Composer Nkeiru Okoye & Students At South Shore Conservatory To Team Up For Upcoming Performance

A 2021-2022 Guggenheim Fellow, Dr. Okoye is best known for composing the opera, Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed that Line to Freedom.

By: Jul. 01, 2021
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Composer Nkeiru Okoye & Students At South Shore Conservatory To Team Up For Upcoming Performance

South Shore Conservatory has announced Nkeiru Okoye as the first composer-in-residence for its new SSC Transform initiative, which uses music education as a vehicle to promote social awareness and social justice.

SSC Transform is a new multi-faceted project spearheaded by Dr. Eric Laprade, Music Director for SSC's Summer Music Festival (SMF), Music Director and Director of Bands at The College of New Jersey; in collaboration with Dr. Lidia Chang, SMF flute faculty; and Adam Shekleton, SMF conductor and public school educator. At the core of the program is the annual commission of a new musical composition that explores a social justice topic, affirming music's role as a vehicle for social change.

A 2021-2022 Guggenheim Fellow, Dr. Okoye is best known for composing the opera, Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed that Line to Freedom, the orchestral work, Voices Shouting Out, which she composed as an artistic response to 9/11, and her suite, African Sketches, which has been performed by pianists around the globe. She is a graduate of Oberlin Conservatory of Music and Rutgers University.

Dr. Okoye is the inaugural recipient of the Florence Price Award for Composition. A recent New York Times article said, "Okoye's work would make a fitting grand opening for an opera company's post-pandemic relaunch."

Grayce and Sickle, the piece Dr. Okoye wrote for SSC Transform, is a tribute to Dr. Paula Johnson, President of Wellesley College. A leading academic and cardiologist, Dr. Johnson has a special interest in the research of the correlation between genetics and medicine. The title of the work is derived from Grayce, Johnson's mother who encouraged and nurtured her, and sickle cell disease, a genetic blood disorder that impacts many people of African descent.

Dr. Okoye notes, "Composing a five-minute tribute to one of the most impressive individuals I have encountered was a challenge. When South Shore Conservatory approached me about composing a work themed around social justice, I expressed my desire for a living subject who could be a role model, someone who transcends the stereotypical roles that depict African Americans. Dr. Johnson embodies all of this and more. At a time when people are protesting against things, she gives us someone to root for and admire. Beyond this, the work gave me an opportunity to bring attention to sickle cell disease, the need for a cure, and to advocate for more education about it."

Dr. Laprade is very excited for SMF students to start work on the piece.

"I first became aware of Dr. Okoye's music through the premiere of her piece, Black Bottom, with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in March 2020. The lyricism and rhythmic vitality were stunning," said Laprade. "After learning more about Dr. Okoye's work and studying her music, it became clear that she would be an amazing first collaborator for the SSC Transform program. We are delighted for the opportunity for our students to experience Dr. Okoye's music."

SSC Transform was the first initiative to receive funding from the Kathy O. Czerny Innovation Fund, established to honor the former SSC President's 14 years of service. This endowment fund was founded to further South Shore Conservatory's mission and better serve its community by providing financial support to faculty and staff in the creation and implementation of innovative and forward-thinking programming.

"We must be proactive and intentional in our work to build an arts ecosystem that is equitable and accessible for all," said Laprade. "Through the commission process and clinic/mentorship program, this initiative strives to elevate the work of our generation's most compelling artists and creators. The project is equally intentional in its commitment to develop the essential skills of empathy, reflection, and critical thinking in our students and community."

Grayce and Sickle premieres on July 23, 7 pm, Summer Music Festival's final concert in the Jane Carr Amphitheater, One Conservatory Drive, Hingham. Dr. Okoye will work with SMF students in the days before the performance.

Learn more about Summer Music Festival at, or find South Shore Conservatory on Facebook. A limited number of tickets are available to the general public. For more information, contact


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