Jessie Downs is a composer, vocalist, and teaching artist for whom music is a medium for sharing personal experiences and entering into community with others. As a composer, she treasures the uncanny and surprising beauty of wild yet delicate things. While she has written for a number of instrumentations, her favorite media include found objects, altered instruments, and the human voice. She holds a BMus in Composition from Oberlin Conservatory and is currently a PhD candidate in Composition at the University at Buffalo.

Jessie’s compositional works have been performed throughout North America and Europe by a variety of excellent musicians and collaborators, including individuals like percussionist Christian Smith (The Hague), flutist Michael Matsuno (San Diego), harpist Jennifer Ellis (San Fransisco), and pianist Jade Conlee (New Haven), as well as professional ensembles like The Syndicate for the New Arts (Cleveland) and Citywater (Sacramento) and several educational and sacred ensembles. Recent notable performances include productions of the opening scenes from her opera-in-progress, The Second Sight during the 2017 Opera from Scratch workshop (Halifax), at the National Sawdust theatre (Brooklyn) as a finalist in Beth Morrison Projects’s 2018 Next Generation competition for new operatic works, and at the 2019 June in Buffalo festival. Past accolades include winning 2nd prize in the Dutch Harp Festival Composition Competition in 2014 for the piece “Noticing and Truth-Telling” for re-tuned harp, and having this work performed at the following year’s Gaudeamus Muziekweek (Utrecht).

Jessie is also a classically trained vocalist who prides herself on applying a composer’s sensitivity to her interpretations of classical masterpieces, and on coloring new works with the flexibility afforded by a traditional technique. She has studied and presented scenes from a variety of roles such as Giulietta (I Capuleti e i Montecchi), Micaëla (Carmen), Lucia di Lammermoor, Mimì (La Bohème), Madama Butterfly, Suor Angelica, Gilda (Rigoletto), Violetta (La Traviata), and Marietta (Die Tote Stadt). She has also performed many solo vocal works of the contemporary canon such as Enno Poppe’s “Wespe” (Royaumont Abbey, France), Kaija Saariaho’s “Changing Light” for soprano and flute (Longy School of Music, Cambridge MA) and Saariaho’s song cycle “From the Grammar of Dreams” (on a Rustbelt tour with soprano Julia Anne Cordani). Since 2016 she has also directed and performed with her contemporary vocal ensemble the Sotto Voce Vocal Collective, which specializes in the performances of works by underrepresented living composers.

Jessie is also a dedicated music educator. At present, her primary work is teaching the students of her private voice studio, a diverse group of adults from their 20s to their 80s seeking to gain knowledge and build strength in the area of vocal craftsmanship. Over the past 4 years she has worked as a Teaching Assistant at the University at Buffalo where she has taught the first year of Aural Skills to Music Majors and Minors, Music Theory for Non-Majors, and a hands-on art appreciation class called Art in Society. She has also given workshops on creative music-making and vocalization to local youth in Ohio, New Jersey, and New York since 2013, when she co-founded the after-school music program Sonic Explorations in Orange NJ, which continues to serve its community today.

Jessie owes her thanks to current teachers David Felder (composition) and Franco Bertacci (voice) as well as former teachers Aaron Helgeson, Daniel Tacke, and Josh Levine (composition) and Nadine Robinson (voice). She also owes much to such inspiring composers as James Weeks (EXAUDI), Antoine Beuger, Reiko Füting (MSM), Michael Pisaro (CalArts), Chaya Czernowin (Harvard), and Eve Beglarian – and to vocalists Juliet Fraser (EXAUDI), Jeffrey Gavett (Ekmeles), and Chuck Schneider (Opera Angelo) – whose mentorships have had a great influence on her work.

THE CREATIVES is an educational resource created for STARS OF DIFFERENT HUES, an outreach project started by new renaissance artist Elizabeth A. Baker, to make the tools and practitioners of experimental music and performance art accessible to school aged youth in the State of Florida.

These interviews by living artists each come with a creative challenge prompt for students and are short enough to be used within the classroom for K-12 students.

Sponsored in part by the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs and the Florida Council on Arts and Culture.

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