The official biography of PETER BERRING

Born Peter Tryggvi Bjerring, Feb 6th, 1954, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada to Kari Herbert Bjerring and Barbara Frances Beale.


1. EARLY YEARS

2. EDUCATION

3. THE SEVENTIES

4. THE EIGHTIES

5. THE NINETIES

6. THE NEW CENTURY and RECENT CONCERT WORKS

7. HISTORICAL FOOTNOTE




EARLY YEARS

Peter was born in Winnipeg, but moved with his family to Calgary in 1959, and then to Vancouver in 1964. At Sir Winston Churchill High School, and later Prince of Wales Senior Secondary, he played clarinet in band, and piano in stage-band, honing his skills as an arranger and composer by contributing to repertoire. During this period he completed his ARCT (Associate of the Royal Conservatory of Toronto) performance exams up to the associate level in piano, but opted to finish theory studies at the University of British Columbia. He acquired a good feel for blues guitar in various garage bands dedicated to the music of Jimi Hendrix and Cream. He also developed a natural feel for choral writing and performance from membership in school, church, and community choirs. (It was in a church basement that Peter was almost killed by a tipped piano during choir rehearsal in 1964. During his convalescence he learned to play guitar.)



EDUCATION

Peter accepted his Bachelor of Music degree (composition) from The University of British Columbia in 1977, graduating at the head of his class and receiving the President’s Prize. He had started out as a piano major in 1972, but changed streams after taking a year out to tour Europe with friends Jim Vallance, songwriter, and Tom Mirhady, cellist.

During his tenure at UBC he studied composition with Americans Stephen Chatman, Eugene Wilson, and Elliot Weisgarber. Weisgarber once told his class, “A composer needs a graduate degree like he needs a hole in his head.” Peter, while appreciating the jest, took the advice anyway, and went on to study only one graduate course: upper-level orchestration.

Peter supported himself through university on scholarships for composition and academic excellence, and with extra income from his working country-rock band, Bootleg, a joint project with BC songwriter Ron Irving. When his music studies were finished, he re-registered in the pre-med sciences, but found music too much fun to abandon, and quit school to pursue a full-time career.



THE SEVENTIES

In the early seventies, Peter played in and wrote for the Vancouver experimental band, Sunshyne, with Jim Vallance, producer Bruce Fairbairn, pianist/songwriter David Pickell, guitarist David Sinclair, and jazz artist Tom Keenlyside. When the band failed to secure a record contract, Peter continued his studies at UBC, and on graduation in 1977 made a connection in the thriving Vancouver studio business with the help of his former band mates.

He quickly signed on with busy music-production house Griffiths Gibson Ramsay as a staff composer/arranger. Here, he had the opportunity to write music in an array of styles for a host of national and international clients. He also connected with singer/lyricist Howie Vickers of the seminal sixties band The Collectors when the two were thrown together on writing projects. The songs and jingles they co-wrote include Rider Pride, the still-popular Saskatchewan Roughrider’s fight song.

Meanwhile Peter kept in touch with the members of Prism, an arena-rock project that grew out of the moribund Sunshyne band. He supplied arranging and ghost-playing for the band’s recording sessions, including horns, strings and piano for the songs Armageddon and Night to Remember, and synth-solo work for the novelty tune, Spaceship Superstar.



THE EIGHTIES

Throughout the eighties, Peter maintained a close association with the Vancouver Cantata Singers and their conductor, James Fankhauser. He wrote several works for them, including Song of the Salish Chief. This cantata for chorus and percussion quintet was commissioned by the Vancouver Centennial Committee, but its sensitive portrayal of the plight of west-coast First Nations has garnered it repeat performances all across North America (including shows in Houston, New York, Seattle and many Canadian cities). It has even been selected as a performance piece for PhD candidates in conducting, due to its exotic rhythmic shifts. On the strength of this work, Peter was commissioned to write an Anthem for the International Choral Kathaumixw (symposium) in Powell River, where Salish Chief was presented in a dramatic production involving multiple choirs. He was also commissioned by the National Youth Choir of Canada to write Strings in the Earth and Air on the luscious poem by James Joyce.

During this period Peter had many free-lance writing opportunities. There were TV promotional packages (BCTV and KVOS-TV among others); commercial jingles (Coca Cola, Pontiac, Mazda, Molson Canadian and dozens more); and scoring for radio, television and film (including a radio series hosted by environmentalist David Suzuki). Through friend Bruce Fairbairn, Peter met Jon Bon Jovi and provided the choral background for his song Lay Your Hands on Me. He also played piano on, and orchestrated, an early, poignant, Payolas ballad entitled Female Hands, written by producer Bob Rock and singer Paul Hyde.

In 1983 Peter wrote music for the visit to Vancouver of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip. Ceremonies in BC Place Stadium featured the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and a consortium of choirs. At about the same time he signed on as pianist for Vancouver jazz-rock show-band, Wildroot, whose cover of Glen Miller’s In the Mood made them a popular club act. Concurrently, Peter founded the jazz-fusion project NABB (Not A Big Band) with trumpeter Fred Stride. Stride, also a member of Wildroot, did the chart for a big-band version of Aerosmith’s Crazy, a video-only novelty on which Peter played piano alongside Aerosmith singer Steve Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry.

Also during this period, there were numerous sessions for feature films brought north from Hollywood for post-production, including director Oliver Stone’s Platoon and Salvador, for which Peter performed with the live string section on a Moog synthesizer.



THE NINETIES

In 1991, The Vancouver Cantata Singers premiered Peter’s Requiem Mass. The performance of this forty-five-minute Latin work took place in Vancouver’s Orpheum Theatre and included the CBC Chamber Orchestra and soprano Kathleen Brett.

It was at this time that Peter began accepting more television-music jobs. His first assignment was the Baby Huey Show, which he scored in the spirit of fun set by director Bob Jacques (who went on to create the “chicken-fight” episodes for Family Guy). After that, there was the North American introduction of Dragon Ball. Sadly, this series continued without the updated score when the corporate owners insisted on the use of their original, Japanese, copyright-protected music. Then in 1999 Peter worked with David Sinclair to create music for Weird-Ohs, a series about a bizarre clan of California car-lovers.

Peter has always been ready to offer services to other musicians, and his relationship with composer Terry Frewer has been particularly fruitful. (Peter was for a time in Vancouver jazz-groove band Boy Wonder with Frewer, saxophonist Tom Colclough, Drummer Kat Hendrickse and Vancouver composer/pianist Graeme Coleman.) Peter played synth for Frewer’s TV series Black Stallion. Later, on Lonesome Dove the Series, he was both orchestrator and contractor for the thirty-five-piece studio ensemble. More recently, Peter has done music preparation for Head In The Clouds, a feature film staring Charlize Theron plus synth-orchestration and recording services for a series of feature films scored by Vancouver composer, Peter Allen.

During the nineties, Peter (Berring) extended his musical relationship to other cultural organizations. For a season he was quietly, almost secretly, composer-in-residence with the Vancouver Bach Choir under conductor Bruce Pullen. There was no composing involved, but the honorarium and the encouragement were timely and welcome. More fruitful was a composer-in-residency with the Vancouver Chamber Choir, which actually did produce music (a setting of Kubla Khan, on the poem by S.T. Coleridge), and led to a continuing relationship with the choir and conductor Jon Washburn. There were also, in this period, performances with the Arts Club Theatre, the Vancouver New Music Society, and collaborations with the late Canadian violinist and modern-music enthusiast, Arthur Polson. (Peter’s Sonata for Violin and Digital Delay was premiered by Polson at the Vancouver East Cultural Center.) Peter also performed regularly with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra as their on-call pianist for pops concerts, light classical, and new music.

And Peter taught for a time at his Alma Mater, UBC, joining the composition faculty under department head Robert Silverman as film-score instructor. He left this position, however, and severed nearly all his ties with the Vancouver music industry in order to move to the suburbs in 1999 and raise his two children.



THE NEW CENTURY and RECENT CONCERT WORKS

Peter, a single father for a decade and a half, has spent those years focusing on his children. Erin (now Erin Rawstron) is just entering UBC medical school in fall, 2009, and John is studying engineering physics on full scholarship at Simon Fraser University.

But the music didn’t stop completely. Peter had a composing partnership with Ed Henderson (brother of singer/songwriter Bill and member of Chilliwack, the legendary seventies-era rock band) that led to a Leo Award for film scoring in 2003 for Guinea Pig Club. And while putting together a solo-keyboard project in his personal studio, Peter brought in long-time friend Michael Vincent (aka Michael Campbell) to do some vocal work, and Big Black Dog was born. BBD is an eight-piece original rhythm-and-blues band that was promptly nominated for a Canadian Smooth Jazz Award for their radio hit, Shiver. Michael’s performance of Peter’s Take Me Down the River is particularly passionate. During this time Peter also worked as arranger, producer, or co-composer for Andy Thoma, Stevie Vallance, Flora Ware, Ginette Devereux, Michael Sicoly and young BC singing talents Claire McOuat and Sierra Komar. The rule during this period was to pursue only work that could be done without leaving the house, where parenting duties came first.

But all along, Peter has been developing a compositional style that reflects his intuitive, naturalistic ear:

  • Long Beach Diary, premiered by the Purcell String Quartet with pianist Linda Gould, is five movements of highly textured scoring that never strays from the key of C. It celebrates the natural environment and ecological diversity of BC’s Pacific coast.

  • Five Poems, is an intricate choral work based on some clever verses by Canadian poet, George Bowering, premiered by the Vancouver Chamber Choir and recently performed by Vancouver’s Musica Intima.

  • When You Are Old, is a warm, nostalgic work for women’s voices and piano, on the poem by W.B. Yeats, premiered by Elektra Women’s Choir under Diane Loomer.

  • Cycles for Four Cellos and Piano is an energetic new-age workout written for the students of Ian Hampton’s Langley Music School.

  • A Canadian Rhapsody is an arrangement of Canadian folk songs and native chants for chorus and chamber orchestra (performed by the Niagara Symphony and the National Arts Centre Orchestra) and in an enhanced version for full orchestra (recently commissioned and performed by the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.)

Peter’s current and most ambitious project, however, is Hervor, Maiden King, a forty-five minute choral opera to be premiered by the Vancouver Chamber Choir and Orchestra in October, 2009, at the Chan Centre. Hervor is an exploration of Peter’s Scandinavian roots, and tells the story of a warrior maiden who dresses like a man in order to wake her father from his death-sleep so he can pass her the flaming sword of power.



HISTORICAL FOOTNOTE

There are reports that Peter is descended from, or related to, Danish explore Vitus Jonassen Bering (1681-1741). These are spurious, though not entirely without speculative merit. The family name has been spelled many ways through the years: Bjerring, Berring, Bering, Behring, Byerring and so on. The Icelandic Bjerrings went to extraordinary lengths to preserve the surname down the generations – contrary to Icelandic custom – but a direct link can be established only as far back as Johann Henrik Bjerring, born 1779 in Husavik. Johann’s ancestors were reported to be Danish traders (Iceland was a Danish dependency until 1944), which might have put them in Denmark as contemporaries of Vitus, but evidence is elusive.