Composer, Pianist, Educator

Dr David Önaç

MA(Cantab), MPhil, MMus, LRSM, PhD

Chronological Outline

Early interest in piano, composition and jazz & gospel

David began playing the piano aged 4 in the Caribbean, and in addition to formal lessons, began improvising from an early age, as well as being fascinated by the rich harmonies of gospel keyboardists he heard growing up in the Bahamas. These three areas of musical interest have remained central to him ever since.

After moving to the UK, the pieces he wrote in high school show these interests – have a listen to David aged 16-17 playing the piano in his pieces, The Butterfly for solo piano (runner up in BBC Young Composer of the Year 2000), and Waves for violin, trombone and piano (recorded in the Purcell Rooms, Music for Youth National Festival 2002).

Cambridge: undergrad and MPhil

2002 – 2006

From 2002-2005 David completed his undergraduate degree in music at Homerton College, Cambridge.

For his final year, he studied piano with Aaron Shorr towards a final recital including Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No.5 (meanwhile playing piano in a student jazz quintet in his spare time), and academically focused increasingly on composition, subsequently staying at Cambridge to complete an MPhil in Composition in 2005-6 tutored by Robin Holloway.

Four Etudes for solo piano were written during his MPhil, premiered by Simon Smith at Kettle’s Yard Cambridge, and premiered in Europe (Brussels) by Peter Donohoe – they show David’s continued interests in piano, composition and jazz with inspiration drawn from such diverse sources as Ligeti’s piano études, the annual Bahamian Junkanoo festival, and David’s own free improvisations.

Manchester: MMus and PhD

2007 – 2012

Moving to Manchester, David pursued composition further, first an MMus in Composition from 2006-7 tutored by Adam Gorb at the RNCM, where there were opportunities for the composition and performance of pieces for previously unexplored ensembles such as Sound brass band, and a budding interest in string quartets was further explored.

This interest had begun in Cambridge with an undergraduate pastiche quartet in the style of J Brahms but gradually developed into quartets heavily influenced by Shostakovich such as String Quartet no.3 and an elegiac work for the death of a friend and fellow RNCM student In memory of Timothy Sharpe.

David completed his academic studies with a PhD in Composition from 2007-12 at the University of Manchester tutored by Camden Reeves. During this time his compositional methodology changed significantly, resulting in a much more integrated approach, a more assured technique and the composition of larger and more coherent structures. The final three pieces for his PhD portfolio, were awarded the 2012 PRS Composition Prize and two of these also featured David as solo pianist ‘From Different Places’, ‘Ayla’, ‘Newton’s Cradle’ were awarded the 2012 PRS Composition Prize. While at Manchester, David pursued his jazz & gospel interests as Musical Director and keyboardist of the University of Manchester’s award-winning Harmony Gospel Choir, compiling the medleys and arrangements sung by the choir for the finals of BBC Songs of Praise Gospel Choir of the Year, and which won University Gospel Choir of the Year three times.

Birmingham & Sheffield

2013 – 2020
As a Teaching Fellow in Music at the University of Birmingham, David devised, taught and administered modules at all levels in Composition and related disciplines such as Tonal Harmony & Counterpoint, History and Analysis, and Orchestration, as well as designing a brand new module “Introduction to Jazz Styles” in response to student interest, which included both performance and analysis options with bespoke assessment criteria.

While at Birmingham, David simultaneously maintained his jazz and gospel activities in Manchester, continuing as MD of Harmony Gospel Choir, and also taking on the role of MD of Manchester-based gospel collective Voices Beyond co-writing original songs and arrangements such as this jazz and neo-soul influenced reworking of the well-known carol God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

While at Birmingham, David was also commissioned by Simon Halsey to write a piece for the University of Birmingham’s annual Carol Service. The resulting setting for SATB choir and organ of “Nöel”, a recently rediscovered poem by J R R Tolkien, was generously approved by The Tolkien Estate, who also generously funded a separate recording of the piece for their archives, by Selwyn College Choir and Sarah MacDonald.

This emphasis on choral works continued in Sheffield, where David was appointed Director of Choral Worship at All Saints Ecclesall from 2018-2020. In addition to the weekly administration and direction of the choral music, David also oversaw important updates of various resources such as digitising the library of musical works used on regular Sundays – which aided access to these resources during COVID lockdowns. In addition, David arranged and conducted all the music for significant festival days in the church calendar, such as the 70-strong choir and orchestra for the Christmas Candlelight service.

Back to Manchester

2021 – Present
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David A. T. Önaç is a composer of score-based music in the field of acoustic composition. He is the winner of the 2012 Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize.

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