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From the Drum Comes a Thundering Beat (1995)

  • Composer: Murphy, Kelly-Marie
  • Conductor: Underhill, Owen
  • Performance Date: 1997-01-04
  • Recording courtesy of CBC Radio 2
Portrait of composer Murphy, Kelly-Marie

Murphy, Kelly-Marie

Sep 04, 1964 -


Many people wonder just how a composer sets about writing a piece of music – creating something out of nothing, so to speak. In From the Drum Comes a Thundering Beat, Kelly-Marie Murphy attempts to describe this process in sound. “Since pulse is a fundamental element of music and life, it seemed plausible to illustrate the idea of energy and catalyst with the drum,” write the composer. Learn more

Music Connection

Cultural Influences and World Connections

Description: Cultural Influences and World Connections explores how Canadian composers Glenn Buhr, José Evangelista, Steven Gellman, Srul Irving Glick and Kelly-Marie Murphy from the late 20th century were influenced by music from different cultures. Learn more


Born in Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy, September 4, 1964;
now living in Ottawa

Kelly-Marie Murphy was born at a NATO base on the island of Sardinia (an island belonging to Italy) to Canadian parents and grew up on military bases in Canada. She also spent a good part of her life in England (studying for her doctorate in composition with Philip Wilby at the University of Leeds) and in the United States (living in Baltimore). She is now back in Canada, living in Ottawa and well established as one of the country’s leading composers, a fact confirmed by having been chosen to write the imposed piece for the 2010 Montreal International Musical Competition (violin) and a work for the International Harp Congress to be held in Vancouver in 2011.  

The music

Most of Murphy’s music is instrumental, about evenly divided between orchestral and chamber music. She assigns a unique title to every composition, invariably something poetic, descriptive, enigmatic or evocative. Examples of her chamber compositions include Life Passes in Transformation (clarinet and string quartet), Dance Me Through the Panic (string quintet), Give Me Phoenix Wings to Fly (piano trio) and Postcards from Home (violin, clarinet and piano). Orchestral works include From the Drum Comes a Thundering Beat, This is the Color of My Dreams, Hammer of the Sorceress, A Thousand Natural Shocks and Blood upon the Body, Ice upon the Soul. Her most recent orchestral work, Black Sand, was premiered in January of 2010 by the Hamilton Philharmonic.


Evan Ware, writing in the Encyclopedia of Canadian Composers, characterizes Murphy’s music as follows: “[It] favors emotional accessibility, brilliant orchestration and virtuosity. She is noted as a highly adept orchestrator who writes scores that are often inspired by her emotions. While some critics claim her music lakcs depth, her pieces tend to generate much enthusiasm among concert-going audiences inside and outside the contemporary music scene.”

Awards, prizes and honors

Kelly-Marie Murphy began acquiring awards and honors early on. In 1992, shortly after she had begun doctoral studies, she won the New Works Calgary Composers’ Competition and was commissioned the following year by The Studio in Bradford, England to write the electroacoustic work Escape from Mind and Body. The composition that brought her to prominence was the string quartet This is My Voice, which won both first prize and the People’s Choice Award at the 1994 CBC Young Composers Competition. Her first orchestral work, From the Drum Comes a Thundering Beat, was a CBC commission and was premiered by the Winnipeg Symphony conducted by Bramwell Tovey in 1996. It ranked among the top ten works at the International Rostrum of Composers in Paris that year. Utterances, premiered by the Edmonton Symphony in 1999, won third place at that year’s Alexander Zemlinsky Competition and her harp concerto And Then at Night I Paint the Stars won first prize in the Centara Corporation New Music Festival Composers Competition in 2003. Most recently, Murphy was granted the distinction of Honorable Mention in the Barlow Prize for Composition, 2008.

Other honors

In 2004 the University of Calgary bestowed on Murphy The Distinguished Alumni Award. The following year she was the Roger D. Moore Distinguished Visitor in Composition at the University of Toronto. During the 2007-2008 season Murphy served as composer-in-residence for the National Youth Orchestra. Her music has been performed across Canada, the United States and Europe as well as in Japan and England and has been broadcast in more than twenty countries. Murphy was chosen as the composer commissioned to write a piece for the twentieth anniversary of the Winnipeg Symphony’s highly prestigious New Music Festival in February 2011.

Concert Program Notes

Kelly-Marie Murphy: Born in Sardinia, Italy, September 4, 1964; now living in Ottawa

From the Drum Comes a Thundering Beat was commissioned by the CBC for the Winnipeg Symphony and was premiered at the DuMaurier Festival in January, 1996 with Bramwell Tovey conducting. Of this twelve-minute, one-movement work, the composer has written the following:

“During the early stages of work on the piece, I was reading a Zuni legend called ‘The Four Flutes.’ This legend is about how the people wished for new music, but didn’t know how to make their wishes become reality. They consulted the elders at the Cave of the Rainbow and were shown music and dancing that began with a drum-beat so loud it shook the cave. For me, this described the creative process I was entering into, and also the physics of bringing energy and substance to something which had been inert. It is not gentle or easy, and it requires a formidable catalyst to move from the desire to create to the act of creation; to make the abstract thought become a solid and tangible sound. Since pulse is a fundamental element of music and life, it seemed plausible to illustrate the idea of energy and catalyst with the drum.

“There are five points where soloists serve to focus the musical attention. Each achieves a different emotional effect. The first is an unaccompanied flute solo, which takes on the character of a soliloquy. The second is a subdued oboe solo, which is the delayed answer to the flute. The third is a solo for the drums, which builds the intensity and energy, and leads the orchestra to the presentation of the main theme. After the loudest moment in the piece, the cello emerges alone to play the fourth solo. This expands, one instrument at a time, to become a string quartet, then leads to the unison tutti presentation of the slow theme. The fifth solo is a return of the flute to end the piece.”

Some of the loudest, fastest music ever written can be heard in this work. In a pre-concert talk preceding a performance by the National Youth Orchestra, Murphy announced that it was her first orchestral composition. This being so, it “had all the enthusiasm of being the first of its kind. It was really exciting for me to discover what sounds the orchestra can make.” Murphy also related that before embarking on the work, conductor Bramwell Tovey had “stressed over and over, ‘Please do not overuse the percussion.’ But me being who I am, I came back a year later with a piece called From the Drum Comes a Thundering Beat,” which inevitably had lots and lots of percussion. “Fortunately, it did not damage my career.” she quipped.

Robert Markow

This Year in History: 1995

History, Politics and Social Affairs

  • 94% of eligible voters in Quebec cast their votes in the sovereignty referendum; the referendum fails by less than 1%.
  • The James Bay Cree vote 96.3% in favor of their territory remaining part of Canada in the event of Quebec Separation.
  • The two-dollar coin, “the Toonie,” is introduced.
  • Christine Silverberg becomes Canada’s first female police chief when she is promoted to that position in Calgary.
  • Representatives of Aboriginal peoples gather and issue the Sacred Assembly Proclamation; from this was developed the Reconciliation Proclamation and the Statement of Principles and Priorities.
  • The World Trade Organization (WTO) is established to replace the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).
  • The Supreme Court of Canada rules that discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Nature, Science and Technology

  • Radarsat, Canada's first observation satellite is launched.
  • Canadian National Railway, the nation’s largest Crown corporation and one of the largest state-run enterprises in the industrialized world, is privatized.
  • The Java programming language is announced to the world.
  • The DVD, an optical disc computer storage media format, is announced.
  • Yahoo! is founded in Santa Clara, California.

The Arts, Literature and Entertainment

  • Carol Shields wins the Pulitzer Prize for her novel The Stone Diaries.
  • Robert J. Sawyer wins the Nebula Award for his work The Terminal Experiment.
  • Contralto Maureen Forrester receives the $125,000 Royal Bank Award for “significant contribution to human welfare and the common good.”
  • Rohinton Mistry publishes A Fine Balance. The book, set in mid-1970s Bombay, wins numerous prizes, including the Giller Prize, and was a Booker Prize finalist.
  • Michael Moore’s film Canadian Bacon is released.
  • Acclaimed author Robertson Davies dies.
  • Native groups pressure Robert Crosby to return Aboriginal artifacts and sacred objects collected by his grandfather, legendary Christian missionary Thomas Crosby, to the Tsimshian, Haida, Coast Salish and others.
  • In southern France near Vallon-Pont-d'Arc, a network of caves is discovered that contain paintings and engravings that are 17,000 to 20,000 years old.

Music Connection

From the Drum Comes a Thundering Beat...was inspired by a legend from the Zuni culture, a Pueblo tribe in the Southwestern U.S.A. The story tells of how the Zuni people wished for new music, and came upon elders who showed them music and dancing that began with a drumbeat so loud, it shook the entire cave. This described the creative process for Murphy-- moving from the desire to create to the act of creation. She illustrated this idea of energy and catalyst with the drum and the focus of pulse as the fundamental element of music and life.

Composers look through many lenses, composing music in response to the world around them. Sometimes the lens is the music of a specific culture, which might be from their own background, or not. The compositions used in Cultural Influences and World Connections all include some form of cultural reference. Such musical references invite us as listeners to consider the world from a point of view that may not be our own, ultimately confirming the universality of human experience.

Cultural Influences and World Connections contains a sequence of listening exercises and learning activities designed to help students hear specific cultural influences in works by Canadian composers Glenn Buhr, José Evangelista, Steven Gellman, Srul Irving Glick and Kelly-Marie Murphy, and to examine the composers’ thinking in introducing the cultural references. Students also consider why composers look to the music of different cultures – whether their own, or far removed from their own experience – for musical inspiration. Finally they have the opportunity to improvise a short composition using some of the musical influences they have studied.

Learn more