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  • Timothy Cunningham

To Tsampasin Premiere

In 2019, I wrote the piece To Tsampasin for the inaugural Phoenix Chamber Choir Student Choral Composition Competition. The premiere was set for April 2020, which was postponed for reasons we are all too familiar with. Two years later, and To Tsampasin was premiered by Phoenix Chamber Choir as part of their stunning Evolve concert.

The repertoire demonstrated how music has both evolved throughout history and how composers have paved the way to challenge the performers, the listener, and society. It was an honor to be featured on the same concert as two other premieres by composers Katerina Gimon and Sydney Guillaume. I was so fortunate to be able to attend the concert in-person in Vancouver and work with the ensemble during a couple of their rehearsals the week before. I was absolutely blown away by their commitment to the message of the piece and their powerful delivery.

Fortunately, if you weren't able to attend the concert, a virtual performance will be available from May 14-21. For more information, visit Phoenix Chamber Choir's website. This is truly a concert experience you do not want to miss!


Tsampasin, too, was burned down.

And all of creation cried: oh what woe!

And nothing was left, only ashes.


As I was looking for a text for the Choral Composition Competition, I came across this Pontic folk song. I was immediately struck by the imagery and the raw emotion of the text and music, and I knew I wanted to use it right away. I saw a connection between this fire that ravaged the town of Tsampasin, destroying everything, only leaving ashes, and our current climate crisis. If we don't step in and we keep wasting and ruining and disrupting the vital natural resources that the Earth has provided us, we too might be joining the birds and the wells and the mountains and the trees in crying out, oh what woe!


I also was drawn to this text because Pontic Greek is a "definitely endangered" according to UNESCO, and I thought this helped convey the urgency of the message and made it all the more powerful.


My hope is that everyone who experiences this piece—the performers and audience alike—is deeply uncomfortable. That we may feel the anger and the frustration, the pain and the loss, the grief and the despair, as we experience this fire, emerged from embers, ignited by a single spark, grow into a destructive force, destroying the entire village. As we hear the all of nature crying out in pain, we see that nothing is left behind, only ashes.


For more information about this work, visit this interview.


A huge thank you to Phoenix Chamber Choir for your ongoing support of contemporary composers, and your mission to enact change through music.

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