News and Awards

Podcast Interview with Jesse Ayers

Guest Jesse Ayers and hosts Tarik Ghiradella and Amy Scurria discuss Ayers’ one-act opera Beneath Suspicion and his surround-sound concert story Jericho.

Jesse Ayers Receives Governor’s Award for Ohio’s Outstanding Individual Artist

January 2020.  The Ohio Arts Council has announced that composer Jesse Ayers has been named the recipient of the Governor’s Award for an Individual Artist for 2020.

​The Governor’s Awards “showcase and celebrate exceptional Ohio artists, arts organizations, arts leaders and patrons, and business support for the arts. Award recipients will be presented with the only arts award in the state that is conferred by the governor.”

Donna S. Collins, Executive Director of the Ohio Arts Council, says, “The Governor’s Awards are a special opportunity to celebrate Ohioans who exemplify what it means to make a difference through the power of the arts.”

Each year, the public is invited to nominate individuals and organizations. Recipients are selected by the Governor’s Awards Selection Committee, composed of six Ohio Arts Council (OAC) board members and three members selected by the Ohio Citizens for the Arts (OCA) Foundation, who recommend winners after reviewing nominations and letters of support submitted by individuals and organizations across Ohio.

“I am humbled to receive this award,” says Ayers, “and grateful that our Governor, legislators, arts patrons, and good people of Ohio recognize the transformative power of the arts in our communities. In that sense, I receive this award on behalf of all Ohioans working to create and promote the arts.”

Ayers in rehearsal with conductor Nan Washburn, singer/narrator Emery Stephens, and the Michigan Philharmonic

Ayers continues, “I have been very fortunate and so blessed 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, when I get to work side-by-side with 50, 100, even 200 highly skilled musicians coming 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.”

Ayers was the winner of the inaugural American Prize for Composition in 2011 for his work The Passion of John Brown for orchestra and narrator, commissioned by Christopher Wilkins and Akron Symphony; winner of the 2016 Opera Kansas Zepick Modern Opera Composition Competition for his two-woman, one-act opera, Beneath Suspicion, commissioned by Soprani Compagni, and co-winner of the 2011 Dayton Ballet “New Music for New Dance” competition for his works Dance of the Mountain Raindrops and Tubing the Townsend ‘Y’

Jesse Ayers OhioMTA Composer of the Year

Raquel Teare, pianist; Breant Schlonger, pianist & treasurer of OhioMTA; Ayers; Patrick Reynolds, OhioMTA coordinator for the MTNA Composer of the Year Program.

January 22, 2019.  by Amber Balash

Accolades are nothing new to Malone University’s well-respected and accomplished Professor of Music Jesse Ayers, whose compositions have been performed in nearly a dozen countries and more than 100 U.S. cities.

Yet being named the Ohio Music Teachers 2019 Commissioned Composer of the Year felt particularly special.

“I am humbled and excited to receive this honor from Ohio’s oldest organization of professional music teachers,” Ayers said. “I’m looking forward to the challenge of composing a new piece worthy of one of Ohio’s most important music associations.”

As the Commissioned Composer of the Year, Ayers will create a new work [the now-completed Shinkansen for Piano 4-Hands] to be premiered at the 2019 OhioMTA state conference. Ohio MTA was founded in 1879 and is affiliated with the Music Teachers National Association, founded in 1876 and the nation’s oldest organization of professional music teachers.

Ayers-Myricks Finalists for American Prize, Awarded Special Judges Citation

Charles Myricks, Jr. and Jesse Ayers after speaking to Ayers’ music theory classes about their new work

May 2018.  Jesse Ayers and Charles Myricks, Jr., have been named Finalists for the 2017-18 American Prize for Composition, and awarded a Special Judges Citation for “Best Use of Musical Material from Another Source” for their work for orchestra and chorus, THERE’S A STIRRIN’ IN THE WATER. This is the seventh time a work by Ayers has been among the finalists for the American Prize. In 2011, Ayers won the inaugural American Prize for Orchestral Composition for his work THE PASSION OF JOHN BROWN

Stirrin’ was premiered by the Akron Symphony & Chorus in November 2016, under the baton of Christopher Wilkins, and has since received performances by several orchestras around the country.

Dr. Michael Moore, conductor of the Fountain Inn Symphony in South Carolina, reported after his orchestra’s performance, “There’s a Stirrin’ the Water was such a moving way to end our concert honoring Dr. Martin Luther King on the 50th anniversary of his death. The musicians immediately fell in love with it in rehearsal, and the audience were on their feet at the end of the performance. The place was just electric. Dr. Grady Butler, one of the students who went to jail with Dr. King in 1960, was in attendance at our performance and was deeply touched. He was simply effusive in his praise. Thank you for this powerful work of beauty, struggle, and hope. I look forward to sharing it with new audiences again and again in the years to come. “

The work explores the rich heritage of the American spiritual, from the expressions of suffering in the songs of sorrow such as “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” to the songs of sustaining faith, such as “Steal Away” and “Deep River,” to the songs of victory and praise, such as “Ain’t Got Time to Die.”

Ayers’ Beneath Suspicion​ named Finalist Honorable Mention 2017-18 American Prize

May 2018.  Jesse Ayers has been named a Finalist Honorable Mention for the American Prize in Composition in the Opera-Theater Division for his work BENEATH SUSPICION for two sopranos, violin, and pianoThis is the sixth time a work by Ayers has been among the finalists of the American Prize. Ayers was the winner of the inaugural American Prize for Orchestral Composition in 2011 for his work THE PASSION OF JOHN BROWN

Beneath Suspicion is based on a true, little-known story of two daring, American women who played on prevailing gender and racial stereotypes to fight slavery by spying for the Union during the Civil War.  The work was commissioned by Soprani Compagni.

The American Prize in Composition recognizes and rewards the best composers in America of new works for orchestra, chorus, concert band, chamber ensemble or theater that have been publicly performed.

Akron Symphony premieres Ayers-Myricks’  There’s A Stirrin’ in the Water

Jesse Ayers and Charles Myricks, Jr. new work for orchestra and chorus, There’s A Stirrin’ In The Water, premiered November 2016 by the Akron Symphony Orchestra, the Akron Symphony Chorus, and Akron’s Youth Excellence in the Performing Arts Workshop under the baton of ASO music director Christopher Wilkins. The 18-minute piece, was commissioned by the Akron Symphony for its “Legacy of the Spirituals” program and is a celebration of the American spiritual.

Ayers wins 5th finalist award from American Prize

November 2016.  Jesse Ayers has been named a finalist for the American Prize in Composition. His work THE FIRE OF THE LIVING GOD for wind symphony is a finalist in the band division. This is Ayers fifth finalist award from The American Prize. He won the inaugural American Prize in Composition in 2011.

Ayers Wins Opera Kansas Zepick Opera Composition Prize

KPTS-Wichita Special Report on Beneath Suspicion

Opera Kansas selected Jesse Ayers’ work BENEATH SUSPICION as the winner of their Opera Kansas 30th Anniversary Zepick Modern Opera Composition Prize. The work received two performances at Wichita’s gala Art Day of Giving event on April 29, 2016. The 18-minute, two-woman work is based on a true, little-known story of two daring, 19th-century American women, one a wealthy, white middle-aged aristocrat, the other a freed slave barely in her twenties, who crossed social, racial, and economic barriers to work together to fight against slavery during the American Civil War.

The work was performed by Ashley Winters in the role of Elizabeth van Lew, and Jasmine Jackson as Mary Bowser, with Sherri Pilgreen as collaborative pianist and Paul Brodene Smith as artistic and musical director.

​Ayers work performed at CBDNA North Central

PRIVATE EYE PROWL was selected for performance at the 2016 Conference of College Band Directors National Association (CBDNA), North Central Division, held at Iowa State University in February. The work was performed by the Luther College Concert Band, guest conducted by Dr. Jeffrey Doebler, Past-President of the Indiana Bandmasters Association, the organization which commissioned the piece for the 2014 Indiana Junior All-State Band.

Jesse Ayers receives commendation from the Ohio Senate

Ayers commissioned by Soprani Compagni

Jesse Ayers has been commissioned by Soprani Compagni to compose a new work for their “Portraits of Women” project. The work, Beneath Suspicion, a Scene from the Lives of Mary Bowser and Elizabeth Van Lew, will premiere November 14, 2015, at Indiana Wesleyan University, and is based on a the true story of two women, both passionate abolitionists, who spied for the Union in the Confederate capital of Richmond during the American Civil War.

The group commissioned the work because “soprano repertoire often depicts limited portraits of women, themed around love for her man, external beauty, and unfulfilled dreams. Soprani Compagni seeks to promote the contributions of women in our society… encouraging more women to embrace their calling and to let their (soprano) voices be heard.”

Ayers wins his 3rd & 4th finalist awards from the American Prize

July 2014.  Jesse Ayers’ compositions RAHAB and JERICHO have both been named finalists for the American Prize in Composition.  JERICHO is scored for surround-sound wind symphony and narrator and tells the Old Testament account of the Battle of Jericho with narration from Joshua 6. RAHAB is is scored for mezzo-soprano and surround-sound wind symphony and tells the story of the Old Testament Battle of Jericho from inside the wall through the eyes of Rahab, the great-great grandmother of King DavidAyers was the winner of the first American Prize for Orchestral Composition in 2011 for his work THE PASSION OF JOHN BROWN

Ayers wins two finalist awards from the American Prize

Two works by composer Jesse Ayers were named finalists for the 2013 American Prize in Composition—Band Division. Seven works in all nationally made the finals list in this division, and two of the seven were composed by Ayers: JERICHO and AND THEY GATHERED ON MOUNT CARMEL

Ayers wins 2011 American Prize for Orchestral Composition

May 2011.  The American Prize has announced that Jesse Ayers’ THE PASSION OF JOHN BROWN has been named winner of the 2011 American Prize for Orchestral Composition.  The American Prize is a series of national non-profit competitions in the performing arts which provides reward and recognition to the finest composers, conductors and ensembles in America.  Ayers’ work was commissioned by the Akron Symphony Orchestra to commemorate the 150th anniversary of abolitionist John Brown’s raid on the Federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry.  Brown was a resident of Akron.  The work was premiered October 17, 2009 — 150 years to the day of Brown’s raid — by the Akron Symphony Orchestra, Christopher Wilkins conducting, with Broadcasters Hall of Fame inductee Leon Bibb, narrating.

Windiana Concert Band presents Ayers “Biblical Epics Trilogy”

The Windiana Concert Band, Jeffrey Scott Doebler, cond.

November 2011. The Windiana Concert Band, under the direction of Dr. Jeffrey Scott Doebler, presented a program on November 17, 2011, of three major, biblically-themed works by composer Jesse Ayers. The works performed were AND THEY GATHERED ON MOUNT CARMEL, JERICHO, and RAHAB.  Mezzo-soprano Beth Ray Westlund sang the role of Rahab. The concert was held at the Memorial Opera House, Valparaiso, Indiana. 

Ayers’ work co-wins Dayton Ballet’s “New Music for New Dance”

Jesse Ayers has been named one of the three winners nationwide of the Dayton Ballet’s “New Music for New Dance” competition. The program matched three composers with three choreographers culminating in a series of world premiere ballet performances. His winning work, Mountain River Escapades, was selected by jury from a national call for scores. Escapades is an umbrella title for two of Ayers’ works: DANCE OF THE MOUNTAIN RAINDROPS and TUBING THE TOWNSEND “Y.”

Composer Jesse Ayers awarded MacDowell fellowship

Ayers in front of the Watson Studio at the MacDowell Colony. Other composers to have worked in this same studio include Amy Beach, Ernst Bacon, Vladimir Ussachevsky, David Del Tredici, Frank Ticheli, and Leonard Bernstein.

September 2010.  The MacDowell Colony has announced that composer Jesse Ayers has been awarded a MacDowell Fellowship for the Fall of 2010.  The fellowship includes a residency at the 450 acre wooded site in New Hampshire.

Past fellows include Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Thornton Wilder, James Baldwin, Willa Cather, and Dubose and Dorothy Heyward. 

According to the the MacDowell Colony web site, the colony’s mission is to “nurture the arts by offering creative individuals of the highest talent an inspiring environment in which to produce enduring works of the imagination.”

Ayers will begin work on a major, unconventional composition, RAHAB, a piece for mezzo-soprano and surround-sound wind symphony, a concert “radio drama” based on the extraordinary life of the Rahab of Jericho as recorded in Joshua 2 and 6.