of absolute music. He uses these referential sounds as pure musical materials, and he molds them, connects them, chisels away at them like a sculptor. In fact, he is prone to compare his method to sculpting-ideas being like clay or stone, which he reshapes until the work is extracted from them. In the wind-blown opening of Kronos-commissioned Cercle du Nord III-the sounds of dogs barking their complaints into the bleak cold air-the listener feels like he or she is being placed in a scene; but after a minute, with the entrance of the quartet, the pictorial clarity of the scene is blown apart by the hacking sound of open strings and blasted away by a throat-song-like locomotive. This is a purely musical event, not part of a programmatic narrative. As the work continues along through Charke's distinctively dramatic twists and turns, it might suggest here and there that we are situated "somewhere," but only because the sounds do, after all, come from somewhere, lending themselves to a trompe-d'oreille effect, suggesting a location, and perhaps a narrative. In 2006 David Harrington met with Charke and reported how happy the quartet was with Cercle du Nord III.
Charke admits that Tundra Songs is a more idealized take on the North: the extraneous noise, the sonic grit, which he used in Cercle du Nord III, is missing. "I think you hear the skidoo only once in Tundra Songs," Charke says.
"Tundra Songs is a very personal work for me," says Charke. "Even this summer, when I was in Pond Inlet, I didn't want to return south again. I know this is a strange thing, but I really do like being in the North, and the Far North in particular. There's something about the location, the people, and the culture that resonates with me. Tundra Songs, I believe, expresses my own emotions of being in that place." It is clear that his experiences with the Kronos Quartet in Whitehorse marked a turning point for Derek Charke, but Tanya Tagaq made a significant impact of her own.
There are differences and similarities between Charke the composer and Tagaq the throat singer that make for a powerful combination.
In the soundscape, Charke uses vocal samples of Tagaq along with his usual collection of field recordings from the North, as well as sounds that he produced by- among other tricks-rubbing pieces of styrofoam together.
Charke uses Tagaq's recorded improvisations both as musical material and as a structural template.
Often Charke likes to think of his own process as a single thread from beginning to end.
Charke spent three days working on five minutes of the recorded Nanook improvisation, trying to line up all the musical material with the multilayered interplay of rhythmic, melodic, and metric development between her two improvised tracks.
Derek Charke is hooked on sound. The Arctic speaks to him, sings to him, through sound. He captures those sounds in field recordings, and, through his music, allows the North to speak to his audience. "I love to work with these sounds. I love to hear them. And I hope it comes across in the music that I really care."
Audio: Nanook of the North (Excerpt from the soundscape, 2012). Composed by: Tanya Tagaq and Derek Charke.
Image: Derek Charke, courtesy of the artist.
Acadia University School of Music, 23 April 2014 [cached]
Derek Charke - Associate Professor
Acadia University ~ Acadia Full News Page, 1 Mar 2012 [cached]
Dr. Derek Charke
Acadia composer nominated for Juno Award
Acadia music professor, Dr. Derek Charke, is nominated for a 2012 Juno Award for Classical Composition of the Year.
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