Nov. 20, 2017
Known by students for his caring personality and his precise musical insights, Robert Denham is currently the area coordinator of our Composition Department. His students appreciate his ability to discuss the fine details of their composition while maintaining a vision of the whole work, and they have been able to glean much wisdom from Denham's active compositional career and broad range of professional experiences. In addition to teaching composition lessons, he also coordinates the New Music Ensemble, teaches theory and composition courses and coordinates annual composition concerts and contests for Biola students.
Education & Influences
Robert Denham's dream since high school had been to play trumpet professionally in a major orchestra, and he dedicated 4-5 hours a day to practice in order to achieve his goal. While he was at Biola, God gave him a desire to compose and ultimately redirected the course of his life as he had seen it. The change began when he entered his first piece, a short set of duets for tuba and trumpet, into the Biola Composition Competition and won third place. He recalls, "I have to say, first of all, that to this day I still don't think I deserved third place; another work on the program, far superior to any of the other works, didn't even place that year. But the Lord used that experience to trigger something in me. Composition immediately became an obsession, and through the course of time has proved to be an enduring passion."
Teachers include Michael Fiday, Joel Hoffman, Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon, Roger Bourland, Ian Krouse and the late Jerry Goldsmith.
A diverse body of work that spans a range of genres, Denham's music has been performed the world over by individuals and groups such as:
His music has been performed in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia in countless venues. Some of these are
His publishers include:
Denham has received wide recognition and acclaim for his skill, winning the Hvar International Composition Competition (Croatia), the CCM Philharmonia Composition Competition, and the Gluck Brass Quintet Composition Competition. In 1998, he also received the prestigious Stanley Wilson Composer's Award (UCLA), and he has received awards from ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers) annually since 2005.
Denham is passionate about exploring the works of recent composers. While studying at Cincinnati, he managed the annual new music festival Music X for four years. At Biola, Denham coordinates the student ensembles that perform in the annual New Music concert, which features less-familiar works by contemporary composers. He strongly believes that the study of contemporary methods opens up new ways of expression. While he acknowledges students' initial trepidation, Denham says "New music encourages students to 'think outside the box,' and that, put quite simply, is how innovation occurs."
The Biola Conservatory has had the blessing and the privilege of having Denham's work performed on campus. He has received several grants and commissions, including one Faculty Research and Development grant for the production of his song cycle, Sutter Creek: 21 Songs for Baritone and Piano, and another for a CD project with bass trombonist Ilan Morgenstern. The Sutter Creek song cycle proved to be an important work in Denham's career as it was taken on tour and performed five times. Other notable works that have been performed at Biola include Three Attributive Psalms for chorus (premiered by the Biola Conservatory Chorale in the Fall of 2008), and Missing Missy for English Horn and orchestra (premiered by the Biola Conservatory Symphony Orchestra in the Fall of 2008). Denham expresses the great joy that he has experienced in working with Conservatory ensembles and students who perform his compositions. He notes, "I've always been impressed with how the student ensembles respond to my music and capture the small nuances …They've always been excited about the opportunity to perform something for the first time, and I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed rehearsing with these students!"
Commissioned specifically for Biola's Year of the Arts (2011–12), Denham's latest work was created as an avenue for reflection at the end of a campus-wide exploration of the topic of sacred spaces and of the role of the arts in strengthening the faith. His oratorio, Under the Shadow: Five Sacred Spaces in a Fallen World was premiered in May 2012, and the concerts were made possible by the financial gifts of Howard and Roberta Ahmanson (Fieldstead and Company), and Biola University. He worked closely with Carl St.Clair and Pacific Symphony Chamber Orchestra to present two performances: one at Lansing Hall, and the other at Village of Hope, a homeless shelter run by the Orange County Rescue mission.
After the concert, Barry Corey, Biola's president remarked: "The dramatic images and rich lyrics reminded me of John Milton's Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. Such incredible work and precision in every detail! It was truly a work of art--and a fitting finale event to Biola University's Year of the Arts," (A recording of the performance is accessible online through the Center of Christianity, Culture, and the Arts at http://ccca.biola.edu/resources/2013/oct/1/under-shadow-oratorio/. Hard copies are also available for free plus the cost of shipping and handling through the Conservatory Music Office).
Faith in Action
Under the Shadow, an oratorio on how sacred spaces interact with a fallen world, is perhaps one of the most profound expressions of Denham's faith in Christ. He remarks that writing this oratorio on sacred spaces caused him to reflect seriously on the brokenness of this present world, which he has also personally experienced. Though the oratorio portrays the darkness and pain of the good world God has made, Denham also takes great care to present the triumph of creation's restoration at Christ's return.
Writing "Soli Deo Gloria" at the bottom of many of his finished works in imitation of J.S. Bach, Denham intentionally reminds his audience (and himself) why he engages in the art of composition. He writes in his personal website, "If I can have some small part in promoting [Christ's eternal] kingdom, then I am satisfied to compose music to His glory."
While Denham has had positive experiences teaching at other institutions, he remarks that there is something unique in the Biola atmosphere. He says, "You just can't beat the atmosphere here at Biola." Teaching at Biola since 2007, he says that his interactions with students provide just one example of the ways he has seen God's grace working in the life of the Biola community. "It's always a blessing to be able to help students find their way, but how often do students return the favor with interest? Here at Biola they do; I've had students extend grace to me in so many ways, not just by their earnest participation in my classes, but also with prayers, warm smiles, and notes of encouragement. Here at Biola we don't just say we believe in Christ, we live it out."
His greatest hope for his students would be that they would come to the realization that all of their skills come directly from the hand of God. He says, "I'm really convicted that when God gives us skills as musicians, perhaps our greatest obligation is to remember that He gave those to us, and we didn't somehow come into possession of them on our own. Pride is ugly, and the moment we achieve something, (let's say we write our first song cycle or something like that), it meets us at the door; it wants a place in our hearts, and our sinful hearts are all too eager to give it a place. There's a tough balance there: we should celebrate the achievement together — a great deal of work and commitment went into making it happen, and it is right to give honor and encouragement; but the credit has to go to the God that made us — our work would amount to nothing if not for Him."