The Canadian Music Centre joins with the Canadian music community, in particular in the Toronto region, to mourn the loss of Associate Composer Derek Holman. Dr. Holman died in Ottawa on May 20, 2019 at the age of 88.
Dr. Holman was born on May 16, 1931 in Cornwall, England, and eventually studied at the Royal Academy of Music. Though he received no formal instruction as a composer, he was awarded three composition prizes while a student. His many academic honors include a Doctorate of Music from the University of London and Fellowships with the Royal College of Organists and Royal Academy of Music. He was also awarded the Order of Canada, and received an honorary Doctorate of Sacred Letters from Trinity College in the University of Toronto.
Throughout his life Dr. Holman served as a composer, teacher, choir-master, and organist. His career as a teacher began with two years as a sergeant-instructor in the British Army of the Rhine, followed by positions at the Westminster Abbey Choir School and the Royal School of Church Music. In 1965 he moved with his family to Canada, and in 1967 was appointed to the University of Toronto’s Department of Theory and Composition where he mentored countless students over his 31 years in the position.
Dr. Holman’s compositions are best known to the choral community, as his output ranged from hymn arrangements to full-scale oratorios. His works were commissioned by organizations including the CMC, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, the Toronto Children’s Chorus, the Aldeburgh Connection, and many others. As a choir-director and organist, Dr. Holman held positions at Anglican churches in England and Canada, and conducted the Canadian Children’s Opera Chorus from 1975-85.
Praised for his “wide palate of colour” and “lush, ravishing harmonies,” in his song repertoire, Dr. Holman composed twelve cycles for artists and organizations such as Karina Gauvin, Lawrence Williford, and the Canadian Opera Company. In 2014 and 2016 The Canadian Art Song Project released albums featuring some of Canada’s foremost artists that celebrate Dr. Holman’s works for solo voice.
Derek Holman’s compositions and mentorship have deeply impacted the Canadian music community, and his presence will be missed. His musical legacy will live on through the many recordings and continued performances of his work.