Nationally recognized Auburn composer finds power and purpose in music
For nearly 20 years, Rosephanye Powell has been a key member of the Auburn University Department of Music. Being hailed as one of America's premier composers of choral music, Powell has seen thousands of students come through her doors and taught thousands more how to use their musical talents in a way that has the potential to change the world, but one of the most notable things she has ever done has stemmed far beyond the walls of Goodwin Hall.
Outside of Auburn University, Powell has the honor of serving as an All-State Choir and Honor Choir Conductor for high school choirs around the country. When she’s not teaching or conducting, Powell is busy composing her own pieces and sharing them with people all around the world. When it comes to her composing career, Powell said she feels “very blessed to be the most published African American female composer in the world.”
During her time at Auburn, Powell has earned the honor of serving as the composer in residence at several universities across the country. In this role, nationally and internationally known universities have invited her to come and be on their campus for a number of days. During those days, the choirs will perform the composer’s works.
According to Powell, in contemporary times there is a greater desire to perform the music of living composers, rather than composers, such as Mozart and Beethoven, who have died and left their musical legacy behind. As a contemporary composer, Powell receives invitations from institutions across the country on a weekly basis to visit their campuses and share insights on how she composes and sets texts. Generally, Powell accepts two composer-in-residence invitations a month.
From an early age, Powell had an intense love for music. She grew up singing in the choir at church and then later sang in the choir at her high-school. When she graduated from high school and made her way to college, she sang in the choir at Alabama State University in Montgomery, AL, and Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ, while pursuing degrees in music education and solo vocal performance.
After obtaining her doctoral degree at Florida State University and teaching at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, AR, Powell found her way to Auburn University where she has taught since 2001. Although she first came to Auburn in the role of assistant professor of voice, she now serves as the coordinator of voice studies and is a professor of voice for the college.
As a voice professor, Powell spends most of her time teaching one-on-one voice lessons to vocal majors. Additionally, she conducts the women’s chorus and co-conducts the AU Gospel Choir with her husband, William Powell. As coordinator of voice studies, however, she works with other voice instructors to provide leadership and guidance in serving the vocal music majors.
In addition to her duties at Auburn, Powell serves as a consultant to choral directors and students at universities, high schools and middle schools, around the country, providing insights on the many contributions of African Americans to classical music.
Powell says as an African American composer, people generally want her to provide insights into what influences her compositions. “My heritage and culture influence how I compose. I use stylistic qualities of idiomatic African American music, including jazz, gospel, R & B, spirituals, and even African folk songs, in addition to European compositional techniques. Since there are not a lot of African Americans with visibility in classical music and the arts on a national or international level, I think it is important for me to be able to share my story and influences while speaking about the music when I travel.”
“Choirs like to get into the composer’s head while they have the composer in front of them. They like to learn more about how I put my music together, my unique style, and how they can more accurately interpret my music,” Powell said.
Educating young people on the importance of music has always been something extremely important to Powell. She said, “Music is a part of most everyone’s life, and music with words is powerful. It has the power to communicate and bond people. Music can unify, embolden, encourage, and so much more!”
Overall for Powell, the most rewarding part of her career to date has been the opportunity she has had to have an impact on young people around the country and around the world. “When I get emails from people who have sung my music, stating how my music has positively impacted their lives; or when I get to speak to students across the country or in Auburn about the importance of being a life-long sharer of song, it means so much to me.”
“Watching students come to a rehearsal and meeting a student for the first time, and then seeing who they are when it’s over is incredible! They come in one way as freshmen and leave quite differently as seniors. I see them in the third or fourth year and think of how refined and mature they have become--ready to face the world as adults. It’s truly wonderful,” Powell said.
As a voice professor at Auburn University, Powell sees her position as one of service. She aims to nurture, encourage, teach, and direct in every aspect of her career, and from the looks of it, she’s doing just that.