In the key of Inuvik
Composer's in tune with North

Daniel MacIsaac
Northern News Services

INUVIK (Oct 15/99) - As Derek Charke makes his mark on the international music scene, he's drawing on Inuvik for inspiration.

The B.C.-born composer and flutist is just 25 years old but is already a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music in London. His works are being performed on both sides of the Atlantic and he's in the process of forming the Great White North ensemble in Vancouver, where he currently resides.

"I decided when I was in Grade 8 that I was going to make a living out of music -- people always said it wasn't a very practical idea but also told me to go for it," he said. "If it hadn't worked out like it has -- with scholarships, grants, awards and commissions -- maybe I wouldn't be doing this, but it has and I am."

Charke said it was after finishing his master's degree at the Royal Academy that he decided to spend a year in a small arctic town and "get away from it all" and found himself in Inuvik. Between the spring of 1997 and last fall, he spent his time giving music lessons, composing and making some lasting ties -- including his girlfriend, Pauline Dong, and music lovers at Ascension Anglican Church.

By the time he left Inuvik to study under composer Louis Andriessen in Amsterdam, Charke said he was ready to incorporate Northern themes into his compositions -- including the work of Fort Smith poet Jim Green.

"I picked up his book Netsiksiuvik, 10 Images from a Seal Camp, and called him to ask if I could use it for a piece," said Charke. "I was reading it on the way to Amsterdam and feeling sad about leaving Inuvik, especially with Pauline and friends still here, but going through the book I found it cheered me up again -- and I spent the whole year working on the Seal Camp composition."

Charke said Netsiksiuvik will be performed in London later this year and that he'll be writing more Northern-based pieces for Great White North. As a young composer, Charke is clearly not afraid of innovation. And aside from applying interesting ideas to music, he also composes on his computer, and helps support himself by accepting commissions to "computerize" other composers' works.

But what is his music exactly? That's tough to pin down. Charke is leery of contemporary labels like experimental or cross-over and while he says it's definitely something new, he's also skeptical of critics who favour only the extreme and the bizarre in music and art.

"It's basically classical music influenced by jazz and rock," he said. "But it's difficult to give terms to the different types of music that are developing right now."

A fortunate few hundred were able to judge for themselves last Friday. Charke extended a Yukon vacation to visit friends and organize a concert at the church, where he performed with the Inuvik Community Choir and a talented array of local musicians and singers. The program covered a wide range of music, from Handel to tango to gospel, but also included Charke's original Straight Ahead for solo flute.

Those audience members inspired to hear more of Charke need only keep their ears open for news of his rising prominence -- or head down to cities like Toronto, where his Break-up (inspired by the annual spring break-up) is currently being performed.