“Music by women, for women”: Composer Rosephanye Powell at Eastman This Week

October 15, 2019

Rosephanye Powell


By Jeremy Lopez

ALP Communications Intern


This fall, the Eastman Women’s Chorus has the unique opportunity of singing under the baton of a composer on their main concert of the semester. On October 19th, Rosephanye Powell will be joining the ensemble to conduct a concert featuring her own compositions and arrangements in Kilbourn Hall, which will also include performances from the Eastman Repertory Singers and the Eastman Chorale. Dr. Powell’s visit is made possible through Eastman Departmental Diversity Initiative funding, which is funded jointly by the Music Teaching and Learning, Conducting and Ensembles, and Voice and Opera departments.


Rosephanye Powell is one of the premier American composers of choral music, and is known for her versatile style in her own compositions and her unique arrangements of African-American spirituals. In talking about her work as a composer and conductor, Dr. Powell spoke candidly about what it meant to be a woman in the world of music and, more specifically, to compose for women’s chorus. “So much music composed for women has been written by men,” she said, “so women are singing music from a male perspective even if the poet is female. Songs composed by women, for women allow women to be heard as one unified and powerful voice. We get to tell our stories from our perspective.” This perspective is one that has been suppressed in the past, but is now seeing more light thanks to people like Dr. Powell who have forged their own way.


As a choral conductor, Dr. Powell also has a strong vision of what performers take away from singing pieces such as her own. “What I hope they learn specifically changes from song to song, but generally I want the choir to learn how to be storytellers by expressing the meaning of the poetry and touching the hearts of the audience.” She adds, “For me, the beauty of choral singing is that it brings together people from all walks of life, cultures, races, nationalities, etc., to become one voice, working toward a common goal. For me that goal is sharing their hearts, gifts and talents with the world. The skills developed and used in choral singing, include creating community, self-expression, listening, working together, and singing as one voice. These can be used in most any career and in any stage of life.”


Dr. Powell’s work with singers across the country has been truly inspiring for all those she has worked with, but she says that this often works in both directions, with the singers inspiring her as well. “I always learn from the choirs with which I work. Often, I learn what doesn’t work as well in a composition as well as what does work. As well, I am inspired to compose when singers bring to life and go beyond what is written on the page. I get fresh ideas from singers and am motivated for future works.” The Eastman Women’s Chorus will have the wonderful opportunity of creating this exchange of inspiration when Rosephanye Powell visits in the week leading up to the October 19th concert. During this week she will be rehearsing with the choir, as well as leading a Q&A session for students and faculty.


For more information about Dr. Powell, please visit her website at http://rosephanyepowell.com

For more information about the choral concert on October 19th, please visit http://www.erchoirs.org/