The shape of 2020 – John Estacio, composer


2017 Distinguished Artist John Estacio’s 2020 calendar was full of plans for a busy creative year. They included an intense workshop process for his new opera The Cipher Clerk with Calgary Opera; travel to France to hear the Mulhouse Symphony Orchestra perform and record Estacio’s Trumpet Concerto; development work in Nova Scotia for a new musical based on the story of the Bluenose; and a long-dreamed-of African safari Estacio viewed as the trip of a lifetime.

In the end, Estacio’s 2020 calendar looked decidedly different, filled with unanticipated creative pursuits in response to the pandemic, and lessons on music’s ability to lift our souls in tumultuous times.

In early 2020, the Kingston Symphony commissioned Estacio to create a piece for their musicians isolated and working from home. The highly entertaining Domestic Divertimento features orchestra members playing their traditional instruments, and incorporates a heavy dose of clanging pots, clinking glasses, clacking spoons, and beating cupboard doors, which music director Evan Mitchell connected into a cohesive whole. “The musicians embraced it and had fun with it. I intentionally wrote the piece to be a bit irreverent!” says Estacio. 

On the other end of the spectrum is the elegiac piece Estacio composed for Pro Coro Canada’s Canadian Voices-Edmonton project. During the early stages of the pandemic, Pro Coro identified a need for choral repertoire suited to virtual rehearsal. With support from the  Edmonton Arts Council, Pro Coro commissioned eight composers to write new choral works for four voices. Conducted by Michael Zaugg, Estacio’s piece brings listeners a ‘heartfelt tribute for a mother’ through fellow Distinguished Artist Alice Major’s A Prayer to Bring you Home.

And with a grant from the Edmonton Community Foundation Estacio is currently re-purposing his Trumpet Concerto into a piano reduction for pianist and trumpet player, and a version for wind ensemble concert band. “It’s very affirming for me to be in the midst of ‘doing’ and to have that feeling of contributing.” 

Estacio misses the external interfaces that give contour to our lives. “I miss the visual and audio cues from live rehearsals.” And yet, he also sees how very fortunate he is to be able to create music that can provide contour, shape, spark to the lives of others. “I remind myself that as an artist I can work to rise above the ‘flatness’ – and perhaps provide a stimulus and a bit of shape to the listener’s day.”

Domestic Divertimento by John Estacio; Kingston Symphony

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