Edgar Fikes Girtain IV, is an American composer, residing in Puerto Montt since 2016. He earned his Bachelor's degree in Music Education (BM) from Rutgers University, where he also obtained a Master's degree in Music Theory and Composition (MA). In 2023, he earned his Doctorate (PhD) with a scholarship at the State University of New York under the renowned composer of experimental contemporary music, David Felder. His compositions have been performed and commissioned in various countries across Western Europe, the Americas, Asia, and the Middle East.
Dr. Girtain serves as the organist at the Lutheran Church of Puerto Montt, conducts choirs, is the founder of the Southern Composers Forum, and serves as the director of the Casa de las Artes at the Universidad Austral de Chile. In Southern Chile, he is recognized for his significant contributions to the field of music education. In 2022, his climate change cantata, "Otro Viento Cantará," premiered at the Teatro del Lago as part of the "Puedes Cantar" program by the Ibáñez Atkinson Foundation, featuring over 300 children from schools in the Los Lagos region. In the same year, he was honored by the municipality of Puerto Montt for his composition, "Una Joya Perdida." His music is published by First String Press, JW Pepper, and is available through his website, www.edgarfgirtainiv.com.
Edgar Girtain is an American composer known for his chamber, vocal, and concert works, such as his 3 Trios for Flute, Violin and Cello, and canata, Otro Viento Cantará. Also a teacher and collaborative keyboardist, his career has mostly centered around universities and schools in Chile and the United States. His works encompass a variety of styles and uses, and he has also produced notable editions and arrangements of canonical works. His work has been recognized in major press (New York Times, ADN, Denver Times) and has received numerous awards, including the American prize.
Early Life and Influences:
Born on April 13th 1988 in Toms River, New Jersey, Girtain first took an interest in music through the congregational singing of traditional hymns (Are You Washed in the Blood?) at the Baptist church where his mother regularly attended.Growing up in a suburb of New York City where his father worked in construction, he was exposed to a wide variety of music and machine noises, and at age 12 he began composing wind band and chamber music for ensembles at his school.
With the help of a scholarship Girtain entered the conservatory at Ithaca College to study music composition under Dana Wilson and Sally Lamb, and briefly with Jennifer Higdon, in 2007, but finished the year earning mediocre marks. Disillusioned with various aspects of conservatory life, he withdrew, taking a year to hone his craft while working odd-jobs and composing for community ensembles near his hometown. In 2008 he entered Mason Gross School of the Arts, the conservatory at Rutgers University, to study music education and Trombone, first with Michael Powell, and later with John Rojak, both members of the American Brass Quintet and on faculty at the Juilliard School, as music education seemed to offer better prospects for a stable career. In addition to his studies in Trombone and music education, during this time he began to compose actively and received his first professional performances while studying composition on the side with Charles Fussell.
After graduating with honors from Rutgers in 2012, Girtain immediately began his master’s degree in Composition and Music theory at the same Rutgers University to continue studying with Charles Fussell. Though his studies were delayed a year because of his work in Chile, he graduated in 2015 with high honors, studying principally with Tarik O’Regan and Bob Aldridge, with a graduate school exchange program allowing him and his classmate, Liza Sobel, to take additional composition classes at Princeton University from Steve Mackey and Paul Lansky.
In 2019 Girtain received a full scholarship to study composition with David Felder at the State University of New York at Buffalo, during which time he had the privilege to work with the Arditti Quartet, Slee Sinfonietta, and take classes from composers including Tiffany Skidmore, Jake Romig, Jonathan Golove, and many others. In 2023 he earned his PhD, for which his dissertation was Otro Viento Cantará, a 50-minute climate change cantata for Soprano, children’s chorus, mixed chorus, and latin-american ensemble on text by celebrated Chilean poet Veronica Zondek.
Throughout his career as a composer, Girtain has achieved remarkable milestones with the awards of grants, prizes, residencies, and commissions, from institutions, ensembles, and musicians throughout the Americas, Europe, and Asia. His Four Catalan Songs were commissioned by the New Brunswick Chamber Orchestra through an artistic innovation grant from the Middlesex County Cultural Heritage Commission, and from 2014-2016 he was composer in residence with the Arapahoe Philharmonic. He has long standing collaborations with members of the Detroit Symphony Trio, Orquestra Sinfônica do Estado de São Paulo, October Sky Ensemble, Sinfonietta Nova, Orquesta de Camara de Valdivia, and Boulder Symphony, and choral conductor Hingrid Kujawinski, to name a few. Since 2019 he has been invited to give lectures at the University of Virginia Tech, Calgary University, and the Universidad de Los Lagos. In his home city of Puerto Montt, he received a mayoral prize for his composition, “Una Joya Perdida,” written in memory of a historic church in the city of Ancud that was burned to the ground amid the 2019 Chilean estallido. He has received numerous profiles and interviews in the Chilean Press, most notably ADN in 2023.
Girtain is a prolific composer whose music is neither eclectic nor easily understood as belonging to a single style, as his works are products of his collaborations with performers in the situations that surround them. The cultural touchstones and music-making circumstances in his main areas of work vary tremendously, and so pieces like For Aurora No. 2, written for the Arditti Quartet, are aggressive and highly complex, while works like Huayno de Agua are bonafide Andean creations, and other works like his Trios for Flute, Violin, and Cello reflect a more intimate american folksong style inherited from his youth. While Girtain often borrows methods of form and composition as well as an appreciation of timbre from experimental contemporary music, his music is typically tonal and melodic in a traditional sense, score-based, and displays an extraordinarily high level of craftsmanship in drafting, development, and engraving, often achieving a powerfully communicative effect that inspires and moves listeners anywhere. He is inspired to compose because he believes music is supremely beautiful, and makes the world a better place.
Beyond his activities as a composer, Girtain is also an active teacher, conductor, and performer. In addition to private students, he is director of the Casa de las Artes at the Universidad Austral de Chile, where he maintains two choirs, a piano studio, and teaches several academic classes. He is organist at the Lutheran Church of Puerto Montt, and frequently performs as a pianist solo, in four hands, and as a stable member of various chamber ensembles in Southern Chile. He is a happily married father of two.
Legacy and Future Endeavors:
A few of Girtain’s arrangements, editions, and original pieces are becoming staples in small corners of the standard repertoire because they fill a space that was seemingly unoccupied, or invite musicians and listeners to consider well-tread spaces in a new way. These two lines, of exploration/expansion in niches hiding in plain sight, as well as renovation and a critical look at the well-established, are likely to continue in Girtain’s work for the foreseeable future. In 2024 he is planning to release two monograph albums of chamber music, his first.
For more detailed information, Edgar's CV and long bio are available upon request (see contact page)