In 1982, after an injury ended a career as a modern dancer, David Kirtley focused on a new path as a self-taught composer. In 1987, he was awarded a residency/fellowship from the Yellowsprings Institute in Pennsylvania for his piece, Songs for the Outcasts of Great Turtle’s Back, a song cycle about the great human suffering brought on by the extreme losses of life, land, and culture endured by the Native Americans.
Beginning in 1988, and for the next ten years, Kirtley continued to compose while working as a waiter in Yellowstone National Park. There, amidst the inherent beauty and perils of the wilderness, he made new friends and deepened his interests in environmental issues, backpacking, botany, birding, geology, and anthropology.
In time, urged on by a persistent feeling that formal training in composition would offer a necessary new direction, he enrolled at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado where he studied composition with Richard Toensing, John Drumheller, and Michael Theodore, earning a BA in music (1999), and a MM in composition (2001). He had additional studies in composition with Sydney Hodkinson at the Aspen Music School and Festival in the summers of 2001 and 2002.
Kirtley’s works have been performed at the 1998 World Shakuhachi Festival, the Aspen Music Festival, the Colorado Modern Music Festival (M2F), the 2004 NATS Convention in New Orleans, and at other venues in the United States, Brazil, Japan, and Europe.
In 2005, ERM Media awarded him a recording contract for his orchestra piece, Leaves falling from the Holy Tree; a work dedicated to the memory of Nicholas Black Elk, holy man of the Oglala Sioux. It was released in 2006 on volume 9 of the “Masterworks of the New Era” CD series, performed by the Kiev Philharmonic conducted by Robert Ian Winstin. Subsequently, this recording was remastered, edited, and re-released in September 2014 by Parma Recordings on the Navona Records CD album, “Luminescence”.
His one-act opera, In the Father’s Garden (libretto by brother, Mark Kirtley), was featured in New York City Opera’s “VOX 2007: Showcasing American Composers”. For this project, he received a generous grant from the American Music Center’s Composer Assistance Program.
His piece for soprano, Pierrot ensemble, and percussion, I yell, the mountains echo, the stars are quiet (text by Mark Kirtley), won the Denver-based Playground Ensemble’s 2010 Colorado Composers Concert (CoCoCo) commission prize. The commissioned work, Saxifraga, was premiered by the Playground Ensemble in May 2011.
An avid hiker, nature lover, and world traveller, David Kirtley brings to his music a synthesis of Western musical traditions, sounds and impressions of nature, and elements drawn from indigenous musical traditions. Born (1954) and raised in Bardstown, Kentucky, he now makes his home in Louisville, Colorado with his wife, Mutsumi Moteki.