Roger Wesby was born in Worcester, Massachusetts. He graduated from Eastman School of Music with a BM in Composition. With his wife, Barbara, he served in the Peace Corps, teaching and performing in national art centers in El Salvador and Costa Rica, which led to professional opportunities. In Costa Rica Wesby played trumpet in the National Symphony Orchestra, conducted the National Youth Symphony Orchestra, the National Symphony’s Chamber Music Series and served as Academic Coordinator of the National Youth Symphony Orchestra School.
He taught at the National University and later became director of its Music Department. Under his leadership, the department was transformed into a full-fledged School of Music in a College of the Arts. He founded and conducted the University’s Jazz Ensemble and conducted its Chamber Choir. With Barbara Wesby and Diego Díaz, he wrote Lectura elemental, a sight reading manual still widely used in Costa Rica and other countries of Latin America.
With his wife he co-founded The San Jerónimo Singers, a chamber choir dedicated to the study and performance of Renaissance music and compositions by Barbara Wesby. The two later co-founded Los Madrigalistas, a professional vocal quintet that performed early music and Roger Wesby’s arrangements of spirituals, folk music and popular songs. This group performed regularly at the country’s principal cultural centers, realized a national tour of Costa Rica, and toured Colombia.
Wesby was appointed conductor of the National Symphonic Chorus and conducted numerous concerts with the choir and orchestra in addition to maintaining an active schedule of community concerts and concerts in prisons. He created the Coro Laboratorio, a chamber choir which brought together many of the country’s finest singers, for the purpose of exploring advanced repertoire. He founded the National Association of Choral Directors. While living in Costa Rica, the Wesby’s children, Carla and Andrew were born.
The Wesby’s returned to the United States and Roger began his graduate studies. He received a master’s degree from Westminster Choir College where he studied with Joseph Flummerfelt. He earned the title of Doctor of Music at Indiana University, studying with Robert Porco. He was Director of Choral Activities at the University of Kentucky, where he conducted the Choristers, and Chamber Choir and founded New Voices, an elite vocal chamber ensemble that performed jazz and gospel music as well as Renaissance and twentieth century sacred and secular music. With his wife, he co-founded the Lexington Children’s Chorus, which became a jewel of central Kentucky, performing state-wide and regional tours and was much in demand for performances with professional opera companies. The Lexington Children’s Chorus recorded Malcolm Dalglish’s Hymnody of Earth for PBS with the composer and poet Wendell Berry.
He was Director of Choral Activities at Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois. While at Augustana he conducted and toured with the famed Augustana Choir, conducted the Chamber Singers, and founded the Jenny Lind Ensemble, a select female choir. He was conductor and artistic director of the Handel Oratorio Society. An active clinician, guest conductor and published composer/arranger, Wesby was Choir Director of Lutheran Summer Music at St. Olaf College.
Since 1996 Roger Wesby has served Director of Choral Activities and Vocal Studies at Wagner College where he teaches Music History, the History of Blues and Jazz, Conducting and Practical Musicianship. He conducts the Wagner College Choir, the Chamber Singers, and, until spring of 2013, conducted the Treble Concert Choir. He founded Stretto, an elite vocal ensemble, Espresso Vocal Jazz Lab, a select vocal ensemble, and the Hildegard Ensemble, a select female chamber choir. He has established a robust annual calendar of choral concerts, and created several annual events. He founded and curates annual musical tributes to Italian Heritage (each October) and Black Music (each February) as well as semestral vocal jazz sets and annual gatherings of a fine Alumni Choir. He revived the tradition of touring and has realized annual tours that have taken the choir to Florida, California, and throughout the north and southeast and, in 2013, to Germany and Austria. The Choir has also performed several times at Carnegie Hall and with the Staten Island Symphony Orchestra, the Staten Island Philharmonic, and the New Brunswick Chamber Orchestra and in a series of collaborative concerts with the semi-professional choir Schola Cantorum on Hudson. The Chamber Singers have also performed at Carnegie Hall and at Brooklyn College. Wesby developed the Treble Concert Choir into a first rate women’s choir that has figured prominently in the College’s heritage events and recently started touring. Stretto primarily performs jazz and gospel music, has performed at Symphony Space for the Wall-to-Wall Joni Mitchell program, at the National Arts Club, for the recent New Association of Colleges and Universities (NAC&U) conference and was invited to perform on the 25th Annual Commemorative Concert of the Life and Music of Alec Wilder. Roger Wesby composes and arranges most of its repertoire. The Jazz Lab was created in response to students’ interest in jazz solo and ensemble singing.
Wesby teaches the History of Blues and Jazz, a course that is coupled every two years with African American Literature as an Intermediate Learning Community. The students and faculty members of the ILC attend a series of concerts on and off the campus that vividly brings to life the subject matter. Wesby also teaches the History of Music in Costa Rica, a part of the college’s Expanding Your Horizons program. Students travel to Costa Rica with the Wesby’s for two weeks of lectures and round tables with many of the country’s leading scholars, musicians and composers. Travel to volcanoes, beaches, mountain wildlife refuges as well as visits to museums, cultural institutions, shantytowns and marketplaces help students to experience and understand the people and culture of this tiny but complex country.
He is the composer of hundreds of arrangements and numerous compositions (heard on at least three continents). In 2002 he composed the Jazz Mass, which has been used in several Lutheran Churches. In 2006 he was commissioned to compose a special liturgy and anthem for the 150th anniversary of Trinity Lutheran Church on Staten Island He was the first-ever Featured Composer of Schola Cantorum on Hudson’s 15th anniversary season. Recent commissioned works include River Songs, which he premiered with the New Brunswick Chamber Orchestra, and diss-FUNK-shun, composed for the North/South Consonance Chamber Orchestra. He has written articles on the history of jazz and blues for the Encyclopedia of New Jersey.
Roger Wesby has helped to revive relations between Wagner College and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and has served as a member of the Congregational Council of Trinity Lutheran Church in Stapleton, Staten Island. With Stretto he helped to launch Trinity’s Jazz Vespers series. With the help of recording engineer Harry Munz, he helped make acoustic improvements to Trinity’s sanctuary.
His wife, Barbara Wesby, is an accomplished composer and pianist, daughter Carla is a professional soprano in NYC (<http://www.classicalsinger.com/sites/index.php?user_id=28301 >) and a co-founder of Opera Collective of New York , and son Andrew is a professional musician and singer-songwriter in Boston, MA, where he leads the band Echo Kings and continues to perform with Parker House and Theory