With his infectious smile and upbeat energy, award-winning composer Shawn Okpebelo led KO’s Upper School chorus in a beautifully commissioned work, “Left Foot, Peg Foot (Follow the Drinking Gourd).” David Marottolo ’18 accompanied the class on the piano. With the cadence of a spiritual with voices rising and falling in harmony, the piece established community and connection among the students. Okpebelo encouraged the chorus to continually sing the piece until all their voices were on point and snapped his fingers exclaiming, “This is good!” Okpebelo worked with KO students over the course of three days, including the band.
The song, “Left Foot, Peg Foot,” refers to Peg Leg Joe who was a sailor who led the enslaved peoples through the Underground Railroad to freedom. It is unclear whether Peg Leg Joe was an actual person or a compilation of individuals. According to the lore, he is credited for composing the song "Follow the Drinkin' Gourd", which contained a code leading people to freedom by following a series of rivers to the North.
Okeploho studied music theory and earned his masters degree and doctorate in composition from the College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) at the University of Cincinnati, Currently, he is Associate Professor of Music Composition and Theory at Wheaton College Conservatory of Music (IL), having previously taught at Union University (TN), Northern Kentucky University, and CCM. His music has been performed all across the United States as well as in Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America. He has one several distinguished awards including Second Place Winner in The American Prize in Composition (professional/orchestral division), First Prize Winner in the Flute New Music Consortium Composition Competition, Winner of the Adams-Owens Composition Award, First Prize Winner in the Accent06 International Composition Competition, among others. His music has been performed in Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, and all across the States.
All Kingswood Oxford choral groups study and perform the composer’s work, including one commissioned exclusively for the Composer Colloquy. Since the Series’ inception in 2005, our choirs have performed more than 60 commissioned pieces in various genres including contemporary classical, world music, spirituals, jazz, and acapella. Both Middle and Upper School students gain a valuable glimpse into the life of a professional working artist.