WITNESS 2021: Featured Composers and Arrangers
Ysaÿe Barnwell, composer
Ysaÿe M. Barnwell, Ph.D. MSPH, is a commissioned composer, arranger, author, actress and former member of the African American female a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey In The Rock®. She is a vocalist with a range of over three octaves and appears on more than twenty-five recordings with Sweet Honey as well as other artists. Trained as a violinist for 15 years beginning at the age of 2 1/2, she holds degrees in speech pathology (BS, MSEd), cranio-facial studies (Ph.D.) and public health (MSPH). She was a professor at Howard University College of Dentistry for over a decade, and over the following 8 years developed training programs in Child Protection at Children’s Hospital National Medical Center, and administered community-based health programs at Gallaudet University, all in Washington DC. For almost thirty years, and on three continents, Barnwell has led the workshop Building a Vocal Community- Singing In the African American Tradition, which utilizes oral tradition, an African world view and African American history, values, cultural and vocal traditions to build communities of song among singers and non-singers alike. Her pedagogy is highly respected among musicians, educators, health workers, activists, organizers, and members of the corporate and non-profit sectors.
B.E. Boykin, composer
Brittney Boykin (B.E. Boykin) is a native of Alexandria, Virginia and comes from a musical family. At the age of 7, she began piano lessons and continued her studies through high school under the tutelage of Mrs. Alma Sanford. Mrs. Sanford guided her through various competitions, such as the NAACP’s ACT-SO competition where she garnered 1st place for 3 consecutive years in the local competition. Also, in the spring of 2007, Ms. Boykin was awarded The Washington Post “Music and Dance Award.”
Ms. Boykin pursued her classical piano studies at Spelman College under the leadership of Dr. Rachel Chung. During her time at Spelman, Ms. Boykin was the student accompanist for the Spelman College Glee Club for all 4 years. While being an active student in the music department, she also attended classes to pursue her interest in composition. These classes challenged her musical imagination, and she began to compose and arrange a number of choral compositions. Her compositions quickly became popular, including her arrangement of “Go Down, Moses” and a setting of “Ave Maria.” In fact, both of these arrangements were performed and recorded by the Spelman College Glee Club during her sophomore, junior and senior years. During her tenure at Spelman College as a student, Ms. Boykin also won 1st place at the 2009 James A. Hefner HBCU Piano Competition at Tennessee State University and traveled abroad to perform in the Grumo Music Festival in Grumo, Italy during the summer of 2010.
After graduating Spelman College in 2011 with a B.A. in Music, Ms. Boykin continued her studies at Westminster Choir College of Rider University in Princeton, New Jersey. She continued to compose music during her time at Westminster and was awarded the R and R Young Composition Prize just a few months shy of graduating. In May of 2013, Ms. Boykin graduated from Westminster Choir College with a M.M. in Sacred Music with a concentration in choral studies.
Ms. Boykin’s choral piece, “We Sing as One,” was commissioned to celebrate Spelman College’s 133rd Anniversary of its founding at the 2014 Founders Day Convocation. She has also been featured as the conductor/composer-in-residence for the 2017 Harry T. Burleigh Commemorative Spiritual Festival at Tennessee State University. Ms. Boykin’s instrumental and choral works are currently being published and distributed through her own publishing company, Klavia Press.
She is currently the Assistant Director of the Spelman College Glee Club, as well as the Director of the Treble Choir at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Additionally, Ms. Boykin is also the newly appointed Interim Director of Choral Activities at Agnes Scott College. She is currently PhD candidate at Georgia State University with an emphasis in Music Education.
Laura Caviani, composer
Laura Caviani is a veteran of two decades of performing, recording and composing. With five CDs under her own name, and many more as a “side–man”, she has recorded with some of the best jazz musicians in the region. Her latest projects have focused on arranging her favorite childhood classical piano pieces for jazz groups. Caviani was one of five finalists at the International Jazz Piano Competition in Jacksonville, FL. Her release Going There, enjoyed a long run on the JazzWeek national radio charts. Featuring all original work, it was hailed as “piano jazz trio of the highest order” by Downbeat contributor Bob Protzman. Other releases have received such praise as “stunningly fresh” from JazzTimes and “in a word, outstanding” from Tom Surowicz of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Recent commissions include diverse projects ranging from setting music to poetry (A Girl Named Vincent, Prudence Johnson) to composing string quartets (Four Voices) and choral works (Great River Chorale). She holds degrees from both Lawrence University and The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. As a dedicated educator, she is on faculty at Carleton College, where she directs the jazz ensemble, coaches chamber groups, and teaches jazz piano. Please visit www.lauracaviani.com for upcoming performances.
Melanie DeMore, composer
SAY HELLO TO MELANIE DEMORE! Born in the Bronx, raised in Anchorage, folks moved all five kids to San Antonio, finished school, got out of Texas, kinda got off on being the only Black folk singer in Taos, N.M, then decided to get back into the mix, took all her stuff and moved to Oakland where she’s been for the last 21 years. (Actually, Mel and Tracy C. had a good laugh one day in San Francisco where they finally met and realized folks had them mixed up all the time. They still do!) Every town Melanie traveled became her teacher and an opportunity to hone her craft as a songwriter, troubadour, and an emissary of tolerance, kindness, and harmony through the sound of her golden voice.
HERE’S THE DEAL: She’s traveled the world, was a founding member of the Grammy nominated vocal ensemble Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir, and is constantly amazed by her life. But nothing is closer to her heart than bringing people together wherever she is to experience the healing power of music. Whether she’s performing solo, leading stick pounding workshops, doing residencies with choirs all over the country or teaching Sound Awareness to sixth graders, baby boomers, or senior citizens, one thing is certain: her mission is to make sure you unlock the key to experiencing yourself in all your Glory and return home with the very same excitement and passion for living that she herself has. When she comes your way, her energy will charge the very air you breathe like a meteor shower, so get ready to rise up!
RESPECT AND PROPS: With a solid education in music composition, this accomplished songwriter, composer, choral conductor and former Sister of the Cloth, has a level of understanding as to the pure intention of Music that comes to only a very few in each generation. Life for Melanie DeMore is for the seeking and sharing of light, joy, and deep love for what moves you. If you haven’t heard her yet, rest assured there is only one woman on this Planet who’s voice is as deep, resonant, mesmerizing, comforting, and downright jaw-dropping in its power and sensuality as hers is. She has been a formidable presence onstage at such noted venues as Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, international folk music festivals from Europe to Cuba to New Zealand. She has shared the stage with some of the world’s most notable musicians and political activists from Gloria Steinem, Odetta, Pete Seeger, and Judy Collins to Ed Asner, Holly Near, Ronnie Gilbert, and Ani Di Franco. She has been credited with launching and inspiring the careers of many of her students over the years, including Skyblaze/Sony recording artist Goapele. She will run into students decades later only to hear the same praises over and over again. She has taken troubled children and turned lives around. She never gives up. She’s the songwriter’s songwriter, the composer’s composer.
LITTLE KNOWN SUPERNATURAL POWERS: Known to the mothers of screaming babies as a human pacifier. Known to the parents of difficult children as the child whisperer, she transforms the raw energy of human beings into flowing rhythms, self empowering awareness, with a sweet top note of humor and not taking oneself too seriously. An admitted kid at heart, Melanie loves to inject her effervescent playfulness into traditionally serious forums and gatherings, reminding us to lighten up, step “out the way” and let our spirits do their dance.
WITH UNDYING COMPASSION: She has been called to the bedsides of both newborns and those in transition. She has chanted and toned to awaken the newcomer into this world, and soothed many a weary soul about to pass, with praises and hymns for a life well lived.
CLOSING THOUGHTS: Most likely the words to a song of hers that has been performed by choirs and choruses all over the world and has given hope and comfort to so many…”I’m sending you light, to heal you, to hold you…I’m sending you light, to hold you in love.”—bio by Sonya Heller
Jayanthi Kyle, composer
Jayanthi Kyle is an American gospel and soul singer/songwriter based in Minneapolis, Minnesota who uses music, song, and storytelling to empower both youth and adults alike. Kyle has been active in more than 11 bands in her career, including Black Audience, Jayanthi Kyle and the Crybabies, Romantica, Gospel Machine, Davis Bain Band, Passed Presents, Give Get Sistet, Miss Pennie’s Microphone, and The Blacker The Berry Arts Collective.
Alysia Lee, composer
Alysia Lee is a champion of equity and excellence in arts education. Lee’s full circle role as an artist, arts educator, teaching artist, and arts advocate, gives her a broad perspective of the arts ecosystem. Alysia received national recognition for advancing access, equity, visibility, representation, and power-sharing between artists, organizations, and communities. Key to her methods are empowerment, partnership construction, and intersectional approaches to community exchange while centering anti-racism, creativity, and social justice.
Mark Miller, composer
Mark Miller believes passionately that music can change the world. He also believes in Cornell West’s quote that ‘Justice is what love looks like in public.’ His dream is that the music he composes, performs, teaches and leads will inspire and empower people to create the beloved community.
Mark serves as Assistant Professor of Church Music at Drew Theological School and is a Lecturer in the Practice of Sacred Music at Yale University. He also is the Minister of Music of Christ Church in Summit, New Jersey.
Since 1999 Mark has led music for United Methodists and others around the country, including directing music for the 2008 General Conference. His choral anthems are best sellers for Abingdon Press and Choristers Guild and his hymns are published in “Worship & Song”, “Sing! Prayer and Praise”, “Zion Still Sings”, “Amazing Abundance”, “The Faith We Sing”, and others.
Mark received his Bachelor of Arts in Music from Yale University and his Master of Music in Organ Performance from Juilliard. Mark is a lifelong United Methodist. He is the grandson, son, brother, uncle, and cousin to United Methodist clergy. As a lay delegate to the 2000 and 2004 and 2012 General Conferences, Mark was a witness to Christ’s mission of breaking down the dividing walls of hostility and fear in the United Methodist Church.
Kyle Pederson, composer
Kyle Pederson (b. 1971) is a Minneapolis-based composer, lyricist, pianist, and educator. Kyle was awarded the ACDA Genesis Prize in 2020 and the American Prize in Choral Composition in 2019. His work has been commissioned and recorded by All State/Honors choirs, and youth, church, college, and professional choirs around the world. Kyle enjoys working at the intersection of the sacred and secular, and his lyrics and music invite the choir and audience to be agents of hope, grace, and compassion in the world. Kyle has an undergraduate degree from Augustana University, a Masters Degree in Education from University of St. Thomas, and an MFA in Music Composition from Vermont College of Fine Art. His work is published by Walton, Santa Barbara, Galaxy, Morningstar, Alfred, and Carl Fischer music publishers. Additional information and links to Kyle’s music can be found at kylepederson.com.
Rosephanye Powell, composer
Dr. Rosephanye Dunn Powell has been hailed as one of America’s premier women composers of choral music. She has an impressive catalogue of works published by some of the nation’s leading publishers, including the Hal Leonard Corporation, the Fred Bock Music Company/Gentry Publications, Oxford University Press, Alliance Music Publications, and Shawnee. Dr. Powell is commissioned yearly to compose for university choruses, professional, community and church choirs, as well as secondary school choruses. Dr. Powell’s works have been conducted and premiered by nationally-renowned choral conductors, including, but not limited to, Anton Armstrong, Philip Brunelle, Bob Chilcott, Rodney Eichenberger, Tom Hall, Albert McNeil, Tim Seelig, and André Thomas. Her work has been auctioned by Chorus America and her compositions are in great demand at choral festivals around the country, frequently appearing on the regional and national conventions of the American Choral Directors Association, as well as Honor Choir festivals. Dr. Powell’s compositions include sacred and secular works for mixed chorus, women’s chorus, men’s chorus, and children’s voices. Dr. Powell serves as Professor of Voice at Auburn University. She holds degrees from The Florida State University (D.M. in vocal performance, University Fellow), Westminster Choir College (M.M. in vocal performance and pedagogy, with distinction), and Alabama State University (B.M.E., summa cum laude). Dr. Powell served on the faculties of Philander Smith College (AR) and Georgia Southern University prior to her arrival at Auburn University in 2001.
G. Phillip Shoultz, III, arranger
G. Phillip Shoultz, III, Associate Conductor | Director of Learning and Engagement at VocalEssence, is known for fostering community and inspiring action among people of all ages and abilities. Phillip has conducted choirs and workshops across the United States and in Canada, England, Estonia, Finland, France, Mexico, Germany, and Russia. He has taught at the University of St. Thomas, the University of Minnesota, and Georgia State University and his work in the public schools garnered multiple Teacher of the Year honors. The winner of the 2015 ACDA Graduate Conducting Competition and an International Conductors’ Exchange Program Participant, Phillip believes in the transformative power of shared singing experiences.
Joel Thompson, composer
Emmy award-winning composer, Joel Thompson (b.1988) is a composer, pianist, conductor, and educator from Atlanta.
His largest work, Seven Last Words of the Unarmed for TTBB chorus, strings and piano, was premiered in November 2015 by the University of Michigan Men’s Glee Club under the direction of Dr. Eugene Rogers.
Recently, Thompson was a composition fellow at the Aspen Music Festival and School where he worked with composers Stephen Hartke and Christopher Theofanidis. Thompson taught at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School in Atlanta 2015-2017, and also served as Director of Choral Studies and Assistant Professor of Music at Andrew College 2013-2015. Thompson is a proud Emory alum, graduating with a B.A. in Music in 2010, and an M.M. in Choral Conducting in 2013. His teachers include Eric Nelson, William Ransom, Laura Gordy, Richard Prior, John Anthony Lennon, Kevin Puts, Robert Aldridge, and Scott Stewart. Thompson is currently pursuing his D.M.A. in composition at the Yale School of Music.