Emily Doolittle

Emily Doolittle
Based in Glasgow, UK
Website: emilydoolittle.com

“I have been exploring the soundscape through my music and research since I began composing, more than 25 years ago. I am particularly interested in the songs of birds and other animals, in sounds and patterns that emerge from natural cycles, and in folklore about the natural world. I enjoy bringing sounds from outdoors into the concert hall, as well as creating pieces for outdoor performance.”


Canadian-born, Scotland-based composer Emily Doolittle grew up in Halifax Nova Scotia and was educated at Dalhousie University, the Koninklijk Conservatorium in The Hague, Indiana University and Princeton University. From 2008-2015 she was an Assistant/Associate Professor of Composition and Theory at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. She now lives in Glasgow, UK, where she is an Athenaeum Research Fellow and Lecturer in Composition at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Doolittle’s work is regularly performed across the UK, Canada, the US, and Europe, and she has been commissioned by such ensembles as the Vancouver Symphony, Orchestre Métropolitain, Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, the Albany Symphony, Ensemble Contemporain de Montréal, the Kapten Trio, and the Paragon Ensemble.

One of Emily’s ongoing research interests is zoomusicology, the study of the relationship between human music and animal songs. She spent 5 months as composer-in-residence at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen, Germany, and has participated in a number of collaborative research projects with biologists, resulting in co-authored scientific papers, as well as compositions and musicological writing. Recent animal-song related pieces include Bowheads, based on bowhead whale song (2019, commissioned by Chamber Music Scotland for the Kapten Trio), Palouse Songbook, based on the soundscape of the Palouse bioregion (2019, commissioned by Sophia Tegart), Reedbird, based on bobolink song (2018, commissioned by the Vancouver Symphony), and Woodwings, based on the songs of nine birds from across Canada (commissioned by the Fifth Wind Quintet with funding from a Canada Council New Chapters grant). Other interests include the traditional music of various cultures, community music-making, and music as a vehicle for social change.

Emily is currently working on a folktale-based piece for violin, piano, and animation, beginning research for a chamber piece based on research into Arctic copepods, and co-organizing a series of Royal Society of Edinburgh-funded workshops on Art-Making in the Anthropocene.

Work Samples

Bowheads (2019)

“Bowheads was commissioned by Chamber Music Scotland for the Kapten Trio, and premiered at the Barn in Banchory, Scotland, as part of the Sound Festival in 2019. While humpback whale song is now fairly well known, people are only just beginning to record and listen to the songs of equally vocal bowhead whales. I wanted to explore the particularities of bowhead song: multiple short, lively songs, repeated but with subtle variation, approaching and receding as he whales swim. Thank you to Catherine Berchok and Stephanie Grassia for sharing bowhead recordings with me.”

Three Summer Wassails (2017)

“Three Summer Wassails is based on the medieval English tradition of orchard wassailing, which involved singing, drinking (alcoholic) cider, and making merry – all in the interest of ensuring a good harvest. While traditional spring wassails are often playful or celebratory, there may also be a dark undercurrent, as when the singers threaten to cut down trees that don’t bear much fruit! I wanted to write a set wassails to celebrate fungi and plants that flower and bear fruit a little later in the season. Composer and poet Forrest Pierce’s words so perfectly captured the spirit that I wanted to portray that it felt like these pieces practically wrote themselves! Three Summer Wassails was funded by a Canada Council Grant to Professionals, and this performance is by the Eastern Horizon Choir in Halifax, Nova Scotia.”

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