Charon's Dance

Year Composed: 2015
Instrumentation: wind ensemble, percussion quartet
Duration 10 minutes

Program Notes

The title refers to "Charon" -- Pluto's largest moon -- and was inspired partly by the NASA expedition to Pluto during the summer of 2015. I was drawn to the idea writing a concerto for a group of professional soloists and a highschool-level wind ensemble -- a relationship rich in metaphor. As the piece grew in my imagination, I eventually drew inspiration from the dynamic between Pluto and Charon, which (unlike Earth and its moon, for example) are almost equal partners. Charon is one-eighth the mass of Pluto; as such, it does not so much orbit Pluto as it dances with it, both bodies orbiting a point outside of one another's diameters. Similarly, although the percussion quartet is far smaller than the wind ensemble, it exerts tremendous influence upon it; musically, this is reflected in the way it initiates and sometimes redirects the majority of musical events throughout the work.

The title also references the Charon of Greek mythology, the boatman who ferries the dead across the River Styx. This somewhat grim imagery casts a shadow over the spirit of the piece in the form of a musical quotation: the ancient Dies Irae, adopting an increasingly oppressive presence as the piece unfolds. Throughout this churning voyage, the music is dragged forward like a heavy barge, gaining momentum as it goes until the work's fiery climax. Only then does Charon's ferry finally arrive at calmer shores, suggesting the promise of both death and transcendence at the end of a journey.


  • November 7, 2015 - Ontario Provincial Honour Band, TorQ, conducted by Donald McKinney. Toronto International Plaza Hotel, Toronto.

Commisions and Awards

  • commissioned by TorQ and the Ontario Provincial Honour Band with generous support from the Canada Council for the Arts.


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