“…the first-time listener needs an experience … they need to feel like there’s a journey and they need their dopamine (smiling) … you can get that through familiarity and you can get that through exploration and if a piece has both then you’re onto something…”
~Tobin Stokes, composer
So that’s how to compose. Tobin Stokes is a composer from British Columbia (Canada) – originally from Powell River, now living and working in Victoria. His compositions span a wide range of genres: opera, TV and film, choral, orchestral, chamber, ballet and the list goes on.
I was fortunate to meet him and chat with him (even got to sit beside him!) in a concert at the Emily Carr House in Victoria last month. We were there for an intimate concert in the parlor (small, crowded, almost claustrophobic) of the house where painter Emily Carr grew up. The string quartet that bears her name was performing a few selections from “Stories from Klee Wyck” by Tobin Stokes. Several things struck me about him: he arrived at the venue on bicycle (this is Victoria after all – so very different from Calgary), he’s almost my age and has a lot to show for it but looks a lot younger, and he’s just a really friendly guy.
Klee Wyck – which means “the laughing one” – was the name given to Emily Carr by the First Nations people of Ucluelet, which is on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Not only a renowned painter, Carr was also a writer. Her first book, titled Klee Wyck, received the Governor General’s award for general non-fiction in 1941.
Stokes combined the narration of some of Carr’s writings with movements for orchestra, string quartet and mezzo-soprano. We heard a few for string quartet. He has a beautiful style – exactly what he said in the quote above, which was taken from an interview about another composition. There were lyrical, tonal sections reminiscent of late romantic music among more adventurous moments. It was that beautiful combination of familiarity and exploration that is obviously working well for him. A lovely way to spend a glorious afternoon in Victoria.
Ave Maria, an a capella choral piece, by Tobin Stokes:
Click here for the Emily Carr String Quartet website. (Proud disclosure moment: the second violinist is my brother)