Elise Witt, a singer, composer, recording artist, educator, and community activist from Atlanta, returns to Blacksburg for a three-day community singing extravaganza. Witt will lead several community singing events, workshops, and concerts of “local, global, and homemade songs.”
Most recently, Witt visited the area in June during our Vocal Arts and Music Festival. Community members were able to participate in a community singing workshop, which culminated in an “Impromptu Glorious Chorus” at the Blacksburg Farmer’s Market.
She’ll kick off this weekend’s visit with A Concert of Global, Local & Homemade Songs™ at the Blacksburg Public Library tonight at 7 p.m., with additional community events to follow Saturday and Sunday. (You can see the full schedule of events on our website.)
Witt said she’s most excited about hearing the voices come together, and reconnecting with people who have been doing the workshops. In June, most of the students had left campus for the summer, so this weekend also affords her the opportunity to connect with Virginia Tech students.
“I’m looking forward to hearing a Capella singers and getting to connect with the campus,” she said.
Witt’s work leading community singing activities really began in the late 70s, she said, when she was a part of the Theatrical Outfit–a collective of musicians, actors, dancers, and other artists who lived and worked in the same space. The idea at the collective, Witt says, was that everyone would teach each other what they knew. It fell to Witt to teach singing.
She credits some of the “amazing” teachers she’s had throughout the years, starting with the music teachers in public schools growing up, and including Dr. Ysaye Barnwell (Sweet Honey in the Rock), Fred Onovwerosuoke, Bobby McFerrin, and Rhiannon.
Witt feels that over the years, she’s taken “bits from all my teachers” and molded that into her own unique teaching style. Incredible teachers notwithstanding, “I feel like I’ve learned the most from my students,” she said.
Currently, Witt works with Global Village Project, a school for teenage girls–refugees from Afghanistan, Burma, Congo, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, and Somalia–and she may be uniquely qualified for the work. Witt was born in Switzerland to German parents, and learned English as a second language. She’s also tacked on Spanish, French, and Italian for good measure. Her passion for language extends into her teaching.
“I’ve spent years getting students excited about language through singing,” she said. Each language has a different form of expression, not just through the difference in the words themselves, but also sonically, she said. “Even your body language changes. I’m not just interested in how to say something, but the way the body expresses in a language.”
“Singing is our original language, our original way of communicating,” Witt said. “When we sing, our bodies literally vibrate. In doing so, it changes us.”
Be sure to come out to one or more of Elise Witt’s events this weekend. Her concerts and classes could change you in a way you may not expect.
Witt will return to Blacksburg again for a community performance at noon on Sunday, November 3, 2013, during our Community Open House.