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Short Bio

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Ayers with Nan Washburn, Emery Stephens, and the Michigan Philharmonic

JESSE AYERS was the winner of the inaugural American Prize for Orchestral Composition in 2011, and winner of the first Opera Kansas Zepick Modern Opera Composition Competition in 2016. Recent honors include the 2020 Governor’s Award for Ohio’s Outstanding Individual Artist, the 2019 Ohio Music Teachers Association Composer of the Year Commission, two Ohio Arts Council Individual Artist Excellence Awards, the 2011 Dayton Ballet “New Music for New Dance” award, a 2010 MacDowell Fellowship, and seven “Finalist” awards from the American Prize. His music has twice been selected to represent the United States at the prestigious World Music Days festival.

His works have been performed in Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, South Africa, Poland, Serbia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Hungary, Portugal, and more than 100 U.S. cities. Recent commissions include those from the Akron Symphony, Soprani Compagni, the Indiana Bandmasters Association, the Ohio Private Colleges Instrumental Conductors Association, the Milligan College Orchestra, and the Wisconsin Lutheran Synod National Honors Band.

Much of his music is scored for large “surround-sound” forces and explores the intersection of the spiritual and natural worlds and the redemptive intervention of God in the affairs of the human race. Common themes in his music are hope, reconciliation, renewal, and restoration.  Ayers was recently honored with the rank of Professor Emeritus by Malone University, where he was twice awarded the school’s Distinguished Faculty Award.

Long bio

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Premiere with the Akron Symphony

JESSE AYERS was the winner of the inaugural American Prize for Composition in 2011 and winner of the first Opera Kansas Zepick Modern Opera Composition Competition in 2016. His music has been performed in Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, South Africa, Poland, Serbia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Hungary, Portugal, and more than 100 U.S. cities.

Ayers’ works have been performed by the Akron Symphony, the Michigan Philharmonic, the Yakima Symphony, the Chicago Bar Association Symphony Orchestra, the Fort Bend Symphony, the Susquehanna Symphony, the Brantford Symphony (Canada), the Windiana Concert Band, Soprani Compagni, the Marble City Opera, Opera Kansas, and university bands and orchestras around the country.

His music has been selected on two occasions by the International Society for Contemporary Music to represent the United States at the prestigious World Music Days festival.

He is best known for his orchestral and symphonic band “surround-sound” concert stories that explore the intersection of the spiritual and natural worlds and the redemptive intervention of God in the affairs of humankind.

Most recently, Dr. Ayers received the 2020 Governor’s Award for Ohio’s Outstanding Individual Artist and was named the 2019 Ohio Music Teachers Association Composer of the Year. In 2018, Ayers received his sixth and seventh Finalist awards from the American Prize, both works garnering additional “special judges’ citations.” Ayers was also in the first group of composers named in 2014 “Honored Artists” of the American Prize.

Ayers has received two Individual Artist Excellence Awards from the Ohio Arts Council, and in 2015, both the Ohio House and Ohio Senate presented Dr. Ayers with citations for “tremendous attainment.”  

In 2011, he was one of the three national winners in the Dayton Ballet’s “New Music for New Dance” competition, which paired three composers with three choreographers. In 2010, he was awarded a fellowship to compose at the MacDowell Colony, where he began his work Rahab.

Recent commissions include those from the Akron Symphony, the Indiana Bandmasters Association, the Ohio Music Teachers Association, Soprani Compagni, the Milligan College Orchestra, the Ohio Private Colleges Instrumental Conductors Association, and the Wisconsin Lutheran Synod National Honors Band.

Ayers has been a guest composer on university campuses in Texas, Mississippi, Iowa, Colorado, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, California, Illinois, Indiana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida, Ohio, and Tennessee.

Born in Knoxville, Tennessee, Ayers began composing in his early teens, and by age 17 was invited by the legendary WJ Julian to conduct the University of Tennessee’s top band in a performance of his first composition. He conducted that band again in another of his works his final year at the university.

Ayers was recently honored with the rank of Professor Emeritus by Malone University, where he was twice awarded the school’s Distinguished Faculty Award. He holds the D.M.A. in Music Composition from the University of Kentucky, and the M.M. and B.Mus. in Music Composition from the University of Tennessee.

About / Artist Statement

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Ayers with conductor Jeffrey Scott Doebler, founder of the Windiana Concert Band, at rehearsals for the Ayers Biblical Epics Trilogy Concert

My overarching goal as a composer is to write music that touches the human spirit. To facilitate this, I have worked to develop a musical style that is broadly accessible without sacrificing the capacity to express depth of emotion.

Most of my music is quite dramatic and deals with core life issues: purpose, destiny, faith, overcoming adversity, courage under fire – always with the themes of hope and restoration. Rahab and Beneath Suspicion are examples of these.

But some of my music is the polar opposite: music meant to be fun, cheery, with bright harmonies and energetic syncopations, pieces such as ShinkansenThe Dancing King, and Waldstein Express.

I have been very fortunate and over my career to have had the opportunity to work with so many outstanding musicians, both professionals and students, all wonderful human beings, who have been diligent to perform my music at a high level. Composing is done in solitary confinement, locked away with pencil and staff paper. But the performance of the resulting music is marvelously collaborative, where I get to work side-by-side with 50, 100, even 200 highly skilled musicians who come together, in community, to focus on a single goal, that of creating a meaningful, perhaps life-altering, experience for their fellow human beings in the audience. On many occasions, I have experienced the deep gratification of seeing audience members respond to my music with profound, heart-felt emotion, thanks to the dedication, professionalism, and musicianship of the conductors and performers who have brought my music to life in the concert hall.

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