NEA grant to support opera by New Paltz music professor

NEW PALTZ – Nkeiru Okoye, assistant professor of music at the State University of New York at New Paltz, has been commissioned by American Opera Projects to develop and present her opera, Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed the Line to Freedom. American Opera Projects, based in Brooklyn, NY, received a grant in the amount of $15,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in support of the project.

Harriet Tubman is a two act theatrical work that tells of how a young girl born in slavery grows to become Harriet Tubman, the legendary Underground Railroad “conductor.” The grant will fund creation, development, and presentation of the opera, which was commissioned by American Opera Projects in Brooklyn, NY. Additional information is available at

Excerpts from the opera will be presented on campus at an upcoming concert in February. A tour of performances is being planned in states along the Underground Railroad where Tubman was active, including New Jersey, Maryland, and New York.

“This recognition of Professor Okoye’s work is profound, in that the National Endowment for the Arts is the largest annual national funder of the arts in the country and competition for NEA grants is fierce,” said Mary Hafeli, dean of the School of Fine and Performing Arts at New Paltz. She stated, “The support of the NEA will create opportunities for audiences across the country to experience Professor Okoye’s new opera, and this benefits not only Professor Okoye and American Opera Projects but also the Department of Music and the School of Fine and Performing Arts.”

A native New Yorker of African American and Nigerian decent, Okoye holds degrees from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and Rutgers University. Her work has been performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Detroit Symphony, Virginia Symphony, New Jersey Symphony and countless regional orchestras. Okoye was a composer mentor at the University of Ghana for the 2005 International Society of Contemporary Music’s World New Music Days. In 2006, she became an International British American Project fellow.

An article about the opera appeared in the New York Times on Jan. 29, 2012. Prior press coverage of Okoye’s work has appeared in the Baltimore Sun, the Boston Globe, and other national and regional publications.

Okoye joined the music department at New Paltz in August.