BornIn Penang, Malaysia, May 28th 1935, Derek Strahan spent his early childhood in Malaysia. He was evacuated with his mother and sister to Perth when Singapore fell to the Japanese in February 1942. In 1946 the Strahans settled in Northern Ireland. Completing his schooling in Belfast, he received a scholarship to study at Cambridge University, and in 1956 obtained a BACantab in Modern Languages. He also maintained interests in music, theatre and cinema, acting in a number of university productions. Graduating in 1956 he worked in London for six years as teacher, actor and Assistant Film Director. He also composed instrumental works and songs, one of which was heard on BBC Radio.
In 1961 Strahan returned to Australia and settled in Sydney. He combined composing film music and performances as singer/songwriter with work as film director, scriptwriter, actor and teacher. From 1980 he gave greater importance to composing, and increased his output of concert works now numbering over thirty, encompassing solo, ensemble, vocal and orchestral pieces. He composed music for over thirty film documentaries and wrote script and music for three feature films, two of which he co-directed. Much of his music has been released on CD.
Strahan's music is melodic, making use of polyphony and polymetrics. It has consistently attracted performance by distinguished artists. Mezzo-soprano Lauris Elms AM OBE commissioned his song cycle "Rose of the Bay", for performance by her at the Sydney Opera House in 1987, with Deborah de Graaff, and David Miller AM, and for recording by the ABC. "China Spring" for cello/piano, was commissioned in 1989 by cellist Georg Pederson with assistance from the Australia Council. It was written to commemorate the Tiananmien Massacre of June 1989, and was recorded by the ABC, along with "Solo Cello Suite No. 1", which comprises a set of jazz dances, and has been frequently broadcast, as have String Quartet No 1 ("The Key") and Clarinet Quintet No.1 (The Princess") in the 1981 recording featuring John Gould, Irene Donohoe, Jane Hazelwood, David Pereira and Alan Vivian. ("Solo Cello Suite No. 2 awaits performance).
He was commissioned in 1986 by the Band Association of New South Wales to write "The Quay" for Concert band. Piano Trio No. 1 in F commissioned by the Sydney Ensemble for the 1988 Bicentenary, was premiered on Australia Day at a champagne breakfast in Sydney's Centrepoint Tower. Also commissioned for the 1988 Bicentenary, was "Sydney 200" for the Sydney Youth Orchestra. Composed in 1989/90 with Australia Council assistance were: "Escorts" for flute/saxophone/piano, commissioned by the Berky Trio and Atlantis for flute/piano, commissioned by Michael Scott and premiered at the Sydney Conservatorium in 1992 at a Master's Degree Recital by Belinda Gough. Other works in Strahan’s “Atlantis” series are: Atlantis Variations for solo piano (1992), a 55 minutes work; Eden in Atlantis for soprano/flute/piano, 25 minutes, premiered in 1996 by Liza Rintel, Michael Scott & David Miller AM, at the Opera Centre, Sydney. A recent commission from the ANU (Australian National University) from the ANU School of Music enabled Strahan to write Calypso In Exile for soprano & Wind Quintet.
Voodoo Fire for clarinet/keyboards/percussion (1996) was commissioned by the ANU School of Music for performance by Alan Vivian, Michael Askill and Susan Powell. In April 2002 Clarinet Concerto No. 1 was premiered by Alan Vivian with the ANU School of Music Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Peter Moore. In 2009 he was commissioned by Dr. Steven & Fiona Ross to write Space Trilogy for trumpet & piano, for performance by Alexander Ross at his Honours Graduation recital at the ANU School of Music.