By Lenore Hietkamp
“Composing is like creating a puzzle and then solving it,“ says Deborah Sumner, the new composer in residence of Duncan’s Encore! Women’s choir. She weaves nature and the beautiful Cowichan Valley into her music to convey the connection of us all to our surrounding world.
Sumner recently retired as a music teacher and librarian in the Duncan area. She graduated from the University of Victoria with a BMus, studying both creative writing and music, including flute, piano, voice, and composition. After a further two years at the Victoria Conservatory of Music, she taught elementary school music in the Cowichan Valley, introducing young students to the many aspects of musical expression, including full-on musical theatre. She also collaborated frequently with other local music teachers.
Since high school, Sumner has wanted to be a composer. She has composed for local groups such as Sorella, which she also conducted, and Obwa, both small ensembles that performed and even recorded her work. In 2018, one of her pieces was chosen by Elektra Women’s Choir in Vancouver for their bi-annual reading session.
As a founding member of Encore! Women’s Choir, Sumner has been composing with this choir in mind for several years. The choir loves to sing her evocative pieces and particularly appreciates her as a fellow choir member when they work on her songs (they are performing two in their Christmas concert on Dec. 11). She sees herself as a collaborative composer, so rehearsing her songs as part of the choir and seeing them take on a life of their own brings her great joy. When she completes a composition, she launches it into the world, where the interpretation of singers and directors always surprises and delights her.
Michelle Weckesser, Encore!’s new choir director, says that Sumner’s “poetry is insightful and heartfelt and her musical compositions are beautiful. What a remarkable benefit to have her as our composer in residence, with access to original, high quality music.”
As Sumner moves into her creative future, she constantly looks for ways to share her compositions with the world, in keeping with the message of her work. From ‘The Parting Song’: “Let us all sing out in the dark starry night/our hearts full of music and song/our voices raised high to the heavenly skies/as we celebrate this wonder in our lives.”