A widely sought-after and award-winning composer, Shawn E. Okpebholo (b. 1981) has been described by Augusta Read Thomas as "...a beautiful artist ...who has enormous grace in his music, and fantasy and color." Okpebholo comfortably composes in a variety of styles and genres, intentional in creating music that is diverse, dynamic, and genuine. A laureate of various awards, these include: Second Place Winner in The American Prize in Composition (professional/orchestral division), First Prize Winner in the Flute New Music Consortium Composition Competition, Winner of the Adams-Owens Composition Award, First Prize Winner in the Accent06 International Composition Competition, among others. His music has been performed in Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, and all across the U.S., including close to forty states. Distinguished venues, festivals, and radio broadcasts include: Carnegie Hall; The Kennedy Center; The National Cathedral; Chicago’s Orchestra Hall; EarTaxi Contemporary Music Festival; Monte Music Festival (Goa, India); MusicX Contemporary Music Festival; The Uncommon Music Festival (Alaska); Front Wave New Music Festival; several National Flute Association, Society of Composers, Inc., College Band Directors National Association, and Christian Fellowship of Art Music Composers national conferences; state music festivals across the country; Chicago's WFMT 98.7 and Cincinnati’s WGUC 90.9.
Okpebholo regularly receives commissions from noted soloists, universities, and organizations, including the International Tuba and Euphonium Association, the United States Air Force, the Ohio Music Education Association, to name a few. Some celebrated performing artists and ensembles include Cadillac Moon, Fulcrum Point, Picosa, United States Army Field Band, cellist Leonardo Altino, baritones Will Liverman and Robert Sims, mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges, pianists Paul Tuntland Sánchez and Mark Markham, euphonium virtuoso Steven Mead, flutists Caen-Thomason-Redus and Jenny Oh Brown, among others. He has received grants from the Illinois Arts Council, Tangemen Sacred Music Center, Wheaton College (Aldeen Research Grant, John Stott Faculty Grant in Human Needs and Global Resources, Faculty Global Research Grant) and a Union University Pew Research Grant. His compositions can be heard on a variety of commercially released albums, including his first album solely devoted to his music, Steal Away, a collection of re-imagined Negro spirituals.
As an academic, Okpebholo has been in residence at many colleges and universities both in the U.S. and Nigeria, giving masterclasses, guest lecturing, and having his music featured in concert. He was one of eighteen featured composers in Volume IV of the book series, “Composers on Composing for Band,” edited by Mark Camphouse. And his compositional interests and research have been a gateway for ethnomusicological field work in both East and West Africa.
He earned his masters and doctoral degrees in composition from the College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) at the University of Cincinnati, where he also studied music theory. He completed a bachelor’s degree in composition and music history from Asbury College and had additional studies in film scoring from New York University. A significant part of his music education growing up was through The Salvation Army church, where he regularly received free music lessons. Inspired by that charity, Okpebholo is passionate about volunteering his musical talents to underserved communities. Currently, he is Associate Professor of Music Composition and Theory at Wheaton College Conservatory of Music (IL), having previously taught at Union University (TN), Northern Kentucky University, and CCM.
He lives in Wheaton, IL, a suburb of Chicago, with his wife, violist Dorthy, and his daughters, Eva and Corinne.
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