Ships and Flags: A 2012 Musical Overture

Contributed by  Helene Farland of the Dartmouth Nova Scotia Stake

  • 23 November 2012

“I believe that any person of faith involved in artistic creation is concerned to create something that is pleasing to God, as well as to himself and to others..."

Christopher Palmer, a member of the Dartmouth Nova Scotia Stake, was born in The Hague, Netherlands, of Canadian parents. When he was four years old, his family moved to London, England. At the age of 12, he took an interest in playing the bassoon. Palmer later studied music at the Royal College of Music in London, but soon after moved to Ottawa. As a professional bassoonist, he later became a member of Symphony Nova Scotia. He also plays the piano and organ and has been active in the community as a teacher, coach and conductor. Chris has also provided orchestral accompaniments for several East Coast artists who have performed with Symphony Nova Scotia. His arrangements of songs by Leonard Cohen for the Blue Engine String Quartet with singer/actor Cliff Lejeune have been performed many times with great success and the recording has been broadcast nationwide on CBC radio.

His biggest commission to date has been from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for “Ships and Flags—A 2012 Overture”, composed for the Halifax Tall Ships Festival this past summer. The overture took about six weeks to arrange and also includes folk tunes he wrote. The theme that runs through Palmer’s 12-minute historical piece is about a ship that drifts and manoeuvres its way along Canadian shores where many of the country’s peoples have landed or lived—a kind of celebration of our heritage. His piece begins with the flutterings of wind and string instruments in a musical image of flags and pennants dancing and snapping in a strong breeze while sails filled and bellied out. The world premiere was staged on the Halifax waterfront and performed by the 45-member Symphony Nova Scotia where Chris got a chance to watch and listen instead of being in the midst of the orchestra. It was a welcome treat to hear the work of his hands and mind being played by others.

The Chronicle Herald, a local Halifax newspaper, wrote that Chris “is a skilled orchestrator with a sharp ear for detail and an unsurpassed knowledge of the group he writes for, where he plays the second bassoon and has done so for many years. His compositional style is not overly dramatic but it is seamlessly executed and colourful in his choice of instrumental combinations.”

Chris said that he “grew up in a music-loving family. My father was an amateur clarinetist, and my two older sisters studied piano. Chamber music was often played in our home. I was also taught to appreciate music by listening to recordings, having family discussions about music and by attending concerts.” When asked about his personal relationship with music and whether his spiritual beliefs influenced his music writing, he said, “I believe that any person of faith involved in artistic creation is concerned to create something that is pleasing to God, as well as to himself and to others, whether it is a religious work or not. I hope to write music that is inspiring to others, and I always pray for help each day as I am working on a project, and I am often surprised at some of the ideas which come. And when it is completed, I sometimes wonder where it all came from, and how it turned out that way. I have no doubt I was not alone creating it. Since I believe that the Lord has given me a talent, I believe that I have a responsibility to use it as he would have me use it.”

He continued, “I had a desire to write music from a young age, but it was not until I was in my thirties when I realized that I should try composing again. One thing that turned me to trying again was my patriarchal blessing which told me that I have the capacity to write music that is inspiring to others.” This has proven true!