Home 9 Composers 9 NICHOLAS RYAN KELLY
Commended by the Vancouver Sun for his “sophisticated work of such immediate, glittery appeal” and called “a rising star in the constellation of Canadian composers” by Oregon Arts Watch, Nicholas Ryan Kelly writes choral, wind ensemble, and chamber music infused with a sense of cinematic drama.

His choral compositions have been commissioned, performed, or released on CD by many of Canada’s top choirs. He also is the recipient of nearly 20 national and international awards for wind band or choral writing, including the Edwin Fissinger Choral Composition Prize, the Howard Cable Prize from the Canadian Band Association, and the Diane Loomer Award from Choral Canada.

Nick studied music composition at Ithaca College in New York (B.Mus) and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver (M.Mus). He lives in BC’s beautiful Okanagan Valley, where he conducts community ensembles and explores the wilderness with his family.


BRAMBLE - (from "The Lost Words")

by Nicholas Ryan Kelly

SSAA with piano – CP 2188   – duration 3:05
I love to create music that explores contrasts, so the duality between bramble as an invasive, thorny nuisance and a bearer of sweet, nourishing berries appealed to me. The music builds in complexity and intensity-as the bramble grows thicker-culminating in a surprising moment of lyricism and tranquility when the berries are revealed at the end.

When the most recent edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary – widely used in schools around the world – was published, a sharp-eyed reader soon noticed that around forty common words concerning nature had been dropped. The words were no longer being used enough by children to merit their place in the dictionary. The list of these “lost words” included acorn, adder, bluebell, dandelion, fern, heron, kingfisher, newt, otter, and willow. Among the words taking their place were attach-ment, blog, broadband, bullet-point, cut-and-paste, and voice-mail. The news of these substitutions – the outdoor and natural being displaced by the indoor and virtual – became seen by many as a powerful sign of the growing gulf between childhood and the natural world.

In response, Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris set out to make a “spell book” that would conjure back twenty of these lost words, and the beings they name, from acorn to wren.
Morna Edmundson, Elektra Women’s Choir director, decided to commission 10 composers to write 2 compositions each – 20 compositions set to the poetry of Robert Macfarlane – and a fabulous concert program was born (premiered in 2022). These pieces are available individually and also as a complete book. They can be performed with piano alone or with instrumentation; flute/piccolo, violin, cello, clarinet/bass clarinet and marimba/percussion.


by Nicholas Ryan Kelly

SATB with piano  –   CP 1771   – duration 5:40
A broad emotional arc and a colourful piano part drive this sweeping piece, which progresses from a delicate, reflective beginning to a joyous climax. The words come from near the end of Walt Whitman’s epic Proud Music of the Storm, and they celebrate music in all its forms.

DANDELION - (from "The Lost Words")

by Nicholas Ryan Kelly

SSAA with piano – CP 2193   – duration 2:08
My childhood home bordered on the field of an old farm, which would tum gold every year with dandelions. I used this musical setting to bring to life the sense of wonder a child might experience when blowing a dandelion’s seeds into the wind, and to revive this sense of awe at the commonplace. (read about “the Lost Words” above)


by Nicholas Ryan Kelly

SATB a cappella  –  CP 1770   – duration 4:15
Contrasting images of dark and light abound in this piece, which brings Canadian poet Marjorie Pickthall’s words vividly to life. The composer’s early interest in film score composition is evident in the rich text painting, the varied textures, and the wide dramatic arc of this colourful, challenging composition.


by Nicholas Ryan Kelly

SATB a cappella  –  CP 2071   – duration 3:25

This text comes from a play that doesn’t exist: a book-within-a-book alluded The King in Yellow, a collection of horror tales by Robert W. Chambers (1865-1933). The words to “Cassilda’s Song” are deliberately cryptic: Chambers wrote them to provide a small glimpse into the world of this fictional play, which drives his characters to psychosis when they read the whole thing. (Don’t worry, though: it’s only Act 2 of the play that provokes this reaction, but “Cassilda’s Song” is from Act 1!)

Since the meaning of this text is deliberately vague (and/or nonexistent), it serves here as a vehicle for musical exploration. Chambers never needed to flesh out the location of Carcosa, the identity of Cassilda, or any of the other fantastical entities alluded to in this poem–but this music explores what they could be like.


by Nicholas Ryan Kelly

SATB with piano  –  CP 2013   – duration 2:25
A simple piece on a gorgeous text by a living poet, Things of This World explores themes of truth, beauty, and love — and finds these things in unexpected, solitary places.

Love is a ship with its sails full-blown,
a cat confessing the moon,
a single footprint filling with rain
on the edge of an ocean dune.

Truth is a perfect silver bell,
a cow dusk-heavy with milk,
the hand of a woman reaching for thread
of cranberry-colored silk.

Beauty—ah! It’s a goatskin drum,
a swan with only one wing,
a man who is just beginning to try
to use his mouth to sing.

Katharyn Howd Machan


by Nicholas Ryan Kelly

SATB with piano  –  CP 2056   – duration 2:00
Winner of the 2022 Diane Loomer Award (Choral Canada Competition for Choral Writing).  Listen to this amazing recording by the National Youth Choir of Canada.

Wind rising in the alleys 
My spirit lifts in you like a banner 
  Streaming free of hot walls.
You are full of unspent dreams . . .
You are laden with beginnings . . . 
There is hope in you . . . not sweet . . . 
    acrid as blood in the mouth.
Come into my tossing dust 
Scattering the peace of old deaths, 
Wind rising in the alleys 
Carrying stuff of flame.

Lola Ridge – 1873-1941